HISTORY AND HOPE
The Search for a Way of Life that Will Not Unravel
1. If I were specializing in the field of Christian Evidences I would make my focus, not biological or physical sciences, but social sciences like history.
a. The Bible expects us to be able to consider long blocks of human experience and to draw conclusions from them about how life works.
b. Informed in this way, we may understand the significance of current trends and form convictions to guide us into the future.
2. The period of the Judges provides a background against which the point I have in mind may be examined.
a. Judges 2:11-19 describes a cycle the recurred in the experience of Israel, a cycle that may lead us to think about what happens in any society through generations.
b. The question is whether, and where, human beings can find any principle around which a way of life that will not unravel may be organized.
1. Personalities cannot serve this purpose.
a. Israel had been led by two of the strongest personalities, Moses and Joshua.
i. Both were faithful servants of the LORD for a long time.
ii. Both were strong and courageous in confronting opportunities and problems, and in providing for the development of the nation.
iii. Both intentionally and specifically tried to provide for the continuing life of a people, and their influence tended to hold things together for a while (Judges 2:7).
b. The cycle of decline that developed in Israel, however, demonstrates that not even the strongest personalities can sustain a culture.
i. Moses and Joshua, as noble as they were, were still human beings and both of them made mistakes (Deut. 32:51; Josh. 9:14-15; Judges 2:2-3).
ii. Obviously, both of them “went the way of all the earth” (cf. Josh. 23:14; both of them died and were “gathered to their people” (Deut. 32:50).
iii. Their generations passed, and with succeeding ones their influence faded (Judges 2:10).
c. The fact that this tendency is repeated again and again in the history of the Judges confirms the truth: personality or celebrity is not a sufficient core for a way of life that will not unravel.
2. Neither is autonomous individualism.
a. The last part of the book of Judges is bracketed by this statement: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25).
i. If unfettered individual preference could produce a people with a way of life that could survive the generations, that would have been the time.
ii. Instead, in the awful episodes that are recorded between the two markers I’ve mentioned, religion is corrupted (Judges 17), common respect for others disappears (18), standards of decency and completely destroyed (19), brother is set against brother (20), and people meet the worst kinds of grief and sorrow (21).
iii. People were left, not celebrating their fulfillment, but bitterly asking, “Why has this happened in Israel?” (21:3).
b. That result should not be a surprise.
i. Unguided individual preference sets a person loose from whatever norms that may have been commonly recognized.
ii. Sooner or later, it sets him against the preferences of other individuals.
iii. Inevitably, it dooms the individual to the mistakes of life that might have been avoided had he been willing to learn from the wisdom of the ages.
c. Individual liberty is a fine thing; but every man doing what is right in his own eyes, with no guidance and no responsibility to anything or anyone else, will produce an unraveling social situation.
3. Government cannot serve as the heart of a way of life that lasts.
a. The Bible says that Israel, sick with the cycles of generational decline, decided the answer would be for them to have a king like the nations around them.
i. 1 Samuel 8:5....Verses 19-20 that the bottom line for them was that if they could be like the nations, a king would fight their battles.
ii. 1 Samuel 8:7, 9
iii. 1 Samuel 8:10-18
b. It turned out, of course, like the LORD said it would rather than like the people thought it might.
i. There were always battles into which their king sent them, he consumed a huge amount of their resources, and , after their third king, their kingdom was divided.
ii. Twenty kings ruled over the Northern Kingdom’s march to disaster through just over 200 years, and 20 kings ruled the Southern Kingdom’s descent into captivity for nearly 350 years.
iii. In neither case was the cycle of faithlessness leading to an unraveling of the fabric of life interrupted.
4. Some other government will not serve as the organizing principle of life, either.
a. I say this not only to pursue the story of the Bible, but also to make it clear that this is not a political point.
i. Israel’s problem was not just the form of government they had, it was that they had the wrong idea about what would make life work.
ii. Their nation needed people who would do justly, love kindness, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8), and it didn’t have them.
iii. No form of government can so change how life works that it no longer takes people with godly character to make life hold together.
b. Over the succeeding centuries, Israel had occasion to learn whether other means of governing could do for their lives what their own kings had been unable to do.
i. They were always thinking they could turn to Egypt or some other power for help (Isa. 30:1f), but none proved worthy of their trust.
ii. The mighty Assyrians relocated those whom they conquered and repopulated their land. The cruel Babylonians destroyed property and carried off people into depressing captivity. The Persians had a policy of allowing those captives to return to their devastated lands, but often poor and dispirited, and with limited opportunity to do better.
iii. None of these approaches came any closer to actually constructing a people with a life that would not unravel. Is there nothing that can do it?
5. That brings us to the point of the Bible: a way of life which has Christ at its core will not come apart.
a. The apostle Paul makes this application of the gospel several times in his letters. Consider the way it plays out in Ephesians, for example:
i. God had a plan to unite all things in Christ (1:10).
ii. Those who learn Christ become a new people, created in truth and righteousness and holiness (4:24).
iii. That makes them into material which can be neighbors who are a blessing (4:25), decent citizens (5:5), good wives and husbands, children and parents (5:22-6:4), respectful workers and bosses (6:5-9), and individuals who are able to cope with what life brings their way (6:10f).
b. Life organized around Christ can sustain personalities, guide individual liberty, and act as enriching leaven and purifying salt the light of hope within any culture.
c. The way of life with Christ at its heart is constantly being called upward toward positive growth (Phil. 3:14; 2 Pet. 1:5f); it is the opposite of the drift and decline we read about in Judges a while ago.
1. I would say history brings us face to face with both hopelessness and hope.
a. Life without Christ inevitably descends into a meaningless spiraling cycle of passing generations.
b. Life with real commitment to Christ at its core, however, has been able to survive the most unlikely circumstances.
c. It is a way of life that will endure, that will not unravel from one generation to the next, to the one after that, because “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8).
2. For Christians, a look back cause us to be confident that the way we are trying to live at the present is the right thing for us to do, and to look forward hopefully.