Saturday, September 03, 2016

Excuse Me, May I Borrow Your Spear?

How many ways can activism and advocacy go wrong? Let’s see ...

As I’ve pointed out in this space already, this crazy election cycle finds Christian opinion all over the map in ways I’ve rarely seen before. For every Wayne Grudem explaining why you should vote Trump, there’s a Thabiti Anyabwile or a Rachel Held Evans pointing out reasons why another Clinton presidency may be preferable (not to mention there’s at least one Douglas Wilson holding his nose and calling for a principled boycott).

Everyone has an opinion, and most of us have reasons for it, however arbitrary and weird they may seem to others. Good. God would like that. “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” The effort to vote intelligently and consistently with one’s conscience is a noble one.

Advocacy is another story. For me, it comes way too close to an unhealthy level of emotional investment in a system that is corrupt beyond our ability to measure.

A Bad Emotional Investment

I trust that our readers can read between the lines and discern that I, too, have my opinions about virtually everything. But my greatest concern by far in this present environment is the unfortunate tendency of Christians to enthusiastically advocate for causes about which we know far too little, and to pontificate on subjects about which we are being actively and quite effectively misled.

Perhaps it’s a consequence of the Internet giving a voice to anyone who wants one. Maybe we feel we must share our thoughts on absolutely every subject, since it seems like everyone else is. But too often we start by deciding what we like (or don’t), then grab our proof texts after the fact and go to town advocating or debunking. In far too many instances, the scriptural “evidence” we are citing lends rhetorical heft to nothing more substantial than prejudices and preferences. Viewed objectively or contextually, the evidence does not remotely say what we would like it to.

So, opinion? Yes. Please have one. Ignorant advocacy? No thanks.

Christians and Levites

If there is an analogue to the Christian experience in the Old Testament, it is surely the tribe of Levi. Don’t get me wrong, the entire nation of Israel serves as a picture of the Christian life in many useful ways, but the Levites in particular remind us that we are a kingdom of priests. As Peter puts it:
“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.”
But the thing about the Levites is this: their service was spiritual and their attachment to the earthly blessings of Israel was much more ephemeral than someone from, say, the tribe of Dan, or Ephraim, or even Judah. Over and over we read things like this:
“To the tribe of Levi alone Moses gave no inheritance. The offerings by fire to the Lord God of Israel are their inheritance.”
And things like this:
“To the tribe of Levi Moses gave no inheritance; the Lord God of Israel is their inheritance.”
If anyone in the Old Testament provides a neat picture of the Christian, it is Levi. The tribe got no land in Canaan, and thus no investment in Israelite politics. The offerings were their concern. The Lord was their concern. That’s it, that’s all.

Pure, Unfiltered Holy Jealousy

That doesn’t mean that Levites had no emotional investment in what happened in Israel, but for those Levites that understood their role, their focus was not on how what was going on around them might affect them personally, but on the glory of God. When Phineas (a Levite, unsurprisingly) took his spear and ran it through a fornicating Israelite and his Midianite consort, he was not making some kind of grand political gesture. There was nothing tribal or even personal about his reaction. He was not running for office. He did not consult with his spin doctor about the “optics” of his actions. He was not gathering a movement around him. His response was pure, unfiltered holy jealousy, and God honoured it for what it was. Sure, Phineas took lives, but he saved a greater number of lives by doing it.

Should Christians be running around stabbing those who dishonor God today? Probably not. That’s not the point.

The point is, as servants of Jesus Christ, if we are going to get worked up in public about something, let’s at least make it something real; something that matters eternally. Not the relative merits of an over-the-top reality TV personality and a criminal puppet in the service of Goldman Sachs.

Sound like a plan? 

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