Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Link: Inhabitateo Dei: Your Hopes Must Be Dashed--reprise of the temptation of Christ in Luke

Earlier I wrote about the temptation of Christ in the gospel of Luke. The proximate cause for that post was learning that Mark Driscoll had taught from that passage and the broader cause was that I have read a lot and thought a lot about the passage over the years. Ergo Garrett, Jeffrey Burton Russell, et al in the earlier post.

Being a Dostoevsky fan I can't help but consider things like The Grand Inquisitor and perhaps Halden considered Dostoevsky's masterpiece of confrontational philosophy while drafting his reflection on Palm Sunday. He describes (I think rightly) Palm Sunday as the end of Lent and the culmination of a new form of temptation of the sort that Satan visited upon Jesus in the wilderness. In Luke's gospel the ultimate temptation is to invoke the scriptures themselves, even a passage in the Psalms that was used as a go-to prayer against demonic attack, and to use that scripture to tempt Jesus to put God to the test. It is precisely this that Jesus now confronts in the face of a throng of people who welcome Him with shouts of "Hosanna". I don't need to rehearse that this word means "save us!" The temptation Christ faced was a temptation He overcame. He did not choose to be the kind of King His people wanted Him to be and for that they crucified Him.

It is not coincidental to say that at this time many American Christians whip out the passage that says "If my people who are called by my name will heed my voice and turn to me then I will hear them and heal their land." No one bothers to look at what actually happened in that narrative--Israel did NOT listen and they did NOT turn and they went into destruction and exile as the Lord predicted centuries before in the book of Deutoronomy. God knows the hearts of people and anticipated the failure of those in that time. Quote the passage in the context of Chronicles as a literary whole and it becomes impossible to cite the passage as an optimistic admonition that if you just vote in the right political party God will favor your country again.

Since other Christians have forced the matter I'll just force it in another way, both Judah and Samaria ultimately fell. If we want to insist on allegorizing this in absurdly American terms Samaria represents the Democratic party and they apostasized early and greatly. Judea represents the Republicans and while at the end Reagan mightily went forth on behalf of the cause and salvaged America from the liberals the party ultimately also betrayed true principles and term limits meant the Josiah figure (Reagan) did not rule or reform for long before the Republican party ultimately failed just like the Democrat party to secure and preserve the richness of the republic (e.g. the Torah). I can reverse the allegory to have it apply to Democrats, too, but that would involve digressing into the misdirection of JFK's administration and the analogy would fall apart even more quickly than it would for the elephant. I hope by now you figured out that I'm employing more than a little sarcasm here.

So, why, then, should American Christians who are conservative imagine that things in our age would be any different? Why should the trajectory of "God's country" be different in the United States than it was for Israel? This is granting the generous concession that the comparison is apt and that the United States was actually founded on "Christian principles". I always thought Francis Schaeffer's argument that principles influenced by Christian thought is not the same as "Christian nation".

Now conflating God and country is one of the perennial problems of every pagan empire and it was even a problem in Israel. It is, in essence, a problem with the human condition. Even without gods this human capacity remains and would not be remedied even if religion itself were somehow magically obliterated from the human race. Taking a passage severely out of context and acting as though the United States of America is the temple built by Solomon and Israel is the chosen people is not surprising to me ... but it is still profoundly disappointing. American Christians have had a knack of deluding themselves into thinking the Bible has to be about them for centuries. Now I don't tend to get questions about how America plays into Bible prophecy but I still settle for Psalm 2.

I am not really particularly liberal in my politics or my religion ... but I find the ignorant abuse of scripture to rally about political causes offensive coming from both conservatives and liberals alike. "If my people ... " who will sacrifice their children, kill the innocent, levy heavy burdens on the people, and justify it through exceptionalism continue to do so then they will fail. If people value profit and industry over people for generations then when they have given away their industrial base and jobs to foreigners why, precisely, should they complain that foreigners have the jobs that their masters of inidustry gave away decades ago? How far can you complain "They are taking are jobs?" when you and your allies have given them away for years to improve the profit margin? There are progressives and leftists who are opposed to internationalism because they want Americans to have jobs instead of having them shipped overseas.

There are otherwise stalwart conservatives who believe it is wrong to take a punitive approach to immigration. As Pat Robertson once said, conservatives have erred about immigration because they do not realize that Christians are to be kind toward them ... of course Robertson has mistakenly imagined that the United States in some sense at all a "Christian" nation or was one. A friend of mine put it this way, no one seems to be complaining about all the WHITE illegal immigrants living in the United States, working jobs, starting businesses, and the like. If the immigrant is willing to work as hard for a third less money and the home-grown American doesn't want to work for the pay grade the American employer is offering then who is going to get the job?

Ergo, immigrants are taking away American jobs at least in part because Americans don't want to work for what they believe to be too little pay while employers are not willing to pay more to Americans because of the impact it will have on their bottom line. Employers who do not want to bother jumping through the legal hoops required to employ someone can be described as sticking it to the man but the interpretation of these actions may simply be to complain that Mexicans or other illegal immigrants are stealing American jobs and living off of American social welfare programs. I in my broadly pessimistic disposition do not see a reason to be optimistic that this or that will get better. I suppose I share Miyazaki's generally gloomy outlook on the race as a whole while being willing to have some optimism at a local level.

Since my hope (though I often struggle here) is in Christ it is foolish to put hope in politicians winning this or that election. Just as God ordained slavery for Israel some Christians might just as well be told that God ordained Obama for such a time as this. Christians of a particularly conservative bent may see it as punishment on America for choosing evil. America chose evil a long, long time ago. The truth is that every nation is part of the swarming sea that opposes the reign of the Lord in the Apocalypse. Some thirty years ago American Christians were anticipating that Russia was the place of the antichrist, or perhaps the European Union. Others anticipated that Syria would be where the antichrist comes from. Now, of course, some American Christians are imagining that Obama could be the one or is at least as bad. The number of the beast in any number of ways spells out Nero. There have been countless antichrists, just as there will be countless more.

These concerns are not new. The old days were not without these concerns. As far back as Cicero guys were complaining about how the old days were better and the youth today are dissolute and without direction. Yet Koholeth wrote millenia ago that it is not your place to ask, "Where are the good old days that were better than these?" because it is stupid to ask that question. Yet that is precisely what I see a lot of Christians doing, asking where the good old days were. I in my mixture of skepticism about the future and glum assessment of the past is that the past was not really all that good and the future isn't really all that good either unless we're talking about the return of Christ. It is easy at a generational level to excuse in ourselves what we now condemn in others. Perhaps it is God's providential sense of humor not only to turn us into our parents but to ensure that our children at some broad level mirror our own folly back to us.

When Christ came and said "My kingdom is not of this world" He demonstrated that throughout His life and ministry. Welcomed as a savior on Palm Sunday within a week the mob sought His death. Christ did not come to be the kind of military, political, or economic savior we wanted Him to be. He did not come to bring peace but to bring a sword and, paradoxically, entered Jerusalem on a donkey, a king coming in peace. It is the nature of the peace He purchased on our behalf that we continue to find offensive and continue to find grounds enough to forsake Him. Our capacity to forsake Christ and the temptation to forsake Him is a subject so large it will merit another post and seeing as Halden wrote a sermon that has gotten me thinking about that, another post there is.

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