It is always fascinating to watch claims, and counter claims to ‘righteousness and justice’ in the marketplace. If the ‘divine’ is invoked, it invariably is about affirming the ‘god’ of our choosing throwing ‘its’ lot in with our clearly worthy cause. Of course, in the atheistic narrative such invocations are not possible, although the cult-like fervour that such ‘rightness of cause’ is claimed by these groups can make many religious zealots blush. Of course, without the claim of a transcendent narrative, then it is, at best, a claim that is merely self-righteous clad in the garb of the purported, ‘self-evidently-right’.
So, along those lines, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at a different take on this ‘whose side is ‘god’ on’ issue.
In the Biblical Book of Joshua we have the record of an encounter that Joshua, the new leader of Israel, had just prior to his attack on the city of Jericho.
Joshua is confronted by a man with a drawn sword. He boldly approaches this one and demands to know if he was with Israel or with her enemies. This individual declares that he is neither, but as the Commander of the Lords’ Hosts, He is!
Now is this a pre-incarnation Theophany of Jesus, the Second Person of the Godhead or just an angel? Commentators vary. However, I would posit, it is indeed a Theophany.
- The warrior identifies himself as over and above, not on behalf of.
- This invoked in Joshua a fearful reverence manifesting in a genuflecting.
- Angels, as servants, do not permit such responses, as John experienced in Revelation 22:9
- Not only does he not prevent the worshipful response, the warrior then requires Joshua to take off his sandals, declaring he was on holy ground – the same experience his predecessor and mentor, Moses had experienced as recorded in the Book of Exodus chapter 3.
Anyway, this is not meant to draw us into a theological side-bar, the issue is that the God of all creation is the one who takes action, in whatever form this may be – destruction of wickedness through flood, and redemption of the wicked through Blood. It is His standard, not our mortal version of it, that is managed, upheld, and established by Him in the end.
I think it is important to reflect on the above to help frame the ensuing post. Can I encourage you, as best you know how at this point in your experience, please prayerfully reflect on our Lord’s purity, person, and utterly incomprehensibly perfect judgements, as you attempt to lay aside your effigies of our Glorious unparalleled God.
“In War, Truth is the first casualty!” That statement was first written thousands of years ago by the Greek Tragedian Aeschylus and popularized by Senator Hiram Johnson with his poignant proclamation during World War 1 that, ‘the first casualty when war comes, is truth’.
The important question we should ponder before proceeding is, why is that?
However, even that question gets marginalized by the now famous and rhetorical question by Pontius Pilate, to Jesus the Christ, ‘what is truth?’ Perhaps, therein lies the problem around this important construct and why it is so quickly and debilitatingly wounded, in war.
Of course, Truth can never be killed, it does re-emerge, but never in the chaos of conflict only after the irrationality of frenzied ‘assault and defend survival’ has been removed from the theatre does any other voice begin to be heard. Commentator Os Guiness accurately opined that, “without truth, all you have left is manipulation.”
The ‘fog of – culture – war’, and the cacophony of clamouring for control clashes emerging from this ‘manipulation’, all bury the vital and reasoned virtue of truth. Czech Social Anthropologist, Ernest Gellner asserted that, “Anything must be true, before it can significantly claim other merits – without truth all else is worthless.” Consequently, any truth that does not fortify our consensus manufacturing narrative must be excised from this process, even if only for a while to enable ‘our’ position to be established.
So, trading off Gellners' statement, then for ‘justice’ to be of any real and sustainable quality it (at the very least) should be linked to truth, shouldn’t it?
So, then comes the question, which truth?
This is where the anthropologist comes into their own. They do not simply glean ephemeral perspectives from sociological manifestations of behaviour, no, anthropological investigation insists on going well beyond these. The pursuit insists on spelunking worldviews and origins of belief systems and the values they foster. It is that investigation into which anthropological framework best fits truth and justice models, and not just for the myopic and self-absorbed individuals, but for entire communities and societies.
If truth and justice have been sought, understood, agreed upon and established in a society, but they are genuinely not in play in the public square, then action to rectify must be sought.
One could, after all reasoned and lawful mechanisms have failed to lift the lies and injustice (perceived or real) that may well be systemic for the oppressed, then civil disobedience may be required and peaceful protest a worthy vehicle to help promote change.
It was Mahatma Gandhi who looked at the Christs example of social activism and invoked a model that truly sought to remove a genuine nation-wide oppression that was longed for in his native India. The only violence perpetrated in these peaceful protests was from the oppressors, thus affirming the claim of oppression.
Tragically, such remarkable examples of peace and humility are almost impossible to find anymore. So, why is that? Too big a question to answer here? Perhaps, but our failure to really look at history and its lessons, does doom us to miss brilliant examples and repeat unspeakable wrongs.
However, when Jesus Christ, Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jnr’s models are ignored or forgotten and the frustration of fretful anger is ignited, then…
Worse still, when any self-righteous and weaponized Machiavellian mob, either hold sway or worse – rule, under the subjective banner of ‘cancel culture' justice claims, then only one side of a matter is permitted in the marketplace.
The justification narrative almost always commences with… “We have had enough of talking about what we believe needs to change, and we are tired of our rights (perceived or real) being unmet according to our demands.” So, the activists will coerce the public square to align with this now believed, unassailable claim.
For anyone who cares to take even a fleeting glance at history (an action seemingly foreign to ‘generation now’) will reveal this brutal mode at the Bastille and at the Russian Palace, both not ending well at all – for anyone. I am reminded of the observation of Sir Laurens van der Post who said, “Human beings are perhaps never more frightening than when they are convinced beyond doubt that they are right.”
It is now, here in this context, it is believed that all means can be justified – all! As now, we are at ‘war’ for our position and this means silencing any voice not in absolute accord with the mob dictate and expurgating any narrative that does not validate all subjective claims by the mob.
The adage that there are three sides to every story – Yours, Theirs, and the Truth – is now distilled down to the primal, egocentric chant of the self-centred infant, ‘Mine’.
In this construct of – we must have our way and ‘win at all costs’ – there must always be a loser, this frenzied pursuit for control of the public square demands it.
In this current anthropocentric western culture with its hubris imbued divine machinations, all ‘losing’ postures cannot be embraced. The loser demographic has no value in this battle for control – it is powerless! Well at least believed so by those requiring control. Remember, ‘it is the victors who write history’, well so the social commentary goes.
Yet, for all human cultural perspectives in the socio-political power arena, it is this very space Jesus Christ seemed to occupy – the place of the ‘Loser’.
I still recall a conversation I had with a mentor of mine many years ago. A very prominent Christian social-justice activist who championed the cause of the marginalized, poor, outcast and the young. A man I debated with on many issues but had immense respect for and who re-calibrated me in many ways. In one such robust conversation on a contentious political issue, he was arguing for me to ‘chose a side’ as I was discussing points and values of arguably, a two-sided issue and raising some concerns that did not validate his paradigm.
In a moment of frustration, he said ‘if you don’t’ pick a side, you’ll end up in the middle of the road and all you’ll get is run over!’ Now, this highly credentialed and well renowned social activist just wanted me to either agree with him or oppose him. Either way, he could then categorize me as friend or foe (on this issue) and proceed accordingly.
However, my consideration of nuancing elements was not assisting with that process.
Of course, attempts to label me did not include the potentially helpful position of ‘centrist’, but rather pejorative terms were used, like, gutless, disguising, or just missing the point, so essentially ignorant. Now, my very learned friend and mentor was not a bully or a bigot, but his (in many ways) justified zeal was morphing past a bias into a prejudice that he himself would decry, but such is the nature of passionate self-righteousness.
I too have succumbed to this more times than I care to remember.
I recall decades ago hearing a lecturer speak of a tactic often used by middle eastern cultures, of all flavours, for the justification of violence: “To justify killing one’s enemies, you must first demonize them.”
Of course, this was classically bourne out with Jesus Christ and the Sanhedrin.
The threat to their socio-political power was real and though their own laws and conventions forbade at best, or resisted at least, the use of killing, they had to create a context to justify such aberrant conduct – The declaration of the demonic was that trigger.
The word ‘evil’ is wielded now with such reckless ease, that any issue, position, or person that makes me ‘feel bad’ about me or my choices, is that evil.
I digress. When the King of Kings, the Author of Life, the Saviour of the World, incarnated into the mess of our self-governance, he did not come to choose sides. I will contest, that He did not come to endorse a party, system, or mechanism. He came to call us to join Him (and to stay with our literary motif) in the middle of ‘THE Road’.
Let me be crystal clear, this ‘middle of the road’ posture is not a pathetic socio-political centrist one, it is the place of divine righteousness and all the love, truth, justice, and responsibility that this fosters.
This posture was not one of control, but of servanthood.
This posture heightened the so arrogantly dispatched, ‘loser’ label by
- turning the other cheek to fight back.
- advocating for volitional slavery in going the extra mile when enlisted by oppressors in indentured service.
- speaking blessing, not cursing to the ones who have labelled you as their enemy, even demonizing you to justify your beating and/or killing.
This, to our first world west immersed psyches, is not only counterintuitive in our chaotic culture, but utterly unsustainable. It is here that I am reminded of the words of G.K Chesterton who declared, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, it’s been found difficult and left untried.” In reality, Christianity is impossible – without Christ in us.
It is easy to espouse these truly counter-cultural, and clearly revolutionary principles, but in our comfortable privileged and ‘rights’ obsessed society, the idea of submitting obsequiously to such ‘unjust’ processes is anathema – even to those who proclaim Christ as their Saviour.
So, we negotiate; we re-frame and reinterpret, all in illegitimate attempts to salvage a modicum of self-governance that we believe will ‘protect’ us from the abhorrence of what we believe is humiliation – the great nemesis of ‘self’ esteem.
As I was pondering this post I, quite unexpectedly, had the prayer of St Francis of Assisi spring to mind. A profound petition that reflects the heart of a fully surrendered servant to the Only One who can govern and arbitrate perfectly over the human condition.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
I want to leave you with a simple question, one I believe we all need to answer, and seriously – If Jesus Christ is not the final arbiter of truth and justice in our lives, families, communities, cities, and nations, then who or what is?
The Incite – Shane W Varcoe