Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Getting What We Deserve

Poor leaders. First we put them on pedestals. Then we have a go at the pedestals with sledgehammers.

Leaders ride waves of popularity and drown in waves of rejection. Often the trends of public opinion are neither predictable nor rational. I know of exactly three people who, months beforehand, accurately forecast the rise of Donald J. Trump to the presidency. Everybody else just hoped — or much more frequently, snickered.

But when things go wrong, it is not always just bad leadership that is to blame.

The Real Scapegoat

When the economy finally tanks — as it surely must at one point in the next few years, President Trump will be perceived and portrayed as the scapegoat, despite the fact that most of the factors that make inevitable the coming collision with rock-bottom reality are only the longer-term consequences of policies conceived and implemented under other presidents, or the natural fallout from global events that occur far outside any American president’s control.

This is not news for anyone paying attention. What is less observed is that in democratic countries, it is as much We the People who bring such things on ourselves as it is the politicians we elect. We regularly send off to Ottawa or Washington or London the snake-oil salesmen who promise us the most goodies without a great deal of regard for where those goodies come from, what they actually cost with interest included, and which generation we are borrowing them from. For most of us, public policy is about nothing more important than me, me, me. The Baby Boomers are just now preparing to ride off into the sunset, having strip-mined the wealth of three generations. Good for them. Not so good for Gen-X. And the Millennials? Done like dinner.

Would You Like Manure With That, Sir?

But enough about North Americans getting what we deserve, and enough about the economy already. My point is that the same dynamic occurs with leaders of homes and churches: we put them on pedestals when things are going well and we tear them to pieces when things are going badly — all with little consideration of what we may have contributed to the mess.

Even the leaders themselves are often unaware of this reality. Consider David. Toward the end of his reign over Israel, God told him his nation was about to come under judgment. Gad the Seer gave David three ugly scenarios from which to choose:
“Shall three years of famine come to you in your land? Or will you flee three months before your foes while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days’ pestilence in your land?”
Sort of like cruising up to the McDonald’s drive-thru window and being asked, “Would you like manure with that, sir? Or perhaps ketchup-flavoured manure?”

You get to choose between bad, worse and worser.

Causes, Proximate and Remote

Now in this case, bad leadership had certainly contributed to the problem. David had numbered the fighting men of Israel in defiance of the will of God. That was the proximate cause of the coming judgment, and David rightly expressed his contrition for his personal guilt:
“Then David spoke to the Lord when he saw the angel who was striking the people, and said, ‘Behold, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly. But these sheep, what have they done?’ ”
Yeah, those poor, innocent sheep ... or maybe not so much.

What David didn’t realize in the middle of his cry of repentance is that it was not all on him. He was only the middleman; the human agent through whom God accomplished his purposes in accordance with a spiritual principle most clearly laid out for us in the New Testament:
“God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”
Sure, that means leaders. But it means us too. When groups of people sin, whether families, churches or nations, we too must eventually reap what we have sown. Those who sow to the benefit of their own flesh will reap corruption, and those who sow to the Spirit will reap eternal life. That’s just how it is.

Direct Judgment and Inevitable Consequences

And the writer of 2 Samuel explicitly notes right at the outset of this incident that it was the people of Israel’s guilt before God that gave rise to their leader’s bad choice:
“Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel …”
Judgment didn’t come out of nowhere. It wasn’t all David’s fault. The people of Israel got what they deserved.

So do we, sometimes. And though once in a while we find ourselves under the direct judgment of God, much more often we are simply experiencing the natural, inevitable consequences of our own long-term sins of indifference, self-will or wrong priorities.

Judgment at one or more removes, let’s call it.

Before You Pick Up That Rock

So as Christians, let’s not worry about throwing rocks at our national leaders when things go south economically or otherwise: there are plenty of unsaved malcontents who, in their distress and without a God to whom they may appeal, will seek their pound of flesh from the elite. That mess will sort itself out one way or another.

But how about where the rubber meets the road; when things go south at home or in church? Before we start taking the sledgehammer to the pedestals of pastors and elders and fathers we blame for leading us astray, maybe we should stop and consider for a moment how much our own conduct, habits and desires have contributed to the mess we’re in.

Did we push them for things we didn’t earn and shouldn’t really have had? Did we pressure them to lead us in entirely the wrong direction — like, say, back to Egypt? Did the rabble among us crave strange meat, so to speak, and thus fail to take in and appreciate the things God had provided for us? Were we ungrateful or idolatrous? Did we fail to take responsibility for our own walk before God? Did we just assume sailing along in the wake of someone godly would eventually get us to the right place? Have we loved the things of the world rather than the things of God? Or did our leaders fail to lead us to the right places because we simply refused to follow them there?

Sometimes God finds fault with the people. When he does so, bet your bottom dollar we are well and truly at fault.

Not just the men in charge.

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