Hindsight 2020: Perilous Path. Ditches on Both Sides.

Part Two of What we Should Have Seen, Where we Go From Here (2 of 8)

In my previous article, with a measure of pain and personal responsibility, I reflected upon the church’s seeming irrelevance in the unfolding drama of 2020. The fact that Christians rejoiced with a sense of semi-patriotic relief when the COVID-19 shutdown finally caused the president and other government officials to declare the church an “essential service” does not make us truly essential, it just makes us feel better.

Last week, I described the ditch of the church’s silence, by which I meant voicelessness—the emptiness of our message, discernment and insight. The fact that we were so caught off guard is more than problematic, it requires reflection and realignment. In 2019, we were inspired more by sentiment and an almost glib sense of victorious expectation than grounded, Biblical truth and anointed prophetic proclamations. Judge for yourself the truth of that perspective, but one thing is for sure: if we are to properly fix our error, the remedy must not be urgent if it is not also directional. As the late economist and historian, David Fleming, said, “Forward movement is not helpful if what is needed is a change of direction.”

A rush to reestablish our virtue and relevance simply because those things have been lacking will likely make an idol of ourselves in the process. This is the second ditch. We have to walk a narrow path of humility and accountability between the recognition of our lack and a refusal to overreact. If the church has been knocked off the cultural pedestal it once enjoyed, let us be sobered for what this means in the broader swathe of Western Judeo-Christian history, but let us also welcome whatever shakings and purgings the Father might deem necessary to restore His Son, alone, to the center of all affections, glory and honor.

A NEW ERA DAWNS

The following headlines appeared in major news outlets over the last three months.

  • “Coronavirus Will Change the World Permanently: Here’s How” (Politico)
  • “Coronavirus Ushers in the Globalization We Feared” (Bloomberg)
  • “COVID-19 Is The Crisis That Will Impact Generation Z’s Worldview” (Forbes)
  • “The Coronavirus Pandemic Will Forever Alter the World Order” (WSJ)

The Wall Street Journal article went on to call for the “urgent work of planning for a new epoch.” These are four of dozens, perhaps hundreds of articles, ranging from scholarly essays to documentaries to newspapers and other media outlets. Liberal and conservative. Clickbait and serious. Fake and real.

Allow me to draw on another secular voice to help frame our situation. I don’t quote such perspectives because I support their worldview, I quote them because they presently strike me as more clearly articulated than more trusted spiritual alternatives. Charles Eisenstein, a liberal ecologist and social commentator whose works are popular with countercultural and New Age audiences, said this:

“The present convergence of crises––in money, energy, education, health, water, soil, climate, politics, the environment, and more––is a birth crisis, expelling us from the old world into a new….We sense that ‘normal’ isn’t coming back, that we are being born into a new normal: a new kind of society, a new relationship to the earth, a new experience of being human… The same goes for changes happening around the coronavirus epidemic. Some commentators have observed how it plays neatly into an agenda of totalitarian control. A frightened public accepts abridgments of civil liberties that are otherwise hard to justify, such as the tracking of everyone’s movements at all times, forcible medical treatment, involuntary quarantine, restrictions on travel and the freedom of assembly, censorship of what the authorities deem to be disinformation, suspension of habeas corpus, and military policing of civilians. Many of these were underway before Covid-19; since its advent, they have been irresistible. The same goes for the automation of commerce; the transition from participation in sports and entertainment to remote viewing; the migration of life from public to private spaces; the transition away from place-based schools toward online education, the destruction of small business, the decline of brick-and-mortar stores, and the movement of human work and leisure onto screens. Covid-19 is accelerating preexisting trends, political, economic, and social.”

Sacred Economics: Money, Gift, and Society in the Age of Transition

Two centuries before Eisenstein, in his farewell address of 1796, President George Washington warned: “Disorders and miseries…gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power…of despotism.”

On August 3, Wall Street Journal columnist Walter Mead wrote, “History is accelerating, and the leaders, values, institutions and ideas that guide society are going to be tested severely by the struggles ahead.” The headline declared, “The world is entering a transformative era. Prepare for more chaos and instability.”

EXPLOITS AND UNDERSTANDING

If we are accelerating, the question must be asked, towards what? Twenty-six hundred years ago, the prophet Daniel announced a future time of acceleration and trouble unlike any the world had ever known. Unsurprisingly, in Daniel’s view, this would not be a time of hiddenness, idleness, or emptiness for the people of God. Instead,

“the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action (‘do exploits’ KJV), and the wise among the people shall make many understand (‘give insight to many’ KJV)”

Dan. 11:32-33, ESV

What does it mean to do exploits? Does that simply mean we’ll heal people, raise the dead, cast out demons — those normative New Testament things Jesus promised in John 14:12? Yes, for sure, but there is another angle. Because this prophecy was directed to a future period of expanding antichrist influence, other translations say that the people who know their God will “firmly resist” (NIV), or “do everything possible to oppose him” (CEV). The context is referencing the antichrist as a person, but what about the subtle, granular encroachments of antichrist systems? Are we to wait until those systems sprout their fully toxic fruit? And if action is required, how do we act not according to the flesh, but according to the spirit?

I don’t see that kind of clarity or courage flourishing in the church right now. Do you? Leading prophetic voices have been mixed, at best. The church has been greatly divided: race divides us, President Trump divides us, Covid-19 divides us, BLM divides us, CNN and Fox divide us. Crudely stated, we can’t seem to find our rear-end with both hands. This merely restates my central premise from last week, that our influence has not been marginalized so much as revealed to be marginal. In the words of William J. Federer, from his book, Change to Chains – The 6,000 Year Quest for Control, the problem is this: “Persistence wears down resistance.”

What do we stand for? What, and when, do we resist? In a war-torn land, what urgent communique do we bring from the King? What is the savor of our salt? What is the brightness of our light?

Regarding COVID-19, do we speak up and resist, or cooperate with containment efforts? Is it merely good citizenship to put on our mask, or is that symbolic of our voice being muzzled and the privileges of citizenship being compromised? Was Wuhan all a big accident, or is it morphing into a sinister antichrist agenda? On that note, is Trump still the person to lead the nation? Regarding racial strife, is this the moment white people should mostly listen and empathize, or should kingdom perspectives be proclaimed regardless of skin color? Since black lives matter — and they truly do! — does that mean that the movement itself is beyond questioning? At what point do we start drawing some lines in the sand and defining the terms of engagement, framing these complex issues in the language of Biblical justice and redemption, and leveraging our influence for the renewal of culture? Or, is this instead the moment we shift our attention to soberly anticipate the return of Christ? Do we engage culture or wash our hands of it all and focus on “buying oil” (e.g. the Five Wise Virgins)? Mind you, for an increasing number of folks, the church itself is the next pedestal to be toppled in the next decadent, angry wave of cancel culture.

For six months, we’ve cobbled together a few timid, conciliatory personal opinions wrapped in the thinnest veneer of Biblical substance. Simply put, we lack the spiritual horsepower to give insight to others because we ourselves are running on the fumes of yesterday’s paradigms regarding how God moves, what revival looks like, and where history is heading—all co-mingled with our legendary tendency for passive cultural engagement.

MIND THE GAP

If you’ve ever been to London, you know the city’s subway system is famous for repeatedly warning people to “mind the gap” — to be aware of the space between the ledge of the concrete platform and the threshold of the subway car as people get on and off. In other words, gaps can trip us up and cause injury. Don’t stumble over what you don’t see. If you can recognize the gap, you’ll adjust your stride and stay safe.

2020 has revealed many gaps. We’ve been forced to recognize our perception gap, our knowledge gap, our relationship gap. We’ve stumbled. What should we have known that we don’t? How did we get so caught off guard? Sometimes God hides His mind so that we will dig deeper. Gaps are undeniably part of this cycle, because they sting. It smarts when you scrape your knees, but that pain is a gift. If we allow ourselves to be appropriately wounded, we can also appropriately mourn the gap and the blindness that caused it.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4). Individually and corporately, we should mourn the space between what we could know in God, and what we do know; between what we proclaimed in 2019 as if it were His mind, and how obviously we now realize it was largely our mind; between the direction He is taking history, and how we can now glimpse the rude, messy, unromantic manner by which that path will likely disturb and disrupt our sense of entitlement and personal comfort.

I once was blind, but now I see! But it has only just begun. 2020 is merely a dress rehearsal. The curtain has not quite risen on the final act, but slowly, surely, we are beginning to see. The map is being spread out. The stakes are being clarified. Blind spots remain, but this should drive us further toward dependence on Him, since the problem with blind spots is only secondarily in what we miss. The primary issue is that we ourselves don’t know that we don’t see. Even so, that is very different than saying such things are fundamentally unknowable. This is the very charter for which the Holy Spirit was given.

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth”

John 16:13

“All truth” is a mighty big promise. Exactly how much truth do you think Jesus intended when He said that? Some truth? Timeless canon doctrine truth? While that’s a critical baseline, what about truth required by particular times, needs, and the unique circumstance of history? Is all truth timeless, or is some truth especially timely? As charismatics, if we invoke the value of “daily bread” and “kairos” timely truth, the great temptation would be to start chasing “Now now now!” words, which is part of what got us here in the first place. On the other hand, if Daniel said we would know God, do exploits, and give insight to others, then we are obviously in prime Holy-Spirit-truth-teaching territory. Part of all truth is the stuff we need to know to act like Daniel described. For my part, I don’t practically know what to do right now. Do you? If so, then there must be more to know and discover. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit is more than capable of unraveling even the most convoluted cultural, political, moral and economic quagmire. Please note the corporate mechanism by which the Holy Spirit shares His truths as indicated by the word “we.”

“For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual…but we have the mind of Christ.”

1 Cor. 2:10-13, 16

NOT TAUGHT BY HUMAN WISDOM, BUT BY THE SPIRIT

Here’s a hint to get you started: apart from the sure Word of God, all news is fake news. QAnon is not your reliable source of intel. It’s just another gap, perhaps made worse by creating a feeling of enlightenment rather than further dependence on the Spirit of God. Everyone say it with me together. Five truths from 1 Corinthians 2: 1) we, for the purpose of understanding the mysterious ways of God in our present time, 2) collectively, not individually, 3) have (receive and possess) 4) the very mind (thoughts, understanding, perspective) 5) of Christ. 

Read that again, because each word matters. Jesus paid a dear price to fill us with the Holy Spirit who brings all truth—yesterday, today and forever.

Next week I’m going to consider the hopeful possibility that God is doing something far greater than any of us realize. Stay tuned.