Saturday, July 25, 2009

Top Down

If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still.

                        Ecclesiastes 5.8

Beneath the Debris

The changing moral climate came up two or three times during last Thursday evening’s online study. We remarked how the last year’s tsunami of trouble appears to be reawakening the masses to their responsibilities. Outcries for social justice, equal rights, and sweeping reform resound from every quarter. Awareness of accountability for social inequities, indifference, and greedy opportunism rises as disgust mounts over abuse of power. Each day, more of us see the damage and dangers piled around us. At last, we’re deciding this is no way to live. We stumble clumsily, blearily through our recent past, seeking to reclaim higher hopes buried beneath the debris of low-minded cynicism.

As believers stubbornly clinging to Christ’s laws of love and service, we know what’s wrong, what must be done, and how to do it. Yet as we set our minds on rebuilding a society founded on compassion and equality, we must heed Solomon’s advisory in Ecclesiastes 5.8. While digging out people and principles trapped at the bottom, it tells us to expect resistance from those at the top—because the greater our conviction things must change becomes, the stronger their determination to stall change will be.

No Surprise

“A fish rots from the head down,” the Chinese proverb says. That’s what Solomon means. According to Ecclesiastes 5.8, it’s no surprise to see deprived and disenfranchised citizens anywhere officials skim and scheme. They eye one another, Solomon says, adding in the next verse, “The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields.” Accumulation of great wealth by a few at the expense of many is as old as time. So why the shock that banks persist in earning big profits and awarding huge bonuses while their coffers stay closed and homeless families sleep in shelters? Why such disbelief that politicians still nursing the sour milk of Reaganomics care more about stock prices and special interests than uninsured citizens? Why the impatience with time and costs to dismantle a war meticulously constructed to purchase political capital and enrich profiteers? None of this is any surprise, or its continuation in plain sight while unsightly decay filters through the land.

When rot runs deep at the top, its poisons naturally spread to society’s extremities. Short a revolution closer to the French uprising of 1787 than its American precursor, there’s no earthly way the body politic can sever its gangrenous head. (Besides, radical removal of corrupt figures doesn’t inoculate future leaders from rot.) Long before we figured out how to take political revolt to the streets, God Himself called for a spiritual revolution in our hearts.

God’s Manifesto

Somewhat inexplicably, God’s manifesto comes when all is well. Solomon dedicates a new temple where God manifests His glory with overpowering magnificence. After the ceremony, He visits Solomon privately, advising him not to expect these glory days to last forever—but also outlining a protocol to stimulate their return. Listen closely to 2 Chronicles 7.13-14: “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

At first, it sounds like God arbitrarily visits drought, devastation, and sickness on His people, when He’s actually responding to our arbitrarily wicked ways—the presumptive pride, hubris, and unaccountability in our behavior. Because disobedience in upper echelons inevitably trickles down (and wealth does not), God gives His people a plan to reverse the flow. Left to kings, it won’t happen. It’s up to us. Humbling ourselves admits we haven’t power or insight to fix our mess. Praying confesses we’re without answers. Seeking God owns our responsibility to please Him above all else. And together these tactics stimulate moral righteousness that captures God’s attention, wins His mercy, and restores social health.

A rectified mainstream cures a diseased power structure. People who replace disgust for rotten rulers with accountability to God and one another accrue force and momentum to hold their leaders accountable. Oppression and poverty won’t be tolerated. Denial of justice and rights cannot last. In Matthew 7.4, Jesus warns about trying to fix others before us: “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?’” He includes no exceptions to demand change at the top without first correcting our errors, accepting our responsibilities, and meeting local obligations in our districts. Change we seek at the top starts by seeking God’s help to create change where we are.

A fish rots from the head down. God’s revolutionary manifesto tells us how to reverse the flow by changing our hearts to create change where we are.

(Tomorrow: Beautiful Worship)

Personal Postscript: Thanks!

Thanks to everyone who participated in this week’s online Bible studies. It was a great joy to share the Word with you. I learned a great deal and was greatly inspire by your company and insights.

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