If the recent turmoil in Australian politics has shown me anything it is that too many Christians are looking for a “small s” saviour. One that is going to come and lead them out of the dirty morass of post-Christendom culture and same-sex-whatever, into the promised land of, of, well, well whatever it is they’re not too sure, but it sure ain’t what we’ve got now.
And if you are a Christian in Australia (and elsewhere in the West) who is constantly fretting every time your “small s” saviour gets deposed, voted out, or dies (that does happen you know) then you need to stop fretting about things and start to see things from the “big S” Saviour’s perspective. You need to start seeing history eschatologically.
This was driven home to me this morning when I read this letter in the online edition of The Australian newspaper on the back of Tony Abbott being deposed as Australian Prime Minister:
The Liberals have lost my vote. Australian values are more than economics and smart talk and gay families. Gone forever will be righteous, godly values and beliefs that have supported our Western civilisation for centuries. I grieve for our future. God help us all –
Really? When I read that I get a little peeved. For a number of reasons:
Firstly, it’s a naive assumption. Surely we do not think that prior to this seismic shift in culture back in the 60s that righteous, godly values and beliefs were the defining marks of Australia, do we? After all, adultery, drunkenness, racism and violence were rife in Australia back then. Lots of stuff was hidden, that’s for sure, but there was enough going on in the seamy underbelly of Australia, and behind the closed doors of those white-picket-fenced houses, that would shame us.
Such a view – and I’ve heard it often – betrays a misunderstanding of what true holiness and godliness is like – and more importantly – where it is located, among the people of God as they are ruled by King Jesus.
Granted there are benefits to a culture when it more or less aligned with the wisdom of God as laid down in his Word, but we are naive when we expect the culture to be so aligned. And if we so expect it, then the tendency is to engineer things to ensure that the culture DOES align with us, and the naysayers end up being cannon fodder in our sights. The fact that currently traditional Christianity is the cannon fodder in the sights of a post-Christian liberal elite does not grant us the same right to so treat it. And that’s a hard, but necessary lesson to learn as our influence diminishes. We are about to find out what it truly means to go outside the camp and bear the reproach of a crucified Messiah. And I don’t think we can even comprehend what that means yet, not in a Western context at least.
All too often our response to “our side” losing is less than ideal. The increasing bitterness and despair I see among some Christians doesn’t auger well for how we will respond in and to a post-Christian Australia.
Secondly, it’s a untruth. I get peeved because of those words in the letter: “gone forever”?
Surely not! Surely that’s the point of the book of Daniel. Go to Daniel ch2. In King Nebuchadnezzar’s vision of a statue of golden head, through to feet of iron and clay, the king sees a stone not cut by human hands smash the statue and then grow to be a mountain that fills the earth. Something’s gone forever, but it sure ain’t God’s agenda!
And if you still feel like our hopes are “gone forever” with the demise of a Christian Prime Minister, then you would do well to read the oft-neglected back half of Daniel. Remember Daniel chs7-12? Oh you don’t? Oh you mean after the Lions’ Den, the Fiery Furnace and the Writing on the Wall, you pretty much skipped to Hosea? I mean, what was Daniel imbibing to write all that weird stuff: beasts coming out of seas, male goats bashing into rams, 70 weeks, anointed ones, kings of north and south, horns that speak boastfully? Crazy talk!
The back half of the book of Daniel gives us true confidence that whatever history (in the form of foaming tempestuous oceans in Daniel 7) throws up at us, it’s not the end of the story. Daniel himself had to learn that Jerusalem’s sacking and the peoples’ exile did not mean their hopes were “gone forever”. He would, after all, still go and open the window in his Babylon home and prayer towards the city of his hope.
Maybe we could take a leaf from Daniel’s book. Maybe we could pray towards and for the city not made by hands. That is where our hope lies. One day, as Revelation 21:1 tells us “there will be no sea”, meaning that the churning turmoil of history will be ended as God’s good reign comes to fruition. The city of God is not something we can create, it is something that descends from heaven (simply meaning it is not in our power to achieve or build it, but God’s power to gift to us).
Daniel himself lived through tumultuous times. He was subject to a culture turned against God’s people, one that had exiled him, and forced him to a deft cultural dance in which he had to be one step ahead of others all of the time.
But Daniel never got to see the glorious future city – he didn’t even get to see the end of the exile and the return to the earthly Jerusalem. When, after seeing amazing visions of what is going to happen at the end of time, Daniel asks when these things will all happen. He is simply told:
“Go your way Daniel, for the words are shut up and sealed until the end. Many shall purify themselves and make themselves white and be refined, but the wicked shall act wickedly. And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand.” Daniel 12:9-10)
Daniel is then told to “go your way till the end”, meaning that the solution to all of the grave situations he has just seen, the political intrigue, the wars, the kingdoms, the beastly empires, will all continue long after he has died. It didn’t mean they were gone forever. Rather it mean they were not for his lifetime.
Here’s our current problem. Too many of us are simply not patient enough to wait it out. Things go pear shaped and we moan that our liberties, our values and our hopes are “gone forever”. Too many Christians are pinning their hopes on a vain attempt at calming the churning sea of history through their preferred earthly political leaders. It’s a futile gesture and one that has no eschatological vision or hope.
Thirdly, God HAS helped us already, so why are we grieving?
Why are we grieving for whatever our vision of the future of Australia will be? The resurrection of Jesus is our hope and our joy. The people of God are the future of God’s kingdom. The resurrection of Jesus has ushered in a future that starts off like that small stone in Daniel 2, but one that will eventually become a mountain that fills the earth.
Now I happened to like Tony Abbott. He would walk into most rooms in Australia and easily be the most intelligent, well read, well educated and erudite person in the room. Easily. And he’s a Rhodes scholar, a former Bulletin journalist, with an intelligent Catholic upbringing and a well rounded view of the world. And if you love to sneer at Tony and take glee in his downfall, then you are probably a proud person who thinks too highly of their own intelligence.
I also happen to think he was not a great Prime Minister, and whatever else he was, he was not the “big S” Saviour of Western culture in Australia that many, including many Christians, seem to wish him to be. He wasn’t even a particularly solid “small s” saviour.
And like it or not, when we put him into the context of the book of Daniel, especially chs7-12, the political process of which Tony Abbott is a part, is akin to the churning seas of history. Whether he was the head of gold or the feet of clay, his day would end as all of our days do.
So Christians in particular have no reason to throw the toys out of the pram, or try to engineer the culture to suit their agenda – especially at a time when clearly the majority position in Australia is moving against us on a number of big ticket items.
Do we really want to shape Australia into our vision of the good life by sheer force? Wasn’t that the very problem many had in Jesus’ day? Isn’t that why so many ended up disappointed in him in the end? The were looking for a “small s” saviour, when Jesus was going to be a “big S” Saviour. Isn’t that why even his disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 mourned that they had “hoped he was the one to redeem Israel”? Their hopes just weren’t big enough – as Jesus then went on to show them.
If our hopes are tied up in this age then Christians – depending on their flavour – will be constantly looking for a “small s” saviour on the Right or the Left who will implement their cherished Left/Right manifesto. And disappointment and anger will be their lot every time an election, political coup, or referendum does not go their way. Our man or woman is going to be deposed/outvoted/die. Those are the only options. And if our hopes are tied up in them, then our hopes will constantly be dashed.
We, if we understand our biblical theology, have reason for a clearer hope than even Daniel who saw that vision. Amidst all of the turmoil and churning in Daniel 7, Daniel sees one coming :
“like a son of man” whose “dominion is an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14b).
Now we stand on the other side of the Son of Man’s first appearance awaiting the second appearance of our “big S” Saviour – one who has dealt decisively with the true enemy at work behind the evil of this world.
We have seen the inauguration of his kingdom, the tangible proof that a day is coming when every small “k” king, every “small r” ruler, and every “small p” prince, will bow the knee and declare that Jeus is “big K King” “big R Ruler”, and “big P Prince of Peace” to the glory of God the Father.
And it will only be then that righteousness and godly values will truly be at home in Australia – forever.