“I’ve covered five other Supreme Court confirmation hearings. None of them included anything like the chaos in the opening minutes of the Kavanaugh hearings this morning.”
This was New York Times legal reporter Adam Liptak’s response to the beginning of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s hearings yesterday. Today’s Washington Post reports that dozens of protesters were arrested; one senator complained of “mob rule” as the hearings began.
In other controversial news, Nike announced that former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick will be featured in its new advertising campaign. The company’s stock fell more than 3 percent on the news and some burned their Nike apparel in protest. Others applauded the company for its decision; some are calling Kaepernick “the face of the new civil rights movement.”
“You have wrapped yourself in a cloud”
As our society becomes more divided and divisive, Christians are tempted to withdraw from the acrimonious “culture wars.” The more secular our culture becomes, the more absent God seems.
But this is a self-fulfilling prophecy, like a horoscope that predicts the bad day its reader then expects and thus experiences. The less we look for God, the less we see him. And the less we see him, the less we look for him.
This cycle extends to our prayers as well.
The book of Lamentations describes its author’s grief over the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple in 586 BC. By chapter 3, the author’s mourning for his nation has affected his intercession.
He complains that God “shuts out my prayer; he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones; he has made my paths crooked” (vv. 8-9). He says to the Lord, “You have wrapped yourself with a cloud so that no prayer can pass through” (v. 44).
When we measure our prayers by their circumstantial results, it’s sometimes easy to feel the same way. Your loved one is still sick; your wayward child has not yet repented; your future seems clouded and bleak.
But the author of Lamentations persists in praying until he can say in faith, “You have taken up my cause, O Lord; you have redeemed my life” (v. 58). Now he knows that God will “repay” his nation’s enemies (v. 64) and “destroy them from under your heavens” (v. 66). All this because he prayed by faith rather than by sight (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:7).
“Give the people what they want”
Satan seems to have two primary strategies in attacking the church. One is a frontal assault that persecutes Christians and their leaders, the kind of attack that cost millions of Christians their lives in the early centuries of church history.
But this approach often backfires. As Tertullian noted, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” The very Empire that persecuted Christians eventually legalized and adopted their religion.
I have seen the same in Cuba, where pastors tell me that the persecution they face is purifying and strengthening their members. They believe their churches are far stronger now than they were when the Castro regime first took power.
The enemy’s second strategy is subtler. Rather than opposing secular culture and Christian churches, he seeks to align them.
He invites us to “give the people what they want” at the expense of biblical teaching that confronts sin and encourages repentance, knowing that shallow, convenient faith will falter when challenged. In Jesus’ parable, seeds with “no depth of soil” were “scorched” by the sun and “withered away” (Matthew 13:5, 6).
Similarly, Satan wants us to judge our faith by our circumstances. Since life on this fallen planet will inevitably disappoint us, we will then turn from God in anger and frustration. Then the cycle begins: the less we trust our Lord, the less we pray, and the less we pray, the less we trust.
What matters most on earth
There’s a better response to chaotic times.
Antony of Egypt (AD 251-356) was one of the earliest “desert fathers,” a group of men (and women) who began the monastic tradition. Athanasius of Alexandria (AD 296-373), a renowned Christian theologian, knew Antony personally and gave us his compelling story.
Antony gave away his sizable inheritance to serve God in a life of prayer and asceticism. When the time came for him to die, he spoke to his fellow monks “with great joy as if he were leaving foreign lands and was about to set out for his own country.” Then he encouraged them to live “as if they were going to die each day” (Eternal Wisdom from the Desert, ed. Henry L. Carrigan, Jr.).
Antony’s point was not that we should refuse all cultural engagement. To the contrary, he ministered to Christians being persecuted by Roman Emperor Diocletian and warned against the Arian heresy confronting the church.
His point was that this world is not our home. When we travel abroad, we may spend years in foreign lands with residents whose needs we serve. In fact, we should “seek the welfare” of those with whom we live (Jeremiah 29:7). We are called to be the “light of the world” in our dark culture (Matthew 5:14).
But all that happens to us in a foreign land is transitory. It matters, but not eternally.
What matters most on earth is that which matters in heaven. You can live for one or the other, but not both.