By Ben Swift
‘So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.’ (Isaiah 59:14-15)
While these verses taken from Isaiah 59 are thought to have been written about 681 B.C. they are certainly not irrelevant to those who stand for Christ today. As the religion of tolerance leans its hefty weight on the social influencers of our day, Isaiah’s words can once again be seen to be clothed in truth. It seems that freedom of speech and freedom to believe in Christ, freedoms once held so dear, are fading from the pages of western life, particularly when moralistic view-points held by Christians cross paths with alternative views held within pluralistic societies. Those who continue to hold tightly to their Judeo-Christian values are once again being led by their accusers as prey to be made examples of; silenced before the courts of the media; publicly shamed and devoured by those who would seek to dictate the truths we must all swallow and the worldviews we must all embrace.
But what lies behind the motives of such pressures to conform? Some will claim it’s the only way to ensure justice and peace in a world where truth must be recognised as subjective and malleable to the choices we all have the right to make. You can have your truth, but it must not offend mine!
Surely this way of living -this philosophical idea that we can achieve peace through tolerance and the freedom to live for ourselves- is what humanists have claimed all along? Peace however, can never be achieved through this way of thinking. The pages of history are lined with evidence highlighting humanity’s inability to live in harmony with each other while simultaneously living for themselves.
God has given us the freedom and means to worship him, follow his way of living and in faith lean on him for all our needs. It’s when peace with God is rejected however, that we see peace with each other take a back seat as we strive with all our might to save ourselves at any cost.
Take a moment to look through the lens of an atheist outlook on life. When God becomes irrelevant in the eyes of a human being, all that’s left is survival of the fittest. Human beings, like all animals and plant life, are tragically recognised as mere random by-products of evolutionary processes; meaningless vapors in the wind so to speak. When society becomes dominated by this way of thinking, how can there possibly be peace? Every person must serve their own needs before others, taking what they can at every available opportunity.
When God is no longer recognised as God, people tend to assume his place, reducing him to something less challenging to their own intellect. Stephen Hawking, a leading scientific mind of our time, is a case in point. He suggests, ‘I use the word ‘God’ in an impersonal sense, like Einstein did, for the laws of nature, so knowing the mind of God is knowing the laws of nature. My prediction is that we will know the mind of God by the end of this century.’ Surely to minimize God in this way is to not know God at all but rather to use his name to worship your own limited intellect.
But not every non-believer in modern society desires to fully abandon the idea of living a spiritual life beyond that of a cold and calculated atheist. After all, communist history paints a pretty bleak picture.
There are many in the west who are attracted to following a modified, westernized Buddhist spirituality, one that appears peaceful from the outside looking in, but also one that, like atheism, continues to deny God as ruler over his creation. A short delve into the teachings of the Buddha soon highlight this point. Consider the following thoughts:
‘Be a light unto yourself. Be your own confidence. Hold to the truth within. No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.’
Surely this path is a bypass to inner and outer peace as once again humanity is placed in the position of becoming its own saviour. If we have learned anything about ourselves over recorded history, it’s that we can’t save ourselves and we can’t live in peace with each other while we continue to assume God’s position in our lives. Serving the self over serving others is never going to pave the road to peace in any society.
So what is the answer?
Let us return once again to Isaiah 59:16.
‘His [God’s] own arm worked salvation for him and his own righteousness sustained him.’
There is no way humanity can bring about justice, salvation and peace without God. God, in Christ, had to work it out for us. That is, Jesus Christ the Messiah is God come to us. There is no other manmade philosophy or religious construct capable of offering the peace that rests on this truth. God came to us in Christ alone bringing the only real hope for true freedom and peace. Theologian Karl Barth puts it like this:
‘He [Christ] inaugurates the new covenant of God himself, of God alone. He turns away, clears out, quenches, demolishes, annihilates, both sins and sin. He restores to men the union with God which they have lost.’
Peace may be the goal of many people in our society but attempting to close the mouth of God in the name of tolerance will never lead to peace and will never prevail. When the only alternative to a life of serving God and others is sacrificed to serve the self, the only things that will be tolerated are those in support of people seeking to live apart from God; individuals living to save themselves.
Ironically, but not surprisingly, freedom in Christ will never equate to freedom from intolerance, particularly from those who preach tolerance for their own purposes. It is however, the only place we will find true rest and an assurance that salvation is not something we can or must earn. The price has already been paid in full; a price worth the intolerances we may face.
‘For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.’ (Matthew 16:25)