Depth and coherence in a shaky world

9 April 2019

3.1 MINS

In his helpful and timely book, God Is Good For You, Greg Sheridan quotes the Cistercian Father Michael Casey on the modern postmodern movement.

Drawing on the work of French sociologist, the late Jean Baudillard, Casey posits that the five qualities postmodernism lacks are ‘depth, coherence, meaning, authenticity and originality.’

Anyone who has heard left-leaning activists shouting abuse through megaphones in the name of tolerance won’t find Casey’s words too difficult to grasp. Or arguing for the rights of all animals to live and equally the rights of human mothers to kill their own unborn, being-born or just-born children for the sake of convenience.

Depth and coherence, to pick just the first two, are somewhat missing in action.

It is not too hard to work out why. In post-modern society, truth is what I think it is. No externally derived, core Truth binds together disparate thoughts. And if truth is only as deep as my subjective thoughts and imaginings, it cannot be any deeper than, well, me.

But let’s turn the spotlight around. Depth and coherence—for us as Christians, they come from our knowledge of God. His ways. His character. God is the one core Truth that binds all things together. God is not the retired founder of the firm, but is ever active in the drama that is human history. Lose or weaken that knowledge and our reactions to life are no deeper than our own current whims and preferences. We offer our shaky world little but a religious version of what they offer us.

In recent days, praise has been offered to God for His ‘intervention’ in the NSW state election. It is ‘a miracle’. God answered prayer. God turned the election to a conservatively preferred outcome in the last week.

But are we thereby saying that God did not intervene in Victoria? Or Queensland? Or was unable to? Is that our story to the world? Obviously those of a non-Conservative political view will reverse the example. My point is not political but theological. If we rejoice at God’s intervention when things go our way, and lament when things do not go our way, we live out a religious post-modernism in which what we want, what we think, what we see as best for the world is our applied truth.

We get there by disconnecting our Christian faith from the ways of God. By denying the realities of the way God worked through the history of His people, before and since the cross. By refocussing meetings on emotional experiences. The website of one large church reads, ‘Have fun and grow in your faith’. Yep—denial.

Shallow, relativistic thinking offers nothing to our shallow, relativistic society. As the people of Yahweh, we measure our lives and responses by a narrative that transcends the bane or blessing of any particular political season in our history. That coherent narrative is found in God. His character. His ways. Depth comes from knowing that the narrative of God is greater and grander than the momentary outcome we might prefer.

If God can turn the hearts of Nebuchadnezzar, Darius, Cyrus, He can also turn the hearts of our own political leaders and those who vote for them. If He has not made everything comfortably conservative, it is because He has chosen not to. ‘Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ might mean that, in this scene in the drama, God’s will may be for a government we might not like. A government that shatters the historical values of our culture. That bans Christian voices from the public square. That outlaws our opinions.

Might He be doing something else? Something better? Might He be engineering a multi-generational expose of the utter bankruptcy of postmodernism or neo-Marxist ideologies as a means of drawing untold numbers into the Kingdom?

But what about us? In the brutal early decades of our faith, God did not change Rome, he equipped the believers to live within it. Under its horrific brutality, their light was such that countless thousands were drawn into the Kingdom. And in China today. In the gulags of Stalinist Russia. In the murderous regimes of Central Asia. Where humanity is at its darkest, the Gospel shines brightest.

Might we say therefore, ‘In a miracle of divine intervention, the opponents of the Gospel won’? We pray. We lobby. We trust.

This could be a very good season in which to have a quiet read of the book of Habakkuk. Poorly summarised…

The prophet: ‘Chaos and corruption are rampant! God why don’t you do something?’

Yahweh: ‘I am doing something that you won’t believe or like. I am raising up your bitterest enemies…’

The prophet: ‘Then though economics and politics utterly collapse, I will rejoice in the Lord…’ A coherent view of life, and survivalist’s depth in the face of looming destruction of everything sacred.

Therein lies peace and contentment. The only antidotes to the atheism of despair.

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