When I was a kid, there was an advertisement running in all the comic books. It was a body-building promotion. (see below) The ad took the form of a comic-strip morality play, involving a beach bully, a ninety-eight pound weakling and his center-fold type girlfriend. The beach bully would kick sand in the face of the wimp and walk off with the chick. ("Babe" to you young whipper snappers). The weakling would get so angry he would avail himself of the Charles Atlas Body Building Course tm. By the end of the page the weenie had been transformed from the poster boy for anorexia into a buff, hunky, studd muffin. He would lay the beach bully out with an uppercut to the jaw and his fickle girlfriend would grab his arm in worshipful admiration.
Sure. Uh huh. In my dreams.
I see a lot of this in Christian life. Actually, what I see are a lot of ninety-eight pound Christians, forever having "sand" kicked in their faces by worldly, heathen, bullies. Oh sure, its easy to say we simply haven't made use of the Jesus Christ Body/Mind/Soul Building course. If we spent more time in prayer, Bible study and self flagellation we would be--ipso facto--hunkier Christians. ...Possibly, but I think there is more involved here than mere laziness.
I'm wondering, did Jesus have "better" material to work with in the Pharisees then we do today in the average Christian? No, I don't think the basic material was so very different. The qualities of pride and self-righteousness, leavened with human frailty seem to be part of the age-old human condition. I do think we live in an age where the basic human creature operates under a seriously different belief system.
In contrast, the Pharisees believed in ultimate truth. Our modern, sophisticated, western society embraces relativism, which defines truth as whatever anyone chooses to believe--a definition which assures that no-one's truth is more true than anyone else's. In other words, nothing is really "true," we simply cling to ideas we call true for the sake of coping with a huge, mean, complex world.
This brings us to the second difference. The world of the First Century accepted, while ours rejects, the concept of authority. If truth is defined by each individual there can be no ultimate truth and therefore, by definition, no authorities. Anyone claiming authority is, in modern eyes, a control freak seeking to extend his evil, fascist rule over others.
I'm an iconoclast. I reject the great god of relativism. It is a false deity. Any common sense thinking on the subject will lead an intellectually honest person to that conclusion. Consider; all science is founded on the premise that, all things being equal, the same experiment will always yield the same results. Example: it is "true" that water freezes at thirty-two degrees fahrenheit. There is absolutely no taint of "maybe that's true for you" about it. Think about it. I'm sure you can come up with other "facts" that are equally "true." Of course there are areas where our knowledge of a given subject is inadequate. That is plainly understood. In fact, these concepts are obvious to anyone, except to the miseducated twenty-first century mind, philosopically vaccinated against reality. We have become a society of miseducated fools.
The validity of the concept of truth is even evident in the otherwise subjective arena of human behavior. C.S. Lewis once pointed out there are two obvious facts concerning the human race: one, we all recognize a fairly consistent system of morality, and two, we don't consistently live by it. It is self evident that lying, selfishness and murder are wrong. That statment is just as true as the one which says water freezes at thirty-two degrees farenheit. Moral truthes can be traced not just to the ten commandments but in societies down through ancient history and around the globe.
There are of course supposedly educated people who talk as if honesty and fair-play were mere social conventions, mores, chosen arbitrarily from among a plethora of competing mores. These mores they say have no actual truth or validity in themselves. Our ancestors could easily have chosen different standards.
Right. Exactly which different standards?
Relativism is the safest belief system in the world. You never have to embrace anything unpleasant or restrictive to bother your life with. At the same time it is the emptiest, system in the world. No one even tries to live by it. The very folks who claim that nothing is "true" are the same people who parade around as activists for every issue under the sun. Funny, its like they believed some things were right and other things wrong. Imagine that.
This brings us back to our 98 Pound Christian. We are not weak from a lack of Bible study and spiritual emphasis. We're spiritual twinkies from a simple lack of belief. We are children of our age. and the great god of this age is relativism. We call ourselves Christian, often standing loudly as witnesses. Sadly, despite our words, we often live according to the doctrines of the Spirit of the Age. We read scripture, but fail to apply it to ourselves. We say AMEN to the Sermon on the Mount, yet doubt its practical worth for daily living. We fear people too sure of themselves, and--most orthodox of all--we muddy every issue with how we feel about it. In a word, we doubt the reality of truth. Now, a lack of faith is nothing new. The entire Biblical narrative contains a running sub-plot of man's unbelief. Not just a passive failure to believe mind you, I'm talking about a willful refusal to believe God.
This post is not a call for Christians to renew their activist energies. Instead, its a radical call for Christians to cast away their deeply concealed distaste--not to say shame--for eternal truth. It is a call to put our lives where our mouths are and choose to believe--to actually take God at his eternal word and trust him. To do that we must make a conscious decision to reject relativism and all its seductive doctrines.
If you are serious about putting on some spiritual bulk, you're going to have to take a deep breath and actually believe. I'm talking about a choice of the will, as in "I WILL to believe God." Its one thing to say it, but another to practice it. Belief is simple but not easy.
FIRST, you begin by submitting to God: "not my will but yours." You have to believe that God has a will for your life and that he will work it out in you. Too often we are impatient with God's timing. We don't believe that God is doing anything. Worse, we harbor dark thoughts that God doesn't really care.
STOP IT. That is the Adversary talking. If God didn't care he wouldn't have lavished all the time and effort he already has. Trust him to work out his perfect will at the perfect time.
SECOND, believe that God's word is trustworthy. It is information for life God has graciously revealed to us. You must believe that his word is true. If you can't say that with confidence how have you believed anything? Conversely, if you have trusted a little and found him true, what gives you the right to pick and choose what you will or won't believe?
Finally, it is essential to cast down the idolatry of relativism. It is not a proven fact it is merely a philosophy. Either believe God or don't. There is no middle road. Relativism's seduction is to call yourself objective rather than subjective. a thoughtful moderate rather than a crazed radical. The rub is truth is neither extreme nor moderate, it simply is.
Relativism is a road Jesus described for us. He said it is broad and easy, yet leads to destruction. Flee from it. Truth is a narrow road. If you deviate from the path you fall off. Jesus said "narrow is the road and hard is the way that leads to life." Will you submit to God's revealed truth? Will you believe?