by Dr. John Yates
A few weeks back I had a terribly disturbed sleep.
As I prayed into this I sensed that I was functioning as a spiritual barometer, in this case about issues of disorder in our society threatening our foundational perceptions of reality.
What had ruined my sleep was a series of articles I had read in The Weekend Australian immediately before going to sleep. In the same section there were various articles advocating teachers in public schools must subscribe to a set of “shared national values”, several articles on climate change a number on same-sex marriage, one especially by former Queensland premier Peter Beattie, proclaiming that 62% of Australians now support gay wedlock, and a highly provocative piece on the Greens adulation of “the environment”.
As I walked past the local shop that morning the front page of The Sunday Times headlined a protest by students at an up market Perth private school against the prohibition of sex partners at the College ball.
I believe that these seemingly diverse issues signal an attempt to redefine reality away from an expression of divine will to human will. This involves the humanising of everything, not around the humanity of Jesus, but around the common values of Western post-Christian society. In this grand humanist vision we are the judges of all things. I will begin with the example that most glaring illustrates my point, the campaign for same-sex marriage.
There is a significant difference between the issues of sex outside of marriage and gay marriage.
Both are sinful within the eyes of God, but only the latter proves to be an attack on the basic order of creation. The first place to begin is in the creation story of Genesis 1. This highly systematic text is structured around a series of binary opposites whose complementarities define the order of reality.
The important distinctions within creation are day/night, water above/water below, seas/land, vegetation/animals, male /female. All of this is prefaced upon the one absolute distinction, that between Creator and creature: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1:1). The climactic statement towards the end of this chapter, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27), places Man = male + female on the top of a cosmological pyramid.
The oppositional but complementary nature of heterosexual gender identity is written into the very framework of the order of the universe and the peak of the Creator’s genius.
Romans 1:18-32 is the classical text about the breakdown of order in pagan culture.
Here Paul appeals to Genesis in a 3 step argument:
This challenge is far more profound than most Christians realise.
In the postmodern world reality is what I decide, my personal preference is ultimate. The claim that same sex couple deserve equal/identical rights to marry as heterosexual people is a claim that there is no essential difference between homo and hetero sexuality.
This is a claim that God did not create his image as male + female, it is an attack on the very existence and nature of God as revealed in the Bible. The spiritual warfare around this issue is very intense.
The latest GetUp!
Email, an organisation with a ¼ million subscribers, unhesitatingly proclaims, The overwhelming majority of Australians support full marriage equality and it is the right thing to do. This is an appeal to a morally superior position. Commenting on the US based campaign to make Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie a gay couple, a local columnist preaches, “Until the real world gets to a point where not even a second thought is given to a person’s orientation of Muppets, we have a long way to go”. Consistently thought through, sex outside marriage is an attack on the covenantal basis of relationships, same-sex marriage denies that there is a creation at all.
I was so deeply puzzled by the growing popularity of the same sex marriage cause that I asked my wife Donna, who is far more in touch with popular culture than I am, to explain what was going on. Her reply is essentially that in our day no-one wants to be seen to be judging anyone else. “Intolerance” is a pre-eminent social taboo. This leads into my second area of concern.
Barnaby Joyce, a vocal but insightful political opponent says, “The Greens have given the term environment an omnipotent, all-encompassing quality. Whenever they utter the word it is a precursor that demands blind, unquestioning obedience.”
In other words, “environment” has been substituted for “God”.
In a society shorn of the acknowledgement of the Creator (Rom 1:21-23) the Greens form of holy religious devotion and consistent commitment explains their impact on so many young people; to the shame of the Church!Since human beings are created in the image of God, there can be no such a thing as a moral or spiritual vacuum. Someone will stand up and pass public judgements on behalf of others, even if the word “judgement” is strenuously avoided.
This is how we should understand the ascendancy of the Greens in Australian politics; they are the self-appointed secular chaplains to the nation who see themselves as taking the moral high ground on the crucial issues of our time. Since their prevailing world view allows no place for a new creation, the most important issue facing our planet must be global warming.
The Greens bring with them an ethos of being the priests of environmental care and speak in a fashion inspired by the beauty, fragility and majesty of nature that makes them sound like modern prophets. In articulating a vision much greater and grander than the narrow limits of our individual human experience this vision is greatly appealing.
The bumper sticker that proudly proclaims, “This vehicle is carbon neutral.” has connotations far deeper than immediately appears. It is an announcement that the owner is not responsible for whatever may transpire concerning the future temperature of the planet; it is in fact a form of evangelistic utterance, “No blame can be laid here!” This is a secular form of the gospel.
To consolidate my central point that evil spiritual forces are today seeking to create a vacuum where there is no transcendent Creator and Judge I would like to refer to the UK riots. A huge amount has been written recently about the causes of the violent rioting; but there is something at work here which transcends all social and moral analyses. This has become increasingly apparent through the cases of wealthy young people found committing such crimes. In interview, every culprit seemed to be aware that the mob atmosphere of the riots powerfully conveyed a sense that criminal deeds could be enacted without fear of punishment. This is a foundational spiritual stronghold.
To pass beyond the fear of punishment was the very temptation that Satan offered Eve and Adam in Eden; “You shall not die”.
To feel unpunishable conveys an exhilarating and intoxicating sense of invincibility beyond the normal realms of morality and mortality. It is a glimpse of moral immortality. Those involved in the UK riots, like the participants in the Nuremberg rallies, the Rwanda genocide, Islamic suicide bombings and so on, enter into a space which is experienced in their consciences as undying.
This is a space of ultimate self-assurance longed for by an increasing number of Australians, people are striving for a dimension of self-awareness where I am my own final authority, where no “God” can intrude upon my personal judgement of what is right and what is wrong. In such a space the knowledge of good and evil are my own personal domain and righteousness is my own autonomous individual possession.
When people enter this space all rival authorities – police, parents, community, God/gods are banished, I alone am left to be my judge and to enjoy my own righteous judgement free from all “higher” powers.
The rioters in England did not move out of a realm of judgement altogether, they simply passed judgement on anyone or anything in society that stood between them and the satisfaction of their immediate needs. Whatever feelings of anger, resentment or desire I possess are justified by the sole authority figure in my life, ME. Such demonised behaviour, and I am using “demonised” in the most literal sense, is the logical outcome of a post-Christian society.
Judgement is Joy
A great enemy of Christianity said, “They would have to sing better songs to make me believe in their Redeemer: his disciples would have to look more redeemed. Surely their Redeemers themselves did not come from freedom or the seventh heaven of freedom! ”. Nietzsche meant there was not enough joy in the Church to persuade him that Jesus was the Son of God. This assertion is extremely challenging, but another more prophetic utterance is even more confronting, “Judgement is joy because judgement destroys sin.” This is a very biblical statement very few Christians seem to understand.
The holy angels and the redeemed saints around the throne of God rejoice in the judgements of God upon all wicked powers, “v1 After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, v2 for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” v3 Once more they cried out, “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.” v4 And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” v5 And from the throne came a voice saying, “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.” (Rev 19:1-5 cf. Ps 96:10-13). The goodness of God brings pleasure to his creatures where evil is abolished through judgement.
It was “for the joy that was set before him” that Jesus endured the Father’s judgement against sin on the cross (Heb 12:2). The apostles did not hesitate to minister the judgement of God as the way to abiding joy.
The sentence of death that fell on Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) was essential to keeping the early church in a purity without which the divine pleasure could not remain. Paul explains to the Corinthian Church that God is dealing out sickness and death among them for their common good (1 Cor 11:27-32). Jesus warns the churches of Asia of impending destruction, illness and death unless they repent (Revelation 2:5-6, 16, 22-23; Revelation 3:3, 16).
If there is to be any lasting spiritual restoration in our land we must understand that the God of the New Testament is no “angry Father” but a Holy Father whose punishments (Heb 12:5-11) keep us in “joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Pet 1:8)
The fruit of God’s righteous judgement, which must fall first on the house of God (1 Pet 4:17), is indestructible joy. It is a share in the invincible joy of the resurrection which came to Jesus through the judgements of the cross. Made in the image of God human beings must pass judgement, but what is the judgement being expressed through the Australian Church today?
What are we Missing?
Some sections of the Church simply refuse to preach or speak of the judgements of God.
This is a deep denial of the gospel through which spiritual transformation can never flow. The more vocal elements of mainstream Christianity however have long suffered from another blight, moralism.
As a general rule the more conservative the moral values of believers the less manifest is their joy in the Lord. We are ready to lobby, march and put our names to petitions, all legitimate activities, but have failed to convince the community that Jesus is someone who can be trusted as Judge. When “right and wrong” or “good and evil” are presented as principles or values the Church has let go of her Head (Col 2:19).
Righteousness and goodness are not principles or values but manifestations of the life of Jesus Christ who reveals that the interests of God and of humanity are one (1 Cor 1:30; 1 John 2:1). To the secular observer the contemporary cultural struggles over morality looks like a battle between the “old God” of Christianity versus the “new gods” of postmodern humanism, and the outcome appears obvious.
In the realm of spiritual strategy, the Church must step away from the discourse of morality to a manifestation of Jesus Christ as the one true God. The Roman world was not converted by the superior moral arguments of the Early Church but by a manner of life that revealed that the God of the Christians was the One who held “all things” together (Heb 1:3).
Similarly, the postmodern world that delights in denying all absolutes, except for the absolute right of one’s own choices, will never be transformed unless it sees the marriages, families, bodies, minds etc. of God’s people holding together in loving joy in ways they find impossible to attain. Such modes of relating are living manifestations of the gospel truth that the finality of God’s judgement in Christ is the only way to immortality.
“Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.” (Euripides). On the surface, it would seem that this ancient Greek playwright was speaking of our own time, and that no sound argument of logic or morality can save a culture like ours so which has so intensely fallen under the judgement of God. Jesus however presents us with a completely different angle on crime and punishment.
Christ’s way reveals that God is not harsh, authoritarian or controlling – the very thing Western people wish to avoid. But neither is the Father indulgent and afraid to judge.
The God of Jesus reveals himself as a righteous Judge by taking our just desserts into himself on the cross, and he vindicates the goodness of his intentions for humanity by raising his Son from the dead into immortality. This is the true nature of the judgement of God, and until the Western Church receives such a revelation it will remain passive, inert and lacking in conviction in the spiritual realm.
For this domain of spiritual authority, moral activism, whether conservative or liberal, is no substitute. However our own consciences may have been shaped by forces old or new, they must be crucified with Christ so that through our lives we may present to a generation that has lost touch with their Creator the reality of his undying love.
Praise God that reality does have an order independent of our own selfish desires, this order is Jesus Christ.