Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Book of the Twelve for Lent 2016 - Habakkuk (2)



The Book of the Twelve for Lent 2016
A Posture for Lent – Habakkuk (2)

In Habakkuk 2:1 we read:
“I will stand at my watchpost,
    and station myself on the rampart;
I will keep watch to see what he will say to me,
    and what he will answer concerning my complaint.”
           
The prophet’s complaint is about the chaos he perceives swirling around the people (1:2-40.

“O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
    and you will not listen?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
    and you will not save?                                                                           Why do you make me see wrongdoing
    and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
    strife and contention arise.
So the law becomes slack
    and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous—
    therefore judgment comes forth perverted.”
          
 Perennially vexing matters, this violence, perversion, injustice, the success of the wicked. But viscerally vexing when they engulf you and yours. Especially when you’re God’s chosen people!

          Habakkuk models for us a proper Lenten posture – one standing at their “watchpost” (2:1). Alertness, perseverance, struggling to discern what God is up to in the world. You see, Lent is about more than simply our personal struggles and efforts toward growth. It’s also about what’s going on in the world. In truth, the two are always and ever connected. We’re never unaffected by the ideas, attitudes, patterns, and systems that envelop our lives. As a community among others we must always be alert as best we can to the significance of what happens around us. Paul says it best (in J. B. Phillips’ translation) in Romans 12:1-2:

“With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him. Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity. 
“Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould.” Yeah, that’s it! That’s exactly it! And we make our way through the present bizarre and wacky election season we need to stand our watch to glimpse what God is doing and how the cultural trends that swirl around us try to “squeeze” us into their mold.

Habakkuk watched perplexed and terrorized as the threads of Israelite society unraveled in front of him. Should he resign himself to what seemed inevitable? Resist it? Why? On what grounds?

Habakkuk falls back on the character of the God he knew (note the “my God, my Holy One” in 1:12). And that’s a pretty good idea for us too.

Standing our watch in Lent 2016 entails discerning the visions on offer to us by presidential candidates. And not the superficial stuff or the sloganeering. Instead, a substantive theological analysis. Since Donald Trump has stolen the limelight of this election so far and gone farther than many ever imagined he could and stands on the cusp of winning the Republican nomination, we need to take a close look at what theologically is at stake in his candidacy.

Michael Horton (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/march-web-only/theology-of-donald-trump.html) contends that four words give us the theological purchase we need on the Trump phenomenon: creation, sin, Christ, and leadership. Here’s his analysis:

1. Creation. Trump reveals that many evangelicals have come to embrace a new doctrine of creation, according to which the state accords basic rights instead of recognizing their dignity as fellow image-bearers of God. Hence, the support of the torture of human beings (and perhaps their relatives) as legitimate state policy; this is entirely justified to some by the circumstances of an unlimited war on terror. . . And given the apparent failure of even his most recent ambiguous statements about the KKK to diminish support among his base, Trump reveals that America’s unfinished task of wrestling honestly with racism is just as clearly mirrored in some parts of evangelicalism.

2. Sin. Trump reveals that many evangelicals have come to embrace a different idea of sin than evangelicals have in the past. First, sin is now seen less a condition that renders us all “miserable offenders” before a holy God than mistakes good people make that fail to contribute to “our best life now.” (We) . . . should have gotten it when Trump announced that he has never asked God for forgiveness because he doesn’t really do anything that would require it. This is problematic from a Christian perspective on several levels.

First, even if we were to reduce sin (a condition) to sins, the latter no longer include multiple divorces, significant past support of the abortion industry, lack of any church membership, and unabashed dedication to a “Me First” ethic. Widespread evangelical support suggests that we’re fine with these practices now—they’re normal.

Second, and even more troubling, “sinners” are now apparently the “others” whose very presence makes us feel afraid and disenfranchised. Deflecting sin from ourselves to others, we have helped to provide a foundation for whatever demagogue can rally people “like us” to self-righteous anger against outsiders.

3. Christ. Jesus has become a brand and cultural-political mascot. The term “evangelical” (or “Christian”) used to mean that the global community of those “from every tribe, tongue, and nation” (Rev. 5:9) were united by “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:5) through faith in Christ alone as the all-sufficient Savior from the condemnation and death that our sins deserve. Our ultimate demographic is “in Christ.” This trumps (no pun intended) our identity as Americans, or as Democrats and Republicans. But Trump reminds us that many who call themselves evangelicals (or Christian) today find their ultimate loyalty in preserving or regaining a lost socio-political and cultural, perhaps even racial, hegemony in an increasingly diverse society. By his gospel, Christ speaks to our deepest need to be united to him and to each other in his body.

4. Leadership. Trump reveals that “godly leadership” is apparently for some (in the church) . . . the celebration of narcissism, greed, and deceitfulness in the pursuit of power. They like Trump’s “strong leadership” and ability to “get things done.” They seem to value pragmatism over anything else.

          Like Habakkuk, Lent calls us to do our best to grasp and warn our people about the kinds of things Horton discusses. This is the kind of thinking we must pursue if we want to grow. For as I mentioned earlier, we are never immune or exempt from what is going on around us.

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