December 26, 2011
In scripture, when His chosen people take to worshipping other gods, the Lord God Almighty refers to their apostasy as "whoring" and "adultery." The Lord Jesus Christ also describes people of his time as "an evil and adulterous generation." Is it possible for people truly to understand God's Word when, as far as they are concerned, these words have lost their vivid connotation of wrongdoing? God uses the words to characterize the very essence of sin: mistaking for God that which is not God, and in consequence taking as the aim or end of human existence a target or goal that strays from God's will.
By speaking of idolatry in these terms, God's Word invites us to think of the relationship between the Lord and His people as a marriage — and to see in the practice of idolatry the image or likeness of a married person who fulfills with another the desire or intention properly fulfilled only with his or her spouse. This way of thinking about idolatry retains its effectiveness, however, only insofar as people retain a sense of propriety with respect to marriage, which is to say a sense of which actions or behaviors are appropriate for married people, and which are not. Once we dilute or eliminate the sense of propriety and impropriety that gives moral force to these marriage-related terms, the vivid sense of wrongdoing the terms are meant to associate with idolatry is also attenuated.
To mobilize the human will against idolatry, the scripture relies upon sentiments of indignation and revulsion once commonly associated with sins familiar to all humanity. But once conscience becomes accustomed to a lenient view of these most familiar sins, the scriptural use of terms like "whoring" and "adultery" may instead evoke resentment and revulsion against God. If people come to feel that whoring and adultery are venial offenses, it may seem to them as if God makes much ado about nothing. In their eyes, His judgments may take on an aspect of capricious wrath that give rise to doubts and questions about His justice. But some of the most punishing consequences reported in scripture are associated with the surrender to idolatry, including the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests of the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel, the rape and captivity of the Jewish people and the destruction of the edifice intended by God to make manifest their identity as His chosen people, the Temple in Jerusalem. Once the vivid sense of wrongdoing associated with idolatry is attenuated, such punishing consequences may seem to be disproportionately harsh (particularly in light of the one-dimensional view of God's putative love and mercy popular with all too many pandering preachers in our day.)
Are such doubts and questions one of the reasons so many in our time easily fall prey to the deep arrogance of mind that leads people to sit in judgment upon God, rejecting as irrational, unscientific, or immoral what they deem to be the errors, contradictions, and disproportionate cruelties portrayed in Scripture as consonant with His will? On account of this, do people in this evil and adulterous generation judge and reject God even as the Son of Man was judged and rejected by the "evil and adulterous generation" that witnessed his ministry?
Before the land and people of Israel experienced the punishing consequences of their apostasy from God, the kings of Israel endured those consequences on account of their whoring and adulteries in both the literal and figurative sense. Saul departed from God's will so that his dynasty failed. David fell into adultery, so that his family and kingdom were rent asunder. Above all, Solomon turned marriage itself into adultery (apostasy) (1 Kings 11: 1-13) and so called down upon the House of David a consequence almost as punishing as that which befell the House of Saul.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, those who have eyes to see have seen in the steep decline of the United States of America an ominous recollection of Israel's falling away from God. But what were for Israel the intertwined but distinct accounts of kingdom and nation, become for America one national experience, on account of the fact that we, the people, stand before God responsible for the sovereignty He has, by virtue of our republican Constitution, entrusted to our care. We seem, like Solomon, bent on turning marriage itself into adultery, as we accept the self-destructive notion of "homosexual marriage." Like Saul, we seem bent on departing from God's will for justice. Saul spared what God told him to destroy. So, in the innocent lives of our posterity, we destroy what He commands us to cherish. In all this we seem bent, like David, on pursuing our apostasy from God, though it means, for the sake of our adulterous passions, devoting to death the bulwarks of our survival as a nation.
No wonder some make light of whoring and adultery as we go through the motions of a sham electoral process that makes a mockery of our sovereignty as a people. With minions of Babylon already occupying the high places, we squabble about which of Solomon's sons we shall elect to lose the kingdom. Yet we claim that a greater king than Solomon dwells within us — one whose life, like King Josiah's (2 Kings 23:25), calls us to serve the Lord God Almighty with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our might, but who, greater than Josiah, brings to all those who elect him as their leader the only blessing that can truly avert the punishing consequences of their sins.
This is the season to remember the slogan that inspired the generation that founded our republic: No king but Jesus. And soon there follows the season in which we must remember that as faithful citizens we are meant to be his prime ministers — choosing those who will serve not our own selfish interests, but His justice for all.