Chalcedon Position Paper No. 62, May 1985
Over the years, I have repeatedly seen, and commented very often about, the evil of self-pity. Self-pity is the most deadly spiritual cancer a man can inflict upon himself. With self-pity, we wall ourselves off from the world and joy, we give a self-centered meaning to all events, and we see life, not as a gift and grace from God (1 Pet. 3:7), but as a conspiracy against us. We then view life and politics, not as a responsibility, but as a vast plot. That men conspire is true, and Psalm 2 tells us that the basic conspiracy of history is against God and His law. We are also told by all of Scripture that faithfulness to the Lord makes us victorious in history against all enemies and powers (Deut. 28).
Men, however, find it easier to blame others than to assume responsibility. Hence the radical absorption of many in documenting all the evils perpetrated by one group or another. Such documentation changes nothing. Men are not saved by knowing their enemies but by knowing and being strong in the Lord. We can best see where our enemies are, and who they are, when we are most in Christ.
A great deal of our bigotry comes from a concentration on the wrongs we have suffered rather than on the wrongs we inflict on other people. No lying is involved, only an emphasis on one aspect of our lives. To illustrate, and to limit the illustrations to the American experience, ever since I was young, I have had Jewish friends tell me of the bitter persecutions they endured: being called “Christ-killers,” “Kikes,” and more, being discriminated against in various ways, and so on. All of this is clearly true.
Again, I have heard Catholic friends express their hurt and indignation at having their church called “the whore of Babylon,” at being treated as evil people because of their faith, abused for their religious practices, and so on. Some of the indignities suffered are painful to hear about. I have no doubt as to their truth.
Furthermore, many Protestants can tell like stories, all true. One girl told me of her painful experience in being the only Protestant in a business establishment with over a dozen girls, all the rest Catholic, with a Jewish boss! Only her unquestionable excellence kept her out in front; every kind of effort was made to push errors on to her. She was the target of ugly remarks about her faith, and so on and on. Only the pay and her need to work kept her going. Many, many more such tales can be told, all true.
But this is only one side of the story. More than one Catholic, Protestant, and atheist has told me of the problems of living in an old-fashioned Jewish neighborhood, and walking as a child down the street and having the Jewish old folks on their stoops spitting at them, of falling and hurting oneself badly and everyone laughing with delight, and so on.
Again, a Jewish boy in any non-Jewish neighborhood has suffered torment at the hands of Catholic, Protestant, and atheist boys in the neighborhood. I have heard more than a few stories of the cruel humor, the nasty pranks, and the like, all too routine in such cases. Each has tried to outdo the other in unkindness.
Need I say more? There is not a group in society which has not suffered some indignities and also inflicted indignities on others. Can you convince any group of their sins? They love to major in the sins of others.
This holds true in marriage. “Men!” I heard a woman snort indignantly once, “I could tell you a lot about them, the —!” I am sure she could have, and I am sure that men could have told me a lot about her. In marriage, men and women too often have the bad habit of concentrating on their spouse’s sins and shortcomings, not their own, and feeling a great deal of self-pity. One wife, who neglected her most routine responsibilities as a wife but complained endlessly about her husband, became venomously angry when I asked her about her responsibilities. I have seen men bitterly angry because their wife has a problem; the men have assumed that only they have a right to needs and wants. We all tend to forget that the one person we can change is ourselves, and this is our God-required duty. Everyone, however, wants to reform others, especially their enemies. We forget that the greatest menace to community comes from this kind of Phariseeism. It is the essence of Phariseeism to see oneself as superior, and others as the problem people of the world. We miss the whole point of our Lord’s indictment of the Pharisees if we forget that, to a very real degree, they were the best people of their day, and they knew it. Their attitude towards others reflected this. In His biting attack on the Pharisees, our Lord portrays one boasting even to God of his superiority: “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican” (Luke 18:11). What the Pharisee did was to separate himself from other men in terms of his ostensibly superior religious stand. Our Lord tells us that the publican was justified before God, not the Pharisee (Luke 18:14).
Let us remember, too, that our Lord declares that the summation of God’s law is in two commandments: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind . . . And . . . Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matt. 22:37, 39). Not humanistic or social criteria but the love of God must govern all our being. When we love God truly, then we can also love our neighbor as ourselves. Two things are clear in this latter commandment. First, it presupposes that we love ourselves. We can only respect ourselves and have a healthy self-love when we know that we are created in the image of God and redeemed by Jesus Christ. Men who cannot love themselves cannot love others. Much of the failure of various groups, Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and others, to have the godly respect for groups or persons outside their fellowship that they should is due to a lack of a Biblical view of themselves under God.
God’s repeated test of the integrity of a people’s faith is their care for widows, orphans, and strangers, for those who are outside their normal realm of association. This is the second aspect of this commandment. To love our neighbor as ourselves is to show as great a concern for his or her welfare, rights, and reputation as for our own. To love our neighbor as ourselves means to respect our neighbor’s marriage and its sanctity (“Thou shalt not commit adultery”); his life (“Thou shalt not kill”); his property (“Thou shalt not steal”); his reputation (“Thou shalt not bear false witness”); and to do this in word, thought, and deed (“Thou shalt not covet”).
What this means is very clear. Beyond a very limited sphere, judgment is the province of God. A godless state will assume more and more of the prerogatives of God and assume powers of judgment over all of life. Because we are not God, for us the decisive power in society must be the regenerating power of God and the work of the Holy Spirit in and through us. Not revolution but regeneration, not coercion but conversion, is our way of changing the world and furthering the Kingdom of God. This is the heart of Christian Reconstruction. The heart of Biblical law is that it makes us the basic government of society in and through our personal and family life, through our vocations, churches, and schools. In Biblical law, civil government is a very limited and minor sphere of rule and power.
No society can be healthy if the people are not strong in their faith. A strong state means a weak people. The various civil governments of the world are all strong and overbearing in their power because the peoples are weak in the faith. Statist power grows to fill a vacuum in government created by the irresponsibility of the people. When men say of their Lord, “We will not have this man to reign over us” (Luke 19:14), they are inviting anarchy. The book of Judges describes such a time. Men had rejected God as their king, and, because “In those days there was no king in Israel” God having been denied, “every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 21:25).
When men do that which is right in their own eyes, when they deny Christ our King and His law-word, then their word and their group become the source of determination for them. Men then act humanistically and are determined by their group, not the Lord. Our governing allegiance must be to Jesus Christ and His reign, not to our Catholic or Protestant churches.
Our faith can rarely surpass our allegiance. If our allegiance is Presbyterian, Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, or what have you, we are small men indeed, and our “faith” a warped one at best. Churches like persons must be instruments in the hand of God, not the centers of our lives. We can and must respect the instruments, but we warp the faith if we are not God-centered.
The story is told of a famous evangelist of almost a century ago who encountered a drunkard who blubbered gratefully that he owed his conversion to him. The evangelist responded, “I must have converted you, because obviously the Lord didn’t.”
If our allegiance is to anything short of the triune God and His Word, our loyalties will be humanistically oriented. We will be overly-governed by groups and institutions, however good, and insufficiently governed by God the Lord. A prominent American political leader, a man of unique independence, once told me that peer pressure governs most politicians. Before their election, they are motivated by what they and their constituency want. After their election, the peer pressure of their new group now governs them, and they are less responsive to the demands of their electorate.
Peer pressure is a most potent force in the modern world because religious faith is by contrast weak and fragile. Indeed, in one church college, group dynamics are taught as an important and worthy source of social strength.
This goes hand in hand with a major shift in man’s outlook which came progressively into force with the Enlightenment. The domain belonging to religion and the church was seen as the inner world, the spiritual life of man. The domain of reason and the state was held to be the material sphere. There is no warrant in Scripture for any such division. All things were made by God the Lord, and all things are subject to His law-word and government. His church must declare God’s Word and its relevance to all the world, the state no less than any other sphere. For the church to be silent in any sphere, or to limit the scope of God’s government, law, and rule is to sin and to deny to that degree its Lord.
We are not therefore to be governed by our parochial loyalties, nor by group dynamics, nor by peer pressure. All our churches, institutions, groups, races, nationalities, and allegiances must be subject to the prior government of the triune God and His law-word. Anything short of that is idolatry.
The fundamental declaration of God’s law is this: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exod. 20:3). We must remember that even very good things can be turned into idols and false gods. For many, their church is an idol, or their family, their children, their race, nationality, or group. However good these things may be, they can become and often are idols when we give them priority over the love of God, and, in that love of God, our love of our neighbor. A limited good, if given too high a place in our lives, can be as destruction or more than an open and obvious evil. Remember, such a perspective led men into crucifying Christ.