For Christian conservatives who are determined to respect the discipline of self-government, the daily collection of information about current events has, for many years now, been a strenuous exercise in self-restraint. Hardly a day passes without reading several news reports or commentaries that seed clouds of interior outrage with new kernels of provocation. This gathering storm threatens to overwhelm the clarity of perception and reasoning disciplined thought requires.
Often it seems that, like Job, adherents of America’s decent Liberty sit in the ashes of their country’s once God blessed spiritual, intellectual and material prosperity. They scrape in vain at reported events erupting upon America’s body politic, like the loathsome sores that covered Job’s body “from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.” And in the midst of its travail they encounter, instead of comfort, a chorus of taunting doubt. It echoes the temptation Job’s wife hurled at his head: “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” (Job 2:9)
Of course, in our day, that doubtful chorus maintains a pretense of greater sophistication. Paying lip-service to God, they lead us, by example, to curse our enemies instead; and to focus, in thought, on ways of making them disappear from our midst. Because, since 9-11, we have lived with the specter of terrorism, they presume upon and exploit our fear. Because, during the Obama era, we lived with constant disparagement of our faith, our moral conscience and our patriotism, they presume upon and exploit our angry indignation. Because, since the end of the Reagan era, we have repeatedly feasted upon the bitter tasting fruit of unceasing political betrayal, they presume upon and exploit our resentment.
If we were not heirs to “the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free” fear, anger and resentment might indeed seem like enough to “make America great again”, as some would have it. But though the scions of our self-worshipping pride openly or tacitly deny it, our city was built upon the hill of Calvary, in the Spirit of new life that descended after Christ was lifted up to Heaven. For those who received, through Christ, that newness of life, He left behind a tomb forever emptied of death’s prey. Encouraged by this truth, those who inherited His liberty were as the leaven by whose activity America rose up—first as an intrepid hope in the faithful minds of its founding generation; and then again as hope increasingly fulfilled, through trials of exploration, injustice, contentious debate, and destructive war.
Yet it was thanks to our heritage of Christian liberty that a verdict for right and justice time and again resulted from those trials. This is not at all simply a comment on the behavior of people who eventually showed themselves willing to accept the responsibility true liberty entails. It is more importantly a comment on the sure blessing represented by the standard of God’s will, the standard that was raised up, from the beginning, to be the one by which Americans should discern and measure what is right, however failingly it was, at first, made manifest in our actions.
The soldier-poet gave us an accurate mantra for the journey by which our liberty passed from generation to generation: “To you from failing hands we throw the torch, be yours to hold it high.” How can it be right to see each generation as failing, even if rights have been vindicated, slaves freed, and distant nations removed from the prison house of tyranny? We only see it as failure because we will not cast away the torch—the light of reasoning in good faith from the standard of our perfection. We may see it as failure because we are not content to consult only what our poor powers can achieve. We hold true instead to what God calls us to achieve, by the power of His good will.
With God’s standard before us, vanquished enemies denote our failure, until they become, along with us, the friends of justice, right and liberty. With God’s standard before us, battles won through carnage and destruction denote our failure, until they are memorialized in cities rebuilt in hope by generations raised up in the ways and times of peace. With God’s standard before us, truces inscribed for a certain time denote our failure until they are written into a permanent fabric of commerce, cooperation and common sense. With God’s standard before us, generations may fail again and again to achieve the good they long for, and yet see in what they have achieved, the foretaste of good to come.
But with this thought we return to the daunting challenge we Americans now face. For we again face a crisis that involves contending with one another about the very cause of right and justice that allows us to achieve success without pridefully corrupting our good will; and endure failure without surrendering the good hope that rouses us to overcome it. We contend for the standard of God. We contend for that standard against those who want us to believe that there is no measure of good except the barely human will, passion and accomplishment that overcomes what they regard as the greatest failure of all—which is humanity itself, as God endows it.
When he spoke of the “abolition of man” C.S. Lewis drew out this implication of the false idea of “progress” the enemies of true religion substitute for the goal that Christ’s presence of brings within reach of humanity. As these enemies of truth would rather worship “stone, stupidity, gravity, fate…” or nothing at all in place of God; So, too, they would rather embrace non-humanity, trans-humanity, even inhumanity, than accept the incomparable offer of God-informed humanity made good in Jesus’ name.
Whatever libertine or syphilitic madness leads self-idolizing elitists to hate the very idea of God-endowed human nature, it is certainly in their primal, selfish interest to abandon that idea. Bereft of God, to authorize its bonds, the humanly conceived and realized power of self-informed will feels free to impose, upon humanity thus exposed, whatever bonds superior force and fear allow. Lo and behold, in this way liberty becomes again the conquered province of a privileged few. Before these great, endless vistas rise, obscenely bereft of conscience or “morality”.
Thus presumptuously freed from the God-endowed bonds of human nature, history recommences the course of general oppression that went seriously unchallenged until God placed the wholesome power of His divinity within the reach of every person ready to accept the gift of Christ’s good will. Now, I understand why elitist worshippers of human material power think a world administered by its proven minions represents “progress”, and even an historic “revolution” (if, by the latter term, we mean a return to the way things previously were.) But why “common people” (by which I mean those true republicans who value the endowment of God all people are supposed to have in common) should welcome the progress of this elitist revolution is beyond comprehension. Even more incomprehensible, however, is why people who profess to know God’s presence in themselves, through Jesus Christ, seem willing to embrace a future predicated on rejecting the standard of good hope for humanity God sent His Son to represent to us.