The Sadducees brought Jesus the most complicated question they could craft against him and his talk of resurrection. They imagined a family of seven sons in which each died passing along their wife to the next brother. They asked Jesus, “In this coming resurrection, whose wife will she be?”
Jesus’s answer was simple, “You are wrong because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.”
Micah warned likewise, “they do not know the thoughts of the Lord; they do not understand his plan.”
Let me be very clear, I will not untangle our nation’s problems in a thousand-word blog post, and neither will anyone else. I don’t intend to try. Who understands all that God is doing?
All Things Exposed
One of my favorite stories from the Bible is Saul’s attempts to capture David at Ramah. Saul got word that David was hiding with Samuel and his community of prophets. Saul sent subsequent rounds of men to capture David and each failed to return. So, Saul went himself. We’re told that when Saul reached Samuel and his prophets, Saul was filled with the Spirit, stripped off all his clothes, and lay naked prophesying.
Clothing is a critical part of the Saul and David stories. Jonathan gave David his cloak, Saul offered his armor to David before he faced Goliath, Saul tore Samuel’s robe and in return, Samuel predicted that God would tear the kingdom from his rule. Michal rebuked David for his choice of a common linen ephod to lead the ark. And Saul took off all his royal robes when the Spirit came upon him.
Do you remember when Saul went to inquire of the witch at Endor? He went in disguise but as soon as the spirit of Samuel appeared, the witch immediately saw through Saul’s facade and recognized exactly who it was seeking her service.
Things always end up exposed. Neither the garments of power nor the cloak of deceit can ultimately cover what is true. Before God, all men lay naked. All power melts away. All pretense is dissolved. All schemes are laid bare. No one gets away with anything. Neither Saul nor, God’s own man, David.
How dumb David was to not recognize the Prophet Nathan’s story. Nathan came needing a judicial opinion about a rich man who stole a poor neighbor’s single lamb. Having just murdered Uriah and swiped Bathsheba, a child could have recognized Nathan’s setup. But in his pride of having supposedly “gotten away with it,” David couldn’t recognize his own life laid out in the story. David called for the rich man’s punishment. And with just two Hebrew words, Nathan declared, “you’re him.” David too was exposed.
We the People
If I have learned anything from the past few weeks of our nation’s intensifying political conflicts, it’s that we truly are a government of people—we the people. Our government is not eternal nor sacred. It is not made of marble or bronze. It is not monuments or rotundas. It is not guaranteed nor inevitable. It is people. Complicated, compromised, flawed, frustrating, and sinfully rotten people. Men and women like Saul. Men and women like David. Men and women—as much as I wish it weren’t the case—like me. Like you.
Franklin wasn’t joking when he explained we possessed, “a republic, if you can keep it.” Count on people and you’re sure to taste some disappointment.
There has been much recent talk about what the constitution does and doesn’t allow, everyone is now a constitutional scholar. But we should remember that its opening words are not about rights, checks, or powers. Its opening words are an assumption that what follows is based on us being people—“We the people of the United States.” It assumes we know how to be people. That may be the real challenge we are facing. Do we know how to be a person, a people?
We have become ideologies, crowds in support of slogans, likes, and retweets, polls, and projections. Better defined by which podcasts we subscribe to then by our families, careers, faith, or place. According to several recent studies, fewer American’s know the names of their neighbors than ever before. But I bet you have suspicions about their politics. Maybe those yard signs already gave it away. We are increasingly more ignorant about and isolated from people, yet we assume more than ever.
When Did We Stop Being People?
In the late 1880s, Neitzche wrote a story about a madman who lit a lamp in the morning and went searching for God. “Where is he,” he cried. The gathering crowd laughed and mocked him. “Is God a child that you must go find him?” “Has God gotten lost somewhere?” They were enlightened people, no longer lost in superstition or fairytale.
The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.
“How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us—for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.”
The crowd went silent and stared at him in confusion and astonishment. Probably the same response you had. Seems a little mellow dramatic but pretty good writing for a crazy man.
At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars—and yet they have done it themselves.
He finally concluded; they hadn’t felt enough of the consequences to have recognized what they had done. The madman had come too soon. But one day, they would feel the consequences of their death to God.
Do we not feel it? “Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down?” “Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon?”
Neitzche was convinced that the only way to deal with the death of the divine was to become gods ourselves. Where else would we turn for morality, for meaning? We would take up the work of good vs. evil. We would become judges of our brothers and sisters. We would expose and we would condemn.
The world of God’s rule shattered into a pantheon of men climbing Olympus to claim his spot. It is a zero-sum game in which he who holds power declares right and wrong.
Man was created for things greater than what we now possess. We feel it. We know there must be more. But having laughed away any narrative of the divine, having rolled our eyes at talk of the eternal, having relegated religious narratives to the realm of medieval history, we are left to find our own story, our own meaning. We must find our own good vs evil in which to take sides. We mock such ideas and yet our rhetoric is increasingly full of it. Our culture laughs at those who speak of evil and yet accuses nearly everyone else of it.
The novelist Walker Percy captured it in the despair of his Moviegoer:
“and one hundred percent of people are humanists and ninety-eight percent believe in God, and men are dead, dead, dead; and the malaise has settled like a fall-out and what people really fear is not that the bomb will fall but that the bomb will not fall—on this my thirtieth birthday, I know nothing and there is nothing to do but fall prey to desire.”
What was the prophet Samuel doing during all that turmoil of Saul’s unraveling? Apparently, he was with a group of prophets worshiping. What exposed Saul was a group of people, filled with the Spirit in worship. It is always that way. What exposes the world, what exposes you and me, is worship. It is the most subversive act in the world. To simply say, Jesus, is Lord. To worship him.
The truth is not exposed through ballots or speeches, not through power or revolution. The truth is exposed to the world through people who gather to worship God and to have the truth humbly expose them. You can not legislate the truth, you can’t advertise it, or force it down people’s throats. Because the truth is a person.
“I am the way, the truth, and the life,” Jesus explained.
We know the truth by knowing a person. By humbling ourselves and reaching out beyond ourselves. Odds are, His Spirit will expose you and leave you naked, but you need that. You must love him with all your heart, soul, and mind. He is not a political ideology. He is not a position to defend. He is not an argument to be won. The Christian religion is not a philosophy or a culture, it is a person. A person who will challenge your ideas and your conclusions.
And learning to follow him teaches us to be a person as well. It teaches us how to recognize other persons. Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. He teaches us to be human. To be a named individual, a soul. And so we are instructed in how to recognize others as souls too.
He took fishermen and tax collectors, zealots and Pharisees, men and women, and reworked their identities into named disciples.
Smite us all; Save us all
Some will say, this is naïve and too moderate for the importance of the moment. You’re probably right. You are going to have to make decisions.
The truth is, I have plenty of opinions as well. I cast a particular ballot for a certain candidate. I have thoughts about economics and social justice and election integrity. I have thoughts about big tech, about foreign policy, and black lives matter, and about our police officers. I have thoughts about global warming, and China, and North Korea, and Iran. I bet you have thoughts too. And I bet there are plenty of places we disagree.
But I am convinced that my first decision must be to know Christ more. He has exposed me enough for me to know I am often right and wrong.
The political story is not the only story. We are people. We have to learn to see one another as people. To hear one another as people.
I’m under no illusion. We will continue to disagree, even as believers. But God help us if we reduce one another to less than a person. God help us if we reduce Christ to less than a person.
And I’m of the “Samuel” opinion that the best place to do all of this “re-personing” is in worship with other persons and with Christ.
I have been praying the line from a G. K. Chesterton prayer all week. Smite us all; Save us all. Let us know you as the truth and expose us in any depersonalizing pretense. Expose what is true. Strip us of our royal garments. Strip us of our disguises. Strip our nation of falsehood and propaganda. Pour out your Holy Spirit and drive us all to the ground before you. Give us courage and give us meekness. Give us Jesus.
O God of earth and altar,
Bow down and hear our cry,
Our earthly rulers falter,
Our people drift and die;
The walls of gold entomb us,
The swords of scorn divide,
Take not thy thunder from us,
But take away our pride.
From all that terror teaches,
From lies of tongue and pen,
From all the easy speeches
That comfort cruel men,
From sale and profanation
Of honour and the sword,
From sleep and from damnation,
Deliver us, good Lord.
Tie in a living tether
The prince and priest and thrall,
Bind all our lives together,
Smite us and save us all;
In ire and exultation
Aflame with faith, and free,
Lift up a living nation,
A single sword to thee.
– G. K. Chesterton