Bulletin Articles

Bulletin Articles

“The Salt of the Earth”

Categories: Iron sharpens iron

Postmodern philosophy, with its ridiculous denial of the existence of objective truth, made it common to explain away someone’s accountability by saying that he was “a product of his environment.”  As with most destructive ideas, there is a kernel of truth, that has been taken much too far.  The environment in which you grew up, and spend most of your time, affects your perspective on the world.  It’s not the defining factor, but it’s involved.  Driving along the same stretch of road, a civil engineer notices the condition of the road, a builder sees progress at a construction site off to the side, a truck driver notices the height limit at an underpass, and a businessman considers what he’d do with that vacant storefront.  It’s not that we’re unable to see outside our wheelhouse, but we usually don’t. We’re not used to looking.

After God gave the Israelites the promised land and they settled in, the generation that had seen God’s miracles and received his help in conquering the land, began to die out.

And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers.  And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work he had done for Israel. (Judges 2.10)

It’s not fair to say that Israel’s tendency toward idolatry was purely because they hadn’t seen God’s works—that would make them unaccountable for their own actions, and God didn’t see it that way, he punished them as if they were responsible.  But not knowing God certainly didn’t help matters!

In the same way, after Joseph ruled as Pharaoh’s second-in-command and saved not only Egypt, but his own people from the famine, a time came when “there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Ex 2.8), and he subjugated Israel, resorting to mass infanticide to keep them from posing a threat to his power.  It’s debatable whether this was (however morally wrong) a shrewd move politically, but the point remains, Joseph’s Pharaoh would never have done this due to his experience of Joseph’s immense loyalty and service.  Yet, someone brought up outside of that environment felt no such connection.

In both of these cases, an objective observer with more knowledge of the full situation can easily see the mistakes these people made.  But for the new king, enslaving and murdering made sense.  For the Israelites during the time of the Judges, serving idols made sense.  They were wrong, and should have known better, but they didn’t realize it.  Their environment had rubbed off on them.

In the USA, there’s a great deal of confusion about spiritual matters that stems from cultural assumptions about things like voting and individual rights, which go back to our nation’s founding.  By and large, these norms have led to good.  In the political realm, for example, people who unjustly try to seize power ought to be challenged.  In the spiritual realm, although most people throughout history have viewed their relationship with God through membership in a particular organization, in reality “it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (Ga 3.7), which is to say, the one-on-one relationship between you and God is where it all starts, regardless of who gave birth to you.  These libertarian, individualistic ideals are largely responsible for the religious awakening in the 19th century USA.  Several American Revolution fighters later spurred rebellion, this time not against a tyrannical and oppressive British king, but against artificial, man-made religious hierarchy.

That system needed to go—and although it still remains in force to some extent, 200 years later, it has little of the power it once wielded.  It is no longer taken very seriously.

But while these cultural assumptions and ideals have led to much good, they also come with problems.  For example, while most churches now rightly challenge the authority of any one person to unilaterally bind their own requirements and decisions on even a single congregation, they have often swung in the other direction as far as accepting majority-rule for most decisions, with little or no thought to why we never see that happening in the New Testament.  It’s fairly obvious in the abstract sense, that what is wrong can never be voted into being right, but if our environment encourages us to put everything down to a vote, is it any wonder that’s the default?

This sort of mentality is dangerous in all areas of life.  For another example, as our society becomes more and more politically divided on fundamental issues, many want God on their side of the debate, and you can see that figuring prominently in elections like the upcoming one.  Is God a Democrat, or a Republican?  What a silly question.  He’s neither.  It’s tempting to crack a joke here about a third party, but it’s not really a laughing matter.  God is far above any political system, and it’s absurd to attempt to drag him down to this level.  He’s the king.  Not just a king, but the king.  His rules are not up for debate, or down to a vote.  That doesn’t mean he doesn’t care about our politics—a quick browse through the minor prophets or Revelation tells us otherwise.  But we should put our values in the proper order and refuse to be simply products of our environment.  We’re supposed to be rubbing off on society, not letting society rub off on us.  Let’s make sure to be about our Father’s business.

Jeremy Nettles