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Monday, March 21, 2016

Tender Sentiments and Easy Living

How delicate can we get?
God, we are reliably informed, is eternal. He is also unchanging.

Oh, things certainly happen where God dwells; events on a scale we can hardly imagine. Think of passages like “there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord”, or “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” or, best of all, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you”. Momentous events indeed.

Still, if it is possible to speak of a heavenly culture (or perhaps atmosphere), that culture must, like the unchanging character of God, be impervious to trends.

The Sea of Glass vs. the Shifting Sands

This makes sense. God’s character does not evolve. He does not suddenly have bright ideas that never occurred to him before. He is not swayed by compelling arguments he might have inadvertently overlooked. The things he valued when he created the world are the things he values today, and the same things will matter to him a billion years from now.

So heavenly culture reflects heavenly character. Before the throne in heaven there is a sea of glass, like crystal. No waves or turbulence. I imagine it’s something like that.

In contrast, human culture changes constantly. In my own brief lifetime, society has morphed into something I hardly recognize. Values have shifted, priorities have changed. Habits that were considered wicked and personally destructive when I was a child are now thought to be brave and praiseworthy. To speak against such things or even think about them differently than society does is to be “evil” and “unenlightened”. Lifestyle choices that were once thought honourable and decent are now characterized as stuffy and “Victorian”. More often they are simply considered irrelevant.

Human sensibilities and preferences are all over the map.

Moving in Circles

Such cultural shifts are not unidirectional, of course. They seem to be somewhat cyclical. Delicacy of sentiment, for instance, is not a feature exclusive to our current Western society. The Law of Moses refers to “tender and refined” men, and the sort of woman who “would not venture to set the sole of her foot on the ground because she is so delicate and tender”. Today, university campuses are full of precisely this sort of student: endlessly “triggered” by those around them; running in panic for “safe spaces” where their own ideas will never be challenged; shocked and horrified by every violation of their endlessly evolving codes.

Everything old is new again. What goes around comes around.

The cyclical nature of human culture is not well understood in modern education. An evolution-based worldview predisposes the left to view history as a straight line “progressing” from troglodyte ancestors to our current state of self-congratulatory and hyper-sensitive refinement.

But history tells us such tender sentiments are largely a product of easy living. They do not hold up well in a world full of physical conflict, deprivation and danger. Almost a decade ago now, Mark Steyn wrote this:
“Americans and other Westerners who want their families to enjoy the blessings of life in a free society should understand that the life we’ve led since 1945 in the Western World is very rare in human history. Our children are unlikely to enjoy anything so placid and may well spend their adult years in an ugly and savage world, unless we decide that who and what we are is worth defending.”
Precisely. In an “ugly and savage world”, refinement quickly falls by the wayside. Our society is exceptional, not normative.

The Ugly and Savage World

The same passage I earlier referred to in Deuteronomy says this:
“The man who is the most tender and refined among you will begrudge food to his brother, to the wife he embraces, and to the last of the children whom he has left, so that he will not give to any of them any of the flesh of his children whom he is eating, because he has nothing else left, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemy shall distress you in all your towns.”
Ugh. Then there’s this:
“The most tender and refined woman among you, who would not venture to set the sole of her foot on the ground because she is so delicate and tender, will begrudge to the husband she embraces, to her son and to her daughter, her afterbirth that comes out from between her feet and her children whom she bears, because lacking everything she will eat them secretly, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemy shall distress you in your towns.”
Such is the fate of nations that reject God. It makes grim reading. But it shows how quickly mere sentiment can vanish in the face of reality. All that virtue signaling and politically correct handwaving disappears the second a society begins to experience the consequences of its cultural narcissism.

Evolving Societies and the Eternal God

The values of a God who transcends time and whose character never changes are bound to be under-appreciated in societies that exist in a state of perpetual moral flux.

Try accounting for the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah to homosexual activists and enablers. It’s tough sledding. Try getting into the Levitical offerings with a vegan teen. Good luck explaining capital punishment for cursing one’s parents or practicing witchcraft to a generation that sees its elders only as a convenience for raising their all-but-abandoned children and views people who traffic with demons as mere eccentrics so long as they’re “not hurting anybody”.

That anyone might have once regarded such sins more severely than we do is difficult for us to grasp not because human morality has evolved to the point that it has eclipsed God’s, but because in the last few generations we have become as delicate as the Israelite woman who ended up eating her own afterbirth.

Delicacy, Not Morality

But this is mere delicacy, not morality.

We are nice, but we are not good. We are incredibly sensitive, but we are neither just nor consistent in our sensitivity, and we are sensitive about all the wrong things. We abort babies and fetishize pets. We feed, clothe and house murderers at colossal expense because “all life is precious” but the lives of their victims are insufficiently precious to us to be avenged. Either blood no longer has a voice, or more likely our society has its fingers in its ears. We value the preservation of the body long past the time when life in it can be enjoyed, but place little value on the development of a character in tune with the heart of God. We are endlessly sentimental, but rarely loving.

Most especially, we do not see sin as sinful. The idea that certain attitudes, words and actions merit and have always merited stern and unflinching punishment is abhorrent to us. There is almost nothing we view as worth shedding blood over.

But it is not God who has changed. It’s us.

And not for the better.

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