Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Why the Rage?

Why do the nations rage
    and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
    and the rulers take counsel together,
    against the Lᴏʀᴅ and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
    and cast away their cords from us.”  (Psa 2:1-3)

As diverse as this world is, there is a definite unifying goal to which mankind is progressing.  Certainly, the tactics endorsed or implemented by the multitudinous nations and people groups vary, however they move with a singular purpose toward the elimination of biblical Christianity and the incarnate Christ by which it is named.  ISIS and other groups foment terror and murder in the name of Allah to eradicate the “stain” infecting Islamic countries.  In more civilized fashion, public interest groups apply political pressure and curry favor with the intent of marginalizing Christians and impeding the free proclamation of the gospel.  None of these events are news to the believer, since Jesus warned of this very thing.
Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.  Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.… A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.  It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master.  If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.  (Mt 10:16-18, 24-25)
While we Americans are not accustomed to such open hostility, believers have been targeted over multiple generations in multitude places.  The early centuries of the church were especially difficult with both the ruling political and religious entities targeting the faithful.  Some became especially vociferous, as Arnobius of Sicca relates in Against the Pagans.
Christ alone you would tear in pieces, you would rend asunder, if you could do so to a god.  Indeed, were it allowed, Him alone you would gnaw with bloody mouths, and break His bones in pieces, and devour Him like beasts of the field.  For what that He has done, tell, I pray you, for what crime?  What has He done to turn aside the course of justice, and rouse you to hatred made fierce by maddening torments?  Is it because He declared that He was sent by the only true King to be your soul’s guardian, and to bring to you the immortality which you believe that you already possess, relying on the assertions of a few men?  (I.64)
The fierce attitude that he describes is shocking, but it was not the first against Christians as related in the canonical writings of Luke.
But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.  And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”  But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him.  Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him.  And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.  (Acts 7:55-58)

And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.”  And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.  But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd.  (Acts 17:2-5)
Both Romans and Jews were intent on silencing the new sect for two major reasons.  For the Jews, this Man who claimed to be God would need to be recognized as the Messiah of God and be followed without reservation.  This the religious rulers were not willing to do en masse since such a move would mean relinquishing the sphere of influence and control built up over the years.[1]  Pagan religious authorities also resisted the Christians with their foreign concept of one God who died for His creation and was purportedly resurrected.  In a bit of irony, these two factions both appealed to Roman authorities to quell the movement spreading throughout the empire, proposing that the Pax Romana was being or would soon be threatened.

But What of Tolerance?
As has been noticed in recent American history, those who promote themselves as the most inclusive wage the most virulent opposition when faced with the truth.  An honest, candid inquiry into the facts of a matter, in accord with the virtues espoused, should bring the inquirers to the point of either demonstrating the fraudulent nature of the claims or claimants or appreciation and admiration for those qualities benefiting all mankind.  One might think that a late third-century polytheistic religious culture would be tolerant or accepting of this rather unique Jesus put forth by the Christians.  Arnobius writes that He should at least receive a fair listen.
But even if you were assured that He spoke falsely, that He even held out hopes without the slightest foundation, not even in this case do I see any reason that you should hate and condemn Him with bitter reproaches.  Indeed, if you were kind and gentle in spirit, you ought to esteem Him even for this alone, that He promised to you things which you might well wish and hope for; that He was the bearer of good news; that His message was such as to trouble no one’s mind, but rather to fill all with less anxious expectation.  (I.64)
Not wanting the cure for spiritual distress, indeed spiritual death, philosophizers and moralizers seek a humanistic solution for the problem, refusing to consider that they are unable to determine and address their condition.  Believing their spiritual needs can be met by intellectual or experiential stimuli, they reject the sure cure.  Arnobius points out that if the people received a visitor who was able to cure physical ills via medicinal potions, that one would be welcomed with open arms and given the greatest respect.
Oh ungrateful and impious age, prepared for its own destruction by its extraordinary obstinacy!  If there had come to you a physician from lands far distant and unknown to you before, offering some medicine to ward off from you altogether every kind of disease and sickness, would you not all eagerly hasten to him?  Would you not with every kind of flattery and honor receive him into your houses and treat him kindly?  Would you not wish that that kind of medicine should be quite sure, and should be genuine, which promised that even to the utmost limits of life you should be free from such countless bodily distresses?  And though it were a doubtful matter, you would yet entrust yourselves to him, nor would you hesitate to drink the unknown dose, induced by the hope of health set before you and by the love of safety.  (I.65)
If one is willing to trust himself to an unknown physician for bodily ills, why not trust the Physician of the soul who alone can heal the deadly malady of sin common to all humanity?  Instead of rushing to the light of God’s grace demonstrated on the cross, mankind turns away from that outrageous, scandalous display of redemptive love.  Rather than dealing with the claims of Jesus found in the gospel accounts, people remain consoled by the familiar, protective cloak of selfishness, covering the canker infesting their being rather than acknowledge the need.  Thinking it better to stop their eyes and ears from the truth, they pull down their hats and hoods to shield themselves from the One having eyes “like flames of fire” (Rev 1:14).  Arnobius continues:
Christ shone out and appeared to us as the herald of utmost important news, bringing an omen of prosperity, and a message of salvation[2] to those who believe.  What, I pray you, is this cruelty, what such barbarity?  Indeed rather, to speak more truly, what is this scornful pride, not only to harass the messenger and bearer of so great a gift with taunting words, but even to assail Him with fierce hostility, and with all the weapons which can be showered upon Him, and with all modes of destruction?  Are His words displeasing, and are you offended when you hear them?  Count them as but a soothsayer’s empty tales.  Does He speak very stupidly, and promise foolish gifts?  Laugh with scorn as wise men, and leave Him in His folly to be tossed about among His errors.  (I.65)
What great injustice had been done to mankind to engender such a vehement reaction?  Only exposing the great need of a Savior by willingly being the sacrifice for sin and destroying death itself in the process.  Had he accomplished any less, we perchance would have accepted Him with open arms, showing Himself to be something less than what and whom He truly was; but because He dared meet our need, rather than let us fumble for our own way to peace and immortality, this Jesus still needs to be handed over to lawless men for execution (Acts 2:23) and His followers persecuted or martyred into silence (Rev 6:9).
What is this fierceness, to repeat what has been said more than once?  What is the passion, so murderous, to declare implacable hostility towards one who has done nothing to deserve it at your hands; to wish, if it were allowed you, to tear Him limb from limb, who not only did no man any harm, but with uniform kindness[3] told His enemies what salvation was being brought to them from God Supreme, what must be done that they might escape destruction and obtain an immortality which they knew not of?  And when the strange and unheard-of things which were held out staggered the minds of those who heard Him, and made them hesitate to believe, though Lord of every power and Destroyer of death itself [2 Ti 1:10] He suffered His human form to be slain, that from the result[4] they might know that the hopes which they had long entertained about the soul’s salvation were safe and that in no other way could they avoid the danger of death.  (I.65)
The message of the cross is folly to those who are dying (1 Co 1:18), yet Jesus’ death and resurrection remain as the clearest attestation of all that is wrong with this world and how it was made right.  Men still pursue solutions to the world’s ills through pursuits of their own making; and even when they are self-contradictory or guarantee mutually destructive ends, still those plans are followed to their inevitable conclusions or averted at the last for an equally disastrous course—whatever avoids Christ and the cross.  As illogical as it may seem, this activity will only increase at an increasing rate until our Lord returns.  Until that time, we are called to endure the fiery trials that test us.  Let us rejoice in the suffering, not that we seek the grief as a road to higher spirituality, but knowing we go through it to show the Holy Spirit’s working in us as the elect of God (1 Pe 4:12-19).

[1]  Readers, no doubt, will notice parallels between the Sanhedrin of Jesus’ day and modern politicians.
[2]  Salus means to have health or wholeness.  Here it is directed toward the health and wholeness of both body and spirit.
[3]  I.e., to friends and foes alike.
[4]  I.e., from His resurrection, which showed that death’s power was broken by Him.