"The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing —
to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from —
my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing,
all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back."

~C.S. Lewis

Friday, January 27, 2012

Righteous living in an unrighteous world

Just because you don’t ask the hard questions doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. Someone is going to ask them. And just because you don’t know what the Biblical response to the questions is, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask them. Because even if you don’t, someone else will, and someone else will answer them. Someone without Scripture and not in the kingdom of God, and they will answer them their way—and leave you reeling.

How do you live righteously in a desperately evil world? We rarely confront this issue and it has made our Christianity desperately weak. I do not mean, how do you live among those who try to avoid lying, killing, stealing, and hurting? But instead, how do you live among those who purposely and passionately lie, kill, steal, and hurt? How do you live in a land where if you do not actively stop evil it will overwhelm you?

In a devastating way, I am frightened to think of what the state of the world would be if all governments were populated by those—including the Christians—who think morality is solely about "turning the other cheek," a verse taken badly out of context all too often. If that were the case, punishment, war, fighting, and aggression would be tried to be ruled out. No, I am miserably relieved that the people in power are not, sad to say, the stereotypical Christian. It means that I will be protected; at least someone, no matter how flawed the system, is fighting for me. Sadly, the only reason many have the freedom to claim that there should be no fighting, no spying, no war, and no punishment, is because there are people in power who think exactly the opposite.

War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.
~John Stuart Mill

Righteous living in an unrighteous world is not achieved by being passive. Jesus was not passive. He occasionally made a choice to not retaliate but on many other occasions, He was as sharp and aggressive. Even now, He is leading His people in a war and preparing for the final nauseatingly bloody battle (Rev. 14:20). “Turn the other cheek” has been taken nauseatingly out of context.

And it is not by following the rules. The most righteous Christians have been notorious rule breakers. We are told to obey the government, but Paul and Silas clearly knew there were limits to obedience to men in pursuit of their obedience to God when they broke the rules of their own country. Brother Andrew routinely smuggled Bibles into foreign countries. Many Christians are breaking government rules simply by existing. Wars don’t follow rules.

So how do you live as a righteous Christian in enemy land? For in that land, it is not enough to just live submissively by in your nice, independently righteous little life. For while you are carefully counting the change to ensure you paid not one cent less than called for, someone beside you is trying to steal your wallet. Are you going to let them? Are you going to stop them? Is not preventing evil not also a part of being righteous? As was once said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” (Edmund Burke).

By doing nothing, you deny that this world is in a state of war between the powers of darkness and the powers of light. It is not an evenly matched battle, and we know who will win. Winning is not the question. Fighting is.

How do you fight?

Is it right to fight? For the Christian, it is a command. This is a hard Christianity, a steel-plated Christianity, a fierce Christianity, but it is a necessary one. Throughout the Old Testament—throughout the New Testament—we are ordered to take up our arms and battle against evil, against the devil, and against darkness. What we forget, however, is that darkness resides in people. By fighting darkness, sometimes you have to fight people.

This is the sadness of the world.

But again, how do you fight? In war, you spy, you kill, you attack, you destroy. This is not wrong. But if it is not wrong, it means there is a way to carry out ethical war—to be a moral spy, an ethical soldier, a forgiving police officer. How would a Christian in one of those situations fulfill his duties yet remain fully within the kingdom of God as a righteous follower of Jesus Christ?

And in those wars, those struggles and fights, it is not just about national supremecy; it is almost always about what people consider to be right and wrong, good and evil. As Christians, we should be in the forefront of any war revolving around expanding good and stopping evil. But this, then, raises question after question, each tumbling over each other in a desperate surge of decisions.

Look at just one example. Can a Christian be a spy? Is all right to live a life telling people you are someone else, encouraging others to give away their country’s secrets? Yes? Doing so will save lives (do not forget the “greater command” principle in Scripture). Doing so means there is such a thing as right and wrong. (In fact, only those who have a moral problem with spying have the worldview to even consider spying to be legitimate. If there is no such thing as right and wrong, you would have no grounds for asking others to betray their country, as whatever they and their country are doing is right for them, and you should not interfere.) Betraying your country is not wrong if your country is on the wrong path; we see that when nonbelievers are asked to “betray” the kingdom of man and join the kingdom of God.

Remember, too, you are living in an unrighteous world. Other people who do not share your moral convictions will be spying on you. Are you going to try to stop them? Will you spy to stop them? It is all well and good to say you will not engage in a war, but other countries will. They will attack you. Is it the righteous thing to do to stand aside and let your people die because your standards are based in living righteously in a righteous world—not an unrighteous one?

But back to espionage. If you say no to espionage, you cannot just say, I would not spy, for we are told not to lie. Although I am the first to defend the hard reality of absolute truth, I don’t know if it is that easy. Is lying the same as spying? Is that the context of the 10 commandments? What about Joshua and Rahab? What about David joining the Philistines? What if, by not spying, thousands or millions of people die? What about the concept of the greater commandment? What about the concept of the kingdom of God—that we are living in a kingdom headed by a Warrior King and we are indeed trying to bring down the enemy countries? Where is the line drawn? If you were in the Middle East and a citizen told you about the plans of September 11, would you give that information to the United States government and save those 2,996 lives? If you would, then how is that, fundamentally, different from what intelligence organizations are doing every day?

There are many more of these endless trains of thought and so much more to be said; you must consider what the rules look like in a world where evil people will try to erase every one. Would you kill a person trying to kill your family? If you would, how is that different from fighting and killing for your country? Would you drop a bomb on a place where there were civilians? Would you lie to protect an innocent person from death? Would you sacrifice one person’s life to save a hundred others? The questions flow on. Do not answer too quickly.

And you cannot say, I will let the unbelievers do those things, I will let the unbelievers join the military, become the spies, stop the murderers, and fight the terrorists. That is unacceptable, equivalent to saying that the world could not run if it were peopled entirely by Christians, and that it is all right to let the unbelievers take on the sinful tasks, to protect your own pristine Christian soul. No. Either something is sinful and should never be done—by anyone—or it is something in which Christians may partake under certain circumstances. And if you can partake in them, by not participating in righteous acts of war, you may not be participating in the war at all—a dangerous place to be when Jesus calls you into His army. Do not forget that there are sins of omission as well as of action.

These questions are not just for the law enforcement, the military, the intelligence officers. If the “average,” everyday Christian ignores these questions, he ignores much of his worldview: the part of his worldview that says we live in a fallen world and within the kingdom of God. Answering these questions changes his entire outlook.

I don’t have all the answers; I don’t even have very many. I hope you have more. But even if you don’t, remember, these questions will not disappear. They are dangerous questions.

Yet, “How could this possibly matter to me?” may be one of the most dangerous of all.