March 2, 2021

Raise Up a Pile of Stones

As far as the east is from the west so far has he removed our sins from us.

Psalm 103:12

That’s the message of the Bible at least.

The message of our modern culture that spent about three decades telling us that God could not possibly be a God of judgement?:

As far as the east is from the west so far have WE removed our SINNERS from us.

With God no longer part of the public square, the reality is that something must be done with sin. Yet powerless as we are to remove sin, we resort to removing sinners. That’s all we have left.

Hence this morning a posh school in Perth’s Golden Triangle, was publicly scrubbing its profile of an alumnus – a federal MP and cabinet minister -, upon news of an accusation of rape.

Leaving aside the facts behind what happened, we’ve got a high feeing paying elite school with a long history busy deleting history. Or at least deleting those parts that might make them look bad, as if somehow guilt by association will harm the school.

Perhaps guilt by association might lower the student intake – and hence the fees – I can see that. But this from a so-called church school, which should at least on the surface be able to face up to the monumental problem of human sin. Where is the reality in maintaining a glass cabinet of sports trophies that speak of pride and achievement, if at the same time the school cannot face up to failure? Or perhaps a senior elite school in Australia, simply hasn’t built an ethical framework to even consider that question in the first place.

We are in a pornified culture in which public schools on the east coast of Australia are busy angsting over the dreadful attitude of many young men towards women (you can read a great article here by a fine young man who is a prefect at one of those schools), yet such schools are busy deciding to keep the public image untarnished by denying their history.

Yet “tarnished” is part of history. Our history. Without “tarnished” being left to stand unmediated; without “tarnished” being a memorial we walk past on our way to our Humanities classes; then there is no tarnished history to learn from, no tarnished history to avoid in those expensive hallways. We are free to tarnish ourselves in exactly the same ways as previous generations, with nary a warning or Stop sign in sight.

Indeed the tarnished history as a sign of what to avoid is exactly what God’s people do when Achan’s sin of coveting and stealing costs Israel’s army a battle. When he is stoned for his sins (his sin cost lives), the stones are left where they lie:

And they raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his burning anger. Therefore, to this day the name of that place is called the Valley of Achor (or trouble). Joshua 7:26.

Israel held its nerve. Here is something for us to learn from. Let us not do an “Achan”. God may indeed remove our sins from us in his grace, but his judgement is sobering. What if elite schools piled up stones to their tarnished past instead of grinding them to dust to provide road-base for the new carpark?

We have nothing to make our ears tingle. Nothing to sober us. Nothing to say to the future leaders of Australia (and these schools are proud that they produce such leaders), about what might trip them up on their way to the top of the ladder.

In the absence of a God of vengeance or justice, the school has decided to take matters into its own hands before the small “g” gods of vengeance and justice pounce on them and demand it. Not that justice is going to be forthcoming anyway. The victim is now dead. The police have not pursued the case due to lack of evidence.

That of course does not mean that nothing will happen. The Federal Minister in question is toast. Done. Gone. The school plays its role in that, merely confirming what seemed obvious from the time the matter came to light – this man will now live out his days shunned and secluded. Maybe rightly so too. But in the absence of a hell after death, a place cut off from grace, we must create personal hells on earth in the here and now.

And, for many, if that is what needs to happen to pay the price of that woman’s life and emotional wellbeing, then so be it. We’re so used to saying that culture is upstream of politics. But it’s upstream of law too.

Of course the issue of removing our sinners from us – as opposed to our sin – is not about what grace and mercy could look like, it is about what justice does look like. Now I don’t know if that man should receive grace and mercy, but that’s a moot point as it’s not on offer.

I quote it often, but Douglas Murray puts it superbly in his book, The Madness of Crowds:

We live in a world where actions can have consequences we could never have imagined, where guilt and shame are more at hand than ever, and where we have no means whatsoever of redemption.  We do not know who could offer it, who could accept it, and whether it is a desirable quality compared to an endless cycle of fiery certainty and denunciation. 

Of course the desire for justice – the right desire for true justice – lies behind so much of this fiery certainty and denunciation. There is a new religion in our Western world, one that can only remove the sinner and not the sin. It does not have that power to change the sinner, or in cases like this, empower other sinners to change their ways before a heap of stones is raised over them too.

The irony being that with the great photoshopping purges of 2019 and onwards, we lose the very monuments of warning that we so desperately need in our time.

Writing in Eternity News just recently, Daniel Principe exposed the horror of the porn problem in our schools, and the manner in which young women are objectified to the point of being seen as mere receptacles of young men’s desires. Nothing less. But nothing more. Sixty years of the sexual revolution and this the enlightenment we find ourselves with.

I spoke to Daniel today about his work in private schools to counter porn and he made this observation about the task we are facing when the only common denominator to sexual activity is consent:

“Do you really think that a young man can get the same level of dopamine hit from a consent class at school as he can from porn on his phone? If consent classes are all we have, we’re in trouble.”

Yet that is all we have. A consent class. We cannot imagine a vision of human sexual flourishing that has a centre to it other than consent. The bar is indeed very low. And if the coming generations of national leaders being thrust upon the stage is to learn from the mistakes of the past, there must be a past to learn from.

We need a pile of stones. We need to stop photoshopping the sinners out of our pictures. We don’t need to – in fact dare not – indulge them, but we don’t need to ignore them either. Israel was brave enough to leave Achan’s pile of stones in place because Israel’s God was big enough to cope. And when consent is our god – our only god – then we are indeed in trouble.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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