First Published in Jubilee / Fall 2013
AT THE OUTSET OF Jesus’ earthly ministry, the synoptic Gospel accounts relate that the Spirit which descended upon the Son of God at His baptism immediately drove Him into the wilderness (Matt. 4.1-11; Ma. 1.12-13; Lu. 4.1-13).1 There He was tempted by the devil for forty days. So pivotal are the two events to Mark’s Gospel that he places them at the beginning of his account, dispensing altogether with the birth narratives. The church universally recognizes the theological significance of baptism, but it consigns the event that immediately follows to comparative neglect. It begs the question. Why has God so strongly emphasized the temptation in the wilderness at the outset of Jesus’ ministry? The great Puritan poet John Milton regarded it to be so significant that he actually made Christ’s obedience to the Father in the face of Satan’s temptation the framework for the entire narrative of his Christian epic Paradise Regained, and thus a rejoinder to Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the ninth book of his more famous Paradise Lost. For Milton, Christ’s triumphal obedience clearly anticipated the totality of His victory over Satan, Sin and Death at the cross.2 It marked the onset of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. The careful reader will note how acute Milton’s perception was. Jesus’ encounter with Satan clearly relives the archetypal scene of Genesis 3, and the narrative wherein Satan successfully tempted Adam and Eve. The first encounter was not a happy one for man, and God drove our first parents from paradise into the wilderness. Yet in God’s speech to Satan there is an early hint at an epic loss Satan would himself experience one day at the hands of another man, one with God, ordained by God to be at enmity with him: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her SUPERNATURAL Naturalism offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel (Gen. 3:15). Indeed, the Apostle John wrote that Jesus Christ came “to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3.8). The temptation scene is the second Adam’s first triumph in His personal battle with Satan, sin and death. Yet Genesis 3 is not the only Old Testament text that the Gospel accounts draw upon. This great battle and the paradise that would be regained is foreshadowed in the account of the temptation of God’s people on the verge of entering the promised land (1 John 3.8). It contains a host of details which are picked up in the Gospel narrative. Having delivered His people from the bondage of slavery, God has led them to the border of the Promised Land.3 A leader from each of the twelve tribes is chosen, and they are sent out into the land as spies for forty days. The twelve see that the land of Canaan is good, flowing with milk and honey. Yet it is also filled with strong and wicked men, and ten of the twelve quail at the sight, returning to the people with craven counsel. Joshua and Caleb alone urge courage, boasting of the Lord’s strength, and interestingly speak of their opponents as “bread for us.” The majority opinion among the spies prevails however. The unbelieving people are quickened by fear, and they seek to “stone (Joshua and Caleb) with stones” (Nu. 14.9-10). At that point the silent witness of the proceedings intervenes: “the LORD appeared at the tent of meeting to all the people of Israel” (Nu. 14.10). Judgment follows. God strikes the ten faithless leaders with a plague, a judgment reminiscent of the land of Egypt (Nu. 14.37); and all those over the age of twenty who had heeded their counsel are condemned to wander in the wilderness for forty years and die, one year for each day their leaders had looked upon blessing and seen curses (Nu. 14.34).4 Joshua and Caleb shall lead a new generation into the land promised to the faithful. The three passages relate typologically.5 Just as Joshua and Caleb succeeded where Adam and Eve had failed, faithfully seeking to occupy the land and receive God’s promised blessing, so also the new Joshua, Jesus, trusted in God’s word as He looked to establish God’s kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven. As per type, He was assailed with temptation for forty days. Yet for the sins of God’s people with whom He has identified Himself (just as He had in baptism), He suffered His temptation in the wilderness. Jesus’ success exceeds that of Joshua in power, scope and significance. There are echoes of both Old Testament passages in Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Satan tempts the God-man as he once did unfallen Adam in the garden. He urges Jesus to “be as a god,” by which he means to act lawlessly, as Adam once had in breaking God’s sole commandment. In original sin, Adam “Brought death into our world, and all our woe,/ With loss of Eden, Till one greater Man/ Restore us.”6 In Jesus’ case, it would mean defying the Father’s express will in sending His Son and abandoning His people to sin and death (Ge. 3.5).7 The battle between man and devil takes the form of three temptations. Jesus is enticed by Satan to turn stones into bread to sate His hunger; He is urged to throw himself down from a great height (a form of stoning) to fulfill his perverse and Spirit-less interpretation of Scripture. Finally, He is promised rule over all the kingdoms of the earth if He will only worship His tempter. All of these temptations would seem to be in Jesus’ best interests as a man. All three make strong appeals to pragmatism, while tacitly rejecting divine providence. As in the original temptation, Satan styles himself man’s great humanitarian benefactor.8 As in the Garden, Satan’s words have the appearance of counseling godliness (“did God say?”) while actually provoking man to set himself above God. He should take a form of godliness without the power of the cross. The devil cites Scripture and, as is characteristic, masks himself as an angel of light. The first temptation urges Jesus to be wholly carnal. He is encouraged to produce bread miraculously to fulfill the great hunger He felt after going forty days without food, preserving His life and thus His mission. The second temptation counsels its polar opposite, to be superspiritual. It urges Him to act as if doing something clearly at odds with His bodily preservation – needlessly giving up His life – would be tantamount to fulfilling God’s will. In both of these temptations, Jesus is called to regard His life apart from any relationship to the Father or His express will; the God-man is enticed first to live selfishly, then to die selfishly. The third temptation is the deadliest of all, to achieve the Father’s will that He should reign, but to do so by circumventing the Father’s plan of the cross. He would reign on earth, but not as in Heaven. If we were to characterize the three temptations of Satan, we would speak of them as the embrace of a Messianic kingdom of lawlessness and the rejection of providence in favour of pragmatism.9 We could also note that worshipping Satan, and embracing lawlessness, is the precise contradiction to exercising good stewardship over the earth as per the dominion mandate given to Adam and Eve (Ge. 1.29); in fact, it is to embrace the curse of exile in the wilderness as if it were a form of godliness, the human good.
ROMANTICISM AND THE MYTHOLOGY OF A RETURN TO NATURE
What I will describe in the following, in broad brushstrokes, is the departure from Biblical faithfulness in Western culture since the Enlightenment. It has an analogy to these Biblical scenes not only insofar as it directly rejects the abiding relevance of the law of God and His kingdom here on earth. It also embraces the “wilderness” as the lodestar of human life and civilization. The wilderness is known by the benign word “nature.” In post-Romantic thought carnal desires (including sinful ones) are considered “natural” promptings; nature is spiritualized as an absolute; and the state of nature it held up as a democratic ideal to oppose God’s kingdom reign, in particular the moral specificity of Christian culture. According to type, in all three manifestations we hear the call to get “back to nature.” To see this more clearly, we must first note one of the most potent false dichotomies of modernity, the diametrical opposition of nature to culture, and vice versa. Since the Enlightenment, nature has been seen as purposive and universal; culture as arbitrary and relative. The terms of contrast are absurd. Nature is not a value-neutral or absolute term. In fact, it carries increasingly heavy cultural baggage.10 Far from being inclusive and universal, many have held it indirectly responsible for encouraging the aggressive tribalism of the Colonialist period that eventually engulfed the whole world in war. I regard it as central to the re-emergence of slavery in the Christian West. And like every other concept, the meaning of nature has changed in accordance with the (religious) presuppositions of the age. Since the time of the Romantic period in the West, it has become increasingly panentheistic.11 It contains a religious as well as a scientific claim. This is even revealed in the misleading narrative Western academia currently likes to tell about itself, that postmodernism is defined by its hostility towards all metanarratives.12 While it certainly shows this towards a Christian metanarrative, it enacts a wholly uncritical replacement metanarrative of its own, that God is “in” nature. “Nature” regularly refers both to things, i.e. observable phenomena, and the causes or laws that govern and explain them. For example, we will hear that an apple is natural, and also that it falls from the tree because “that’s how nature works.” This view of nature is even said to be scientific.13 Yet as Hume observed, laws and causes cannot be observed empirically. Furthermore, to say that something is “natural” is not simply a factual observation. It contains a (cultural) value judgment, usually that something is good and just and right. So when we hear that postmodernism is defined by its profound doubt, we need to take it with a grain of salt. This is its confirmation bias speaking.14 It appeals to nature to bolster its own cultivated sense of neutrality and innocence towards culture, to deflect criticism that it actually represents a uniquely contemporary cultural-religious perspective, and to conceal that its hostility to Christianity resides in little more than moral opposition to God and His law. The reason it is effective lies in the fact that unlike religion, nature is still popularly believed to be an absolute. If something is deemed natural, it cannot be questioned. At the same time, because what is meant by nature is so incoherent, postmodern cultural theorists like Michel Foucault have been able to overturn what was traditionally condemned as unnatural by appealing to nature! The uncritical reverence for nature has thus had enormous cultural significance. It has meant that any objections to their view of nature have been rejected as “cultural,” sectarian and arbitrary, and can be dismissed in much the same way superstitions would once have been by those who appealed to logic and evidence. There can be little doubt how powerful the concept of nature now is. Nature is the opiate of the masses. Almost every culturally approved activity is justified by appealing to it. The most wholesome food is said to be “organic” a nebulous designation that carries overtones more salvific than scientific. Therapists encourage people to “do what is natural” to rid themselves of their inner conflict and guilt. Personal and artistic expression aims at authenticity – “being natural” – as opposed to conforming to external standards. In the “environmental movement,” whose dictates are swift becoming core doctrine across the political ideological spectrum, the hippy fringe dreams of a “return to nature” while the more “mainstream” technologically savvy urbane sophisticates seek to appease the pristine green goddess by reducing the human population and in general stigmatizing “carbon,” man and his artifice itself being the chief carbon stain.15 Finally, the contemporary promotion of homosexuality (and increasingly paedophilia) is often predicated on the fact that certain people are “born this way.”16 The realm of law has simply followed this utopian organic hermeneutic in turning against traditional institutions such as marriage, the family and the church, which represent and uphold a differentiated view of the relation of man to nature.17 In swallowing up these institutions, a nature-state is being asserted. And the nation-states of the world are depopulating, moving towards a universal, utopian state of nature.18 While it has taken a few centuries to gestate, the contemporary embrace of “nature” as a religious presupposition originates in the writers of the Romantic period. In contrast to the Classical or Christian art that preceded it, which invariably understood culture as a means for perfecting the created order (nature), Romantic artists almost invariably viewed culture as a denigration of nature, an “imposition” upon it. Shakespeare was held to be the great example of a more “universal” nature. He was the natural genius who ignored the rules that bound lesser artists, a law unto himself. Particularly in its more spectacular forms, what we now call nature also formed the setting of much Romantic art. But it did not function as it would have in pastoral literature. Nature was a presence with a transformative power on the invariably solitary artist in its midst. It was the Romantics who first undertook the project of idealizing and even absolutizing nature.19 William Wordsworth, the greatest of the English Romantic poets, led the way in attributing regenerative and even redemptive powers to it. Echoing the account of Eve’s creation in Gen. 2, he reminisces how nature’s power came to form his ideal self. He uses what we today might call psychological terms to describe putting to death the old man, and putting on the new: …serene and blessed mood, In which the affections gently lead us on,-- Until, the breath of this corporeal frame And even the motion of our human blood Almost suspended, we are laid asleep In body, and become a living soul: While with an eye made quiet by the power Of harmony, and the deep power of joy, We see into the life of things.20 Accordingly, Wordsworth and his contemporaries almost invariably exalted nature over culture, believing that “the Child is the Father of the man”21; they exalted nature over society (including attacks on marriage as its basic institution);22 nature over politics, including treatises on anarchy;23 nature (feeling) over reason; nature over civilization, particularly the city; and in all things seeing nature as a triumph over institutional decadence. It was the Romantics who first associated the presence of nature to the moral and spiritual health of a nation, and to them we owe our national parks. There is a seeming paradox in this, though it is an illuminating one for the purposes of this essay. Their exaltation of nature simultaneously cast the poet, who represented mankind as a whole, as a tragic figure, typically in isolation. As a pastor and educator, I worry when someone isolates himself from others. But in Romantic thinking, solitude reflects a heroic rejection of inherited culture and its wisdom.24 The figure of the “orphan” gives poignancy to the portrait of the child by adding the overarching sense of abandonment and alienation. Roger Lundin sees it as the legacy of Cartesian philosophy, whose original hope and optimism about the “self” has given way to alienation and despair.25 Yet orphans remain not just the main heroes but the educational ideals of our cultural elite as they seek to bring about a naturestate in opposition to the Christian institutions of the family, the church, and the body politic.
ROMANTICISM AND THE CARTESIAN ‘NATURAL’ HUMAN SELF
One final aspect of Romanticism’s exaltation of nature needs to be identified: its attack on the cultural construct of human identity. The poet Percy Shelley was only the most consistent and thoroughgoing in his attack on Christian civilization in his work. Specifically in his two short essays “On Life” and “On Love” we see the beginning of a whole scale revision of the differentiation of personhood as the very basis for a more inclusive, holistic, natural sense of love. Shelley begins with the characteristic Romantic appeal to origins, not as a member of the human race or as a person made in the image of the triune God, but as a feeling organism, with the solitary sense that he is indistinguishable from the world around him. This sense of childhood fades as he enters adulthood: What is life? Thoughts and feelings arise, with or without our will, and we employ words to express them. We are born, and our birth is unremembered, and our infancy remembered but in fragments; we live on, and in living we lose the apprehension of life.26 Shelley proposed to fight against the curse of becoming an adult and conforming to the cultural world of others, particularly the world of Christendom, by appealing to a radical course of skepticism he termed “the intellectual philosophy.” He attacked all forms of differentiation and discrimination, including the most basic one of personhood. He did so by appealing to life (nature) as a totalizing force that annihilated all distinctions, including his personal distinction from everyone else: The words I, you, they, are not signs of any actual difference subsisting between the assemblage of thoughts thus indicated, but are merely marks employed to denote the different modifications of the one mind… I am but a portion of it. The words I, and you, and they are grammatical devices invented simply for arrangement, and totally devoid of the intense and exclusive sense usually attached to them. 27 Shelley’s musings on this subject were little read in his time. Yet they clearly anticipate the developments in literary theory that have utilized language to reimagine human nature since the 1960s, when the new Romantics, the cultural Marxists, took over academia. ii To give us some sense of why this excursion into Romantic thinking matters, we need to take a brief detour to look to the problem caused by the current concept of nature as a functional god, a blissful state wherein we escape culture and the consequences of the fall. Douglas Wilson has observed that atheists in our time have two convictions about God. He does not exist and they hate Him. When debating the late Christopher Hitchens, one of the better known atheists of our time, he noted his animosity was particularly pronounced in response to the substitutionary atonement of Christ and the notion that God is an ever-present Father.28 An astute cultural critic, Wilson observed Hitchens’ simplistic adherence to the Whig metanarrative of human emancipation from the past, an evolution away from God, human institutions, and all forms of prejudice towards ever greater freedom: …he hates (God) for deserting us, for leaving us. At the same time, there is acknowledgment of the fact that we rejected God first. We demanded that He leave. We hate it when he leaves, and we hate it worse when He stays. This is all admittedly conflicted and contradictory, but one of the things we have to understand is that sin doesn’t make sense.29 Hitchens’ hostility on these two points of Christian doctrine was striking, and it should be noted would also have astonished those who had lived before Christianity’s public acceptance in the West. What Scripture reveals about the Son`s substitutionary atonement for His enemies at the cross is precisely what put an end to the religious scapegoating of the enemies of the state in the brutality of the arena,30 and the revelation of God’s fatherly love for His people is clearly a source of the greatest joy and comfort. There is simply no intellectual or moral basis for a hostile response. Nonetheless, Hitchens’ response is common, and with good warrant Wilson speculates that it is because he and the increasingly vocal ”New Atheists” do not consider God in terms of the persons of the Trinity, even though it is foundational to Christian theology. He thinks of God as an impersonal “organizing principle” in the sky. That reduces Christianity to a form of Unitarianism. It has a devastating effect on how Hitchens interprets the self-giving love evident in the atonement and in the Father’s providential care for His people. For one thing, it means that he denatures God from a personal being into an idea. And he finds the expressions of “love” related to that idea arbitrary, manipulative and socially oppressive. Yet the Bible does not speak of God as a radical skeptic like Shelley might, expressing the “idea” of love. 1 John 4.16 identifies God personally with love. He is not a big idea in cosmic solitude. Wilson articulates the Christian understanding of the intimate relation between the Trinity and love: If it was not good for man to be alone (Gen. 2.18), it is unthinkable that God in His eternity would be alone. For orthodox Christians, the eternal reality of the Godhead has included, in its very nature, divine fellowship. The Father has always loved the Son, and the Son has loved the Father in return. Their Spirit is the eternal Spirit of that love, Himself an infinite third. Rejecting God as Trinity invariably leads to the sense that He is an intellectual abstraction. Thereafter, if we relate to Him at all, it is as exiles or orphans, in intellectual abstraction from Him. God is someone we can never personally encounter. Wilson lays out a series of intellectual developments since the Enlightenment, rooted in precisely the assumption that has led to Hitchens’ vitriolic response to the idea of God’s love: With Unitarianism, at least initially, God was still interested in us, but it turns out there is no real grounded reason why He should have been. So one day He took off, and there we were, the foundling race… So first there was the Father of Jesus Christ, Giver of the Holy Spirit. Then there was the Unitarian clockmaker God, who still watches His clock, and who was willing to do repairs from time to time. Then there was the God of the Deists, one who initially made the clock, wound it up, and then left, leaving no forwarding address. After He had been gone awhile, it was decided by general (very scientific) consensus that clocks can assemble themselves, and who needs a clockmaker anyway? This was the advent of modern atheism, a “scientific” and “rational” atheism. But after a few generations of that, we are now teetering on the edge of a postmodern atheism – one that denies any ultimate clockmaker the right to manufacture any metanarrative whatsoever.31 The Biblical metanarrative of God’s covenant love for humanity is of course simply one of the casualties, though it is a central one. Wilson’s explanation illustrates two things quite vividly. It attributes the hostile response of today’s atheists to a distortion of the core teachings of the Christian faith, in particular the love of God. For evangelicals, it suggests that appealing to God’s love when witnessing to Biblically illiterate unbelievers ignores the main problem. Not only do they not know who God is, by extension they no longer understand what love is. It also explains that the hostility is rooted in a fundamental misapprehension of Christian theology, specifically of the significance of the personhood of God. Finally, they have thereby detached the distinctiveness of the human person revealed in Scripture from their understanding of human love. This necessarily has consequences in how they regard the kingdom of God and how Christian believers seek to live as God’s regenerate Kingdom people. To understand how this theological error ties together with a problematic conception of nature and of love, we need to make one last excursion into Christian theology, though in this case in its teaching on human nature. iii As we just saw, the doctrine of the Trinity is essential to understanding God’s personal nature. Ditto love. When we speak of the love of God, it is not in the first order to reflect on how He relates to humanity, it is to declare who He is in His being.32 The declaration that God is one yet also three persons is embedded in Scripture, and for good reason was among the two primary grounds of theological debate in the early church.33 The doctrine of the Trinity explains how Jesus’ mission of salvation is not just an arbitrary fact. It is an expression of who God is in His true nature. God’s love is eternal (Ps. 136) precisely because “God does not change” (Mal. 3.6; Heb. 13.8). God’s revelation to man allows him to exercise dominion in the realm of knowledge. Scientific advance is rooted in the Trinitarian belief that the universe can be comprehended, as it solves the ancient philosophical problem of the one and the many. There is unity in diversity. Neither unity or diversity is ultimate. For God is one, but also three. 34 The Trinity is also essential to understanding man’s personal nature in contradistinction to the rest of the created order. Let us take a moment to look at that in more detail. In Genesis 1.26- 27, the creation of Adam and Eve is described in terms of God’s personal image: 26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. We must be careful not to let the event’s unique significance be disguised by the established pattern of repetition. The chronological pattern is less important than the significance of the event.35 The fact that the creation of man falls on the sixth day, the day on which the animals were also created, has led many to assume that in the creation of man there is a climax in the order of the animals analogous to that in the order of the days. Accordingly, man is not so much
a) the crown of the six-day creation, as b) the crown of the sixth day of creation, i.e. the top dog in the animal kingdom. These are very different assertions, and must not be conflated. That the text declares man to be the crown of God’s creation seems indisputable, but his inclusion as an animal is doubtful.36 After all, as is rendered even more obvious in the elaboration of Gen. 2.7, the specific means of man’s creation from the dust is unique.37 Furthermore, the language of “kinds” used to distinguish the animals from one another is not extended to include man (Gen. 1.24-25). All of this is not to deny a connection between the animals and man, but it is to say that Adam and Eve do not bear the imago Dei on account of the fact that they are a special kind of animal.38 In what sense and on what account do they bear God’s personal image then? It seems related to the fact that God addresses Adam and Eve personally. In both respects, in the fact that they are addressed, and in fact that it happens personally, man is distinguished from the animals. God loves the animals, but He does not speak to them. The divine Word therefore not only creates but also constitutes the imago Dei in man, which becomes clearer yet when God commands them to exercise dominion care over the rest of creation, which Adam then does when he names the beasts. Man is not first among equals in nature because the imago Dei is not a natural attribute. One further thing can be said on the topic of God’s address which pertains to God’s image. It is in relation to what man is to do and not to do. This is not just the “is” language of creation but the “ought” language of law. The act of command and prohibition reflects a moral nature essential both to God and man. So while it is God’s address that renders man distinctively human, the commands and the prohibition he is given entails a moral imperative to obey to stay in personal communion with God. Obedience is an essential aspect of love. While God’s address renders man human, it is man’s obedience that keeps him upright.39 Disobeying God’s commands (as we witness in Gen. 3) does not render us non-human or nonpersons, but it does make us something the animals can never be, namely sinners. Furthermore, man’s categorical distinction from the animals is also accompanied by marks of personal differentiation within humanity itself. The personal pronouns our image and our likeness in Gen. 1.26 are plural, reflecting the plurality of persons in the Godhead. Adam and Eve together are spoken of as man, a collective singular, and yet the male-female distinction between the two is also essential to their identity. This apparent logical contradiction is resolved by reminding ourselves of God’s own nature. As in the Trinity, the formulation of man’s identity reflects a unity in diversity. The distinction from the animals on this note is unambiguous in the account in Gen. 2, where we learn that Eve is taken from Adam’s own side (differentiation) and, again in the language of poetry, we hear that Eve completes Adam in a way the other animals could not (unity). The statement of that unity is the declaration concluding Gen. 2 that in marriage the two persons become “one flesh.”
THE EUPHORIA OF “EQUALITY” AND THE ASSAULT ON DIFFERENTIATED PERSONHOOD AND LOVE
This is precisely why contemporary redefinitions of human sexual and gender identity and homosexual marriage are so troubling. It is not just that redefining sex or marriage ipso facto departs from God’s defined moral character. It is not just that in same-sex marriage, the union of marriage has been redefined in such a way that it rejects the significance of diversity in unity. It is also that the distinctiveness of person has been lost. By ignoring the fundamental polarity of being revealed in male-female sexual differentiation, our society has sanctioned something like a personal Unitarianism as the basis for all social and political relations. It is true that enforcing radical desexualized individualism has long been a tendency in Western culture and law. But attaching it directly to marriage is far more significant, because marriage is interwoven into the social, legal and political fabric. Redefining it must in turn affect all subsequent understanding of human rights. It marks the absolute embrace of the curse of alienation and exile from God’s image as the utopian solution to human ills. It is as if “all we need is love.” And love no longer entails a person (let alone the Person), it refers to an abstraction of person, whose only legal stipulation lies in “consent.” In seeking to avoid the gendered implications of human individuals, we also eliminate individual personhood. It is the personal differentiation of being male or female that designates an encounter with another person. Personhood, and everything that is implicated with it in Western law and culture, from equality before the law, the requirement of separate witnesses in a criminal trial, to personal freedoms, cannot survive the assault on sexual differentiation because the two are inextricably linked. The ultimate minority, the individual person, has been crushed in the name of “minority group rights.” Abolishing sexual differentiation as an aspect of personhood has the inevitable consequence that man becomes a species no different than an animal, with the capacity for moral guilt but without a refuge of moral purity, to the frustration and impoverishment of humanity, and the depersonalization of all human interactions. Human rights legislation has only further tracked Shelley’s thought and the tendency of Cartesian self-fathering by attributing “minority” status to those who self-identify as minorities even without a mark of personal sexual differentiation, the transgendered community.
This essay began with a look at the temptation in the wilderness, and the onset of the kingdom of God in Christ’s obedience to the Father’s holy word. It then described how Western civilization had rebelliously embraced the wilderness – nature in the form of lawlessness – as if it were a more universal kingdom. Having ignored the personhood of God and rebelled against Christian teaching, it has now gone on to attack human personhood in the most radical fashion.
HOW SHALL WE RESPOND?
In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus teaches Christians to pray in the name of our Heavenly Father for the coming of His kingdom on earth. Jesus’ three temptations are a pattern for us. Our first danger is in taking a pragmatic stance. We cannot act as if there were a different standard for Christians than for other people. Every human being is a person, made in the image of God. It is in Christ’s image that every person finds his or her true humanity. Their sexual differentiation is a necessary sign of that personhood, and marriage of male and female is a picture of God’s plan for the flourishing of human life. It is also His analogy for the relationship of Christ to His church. To sanction changes in marriage or gender is to deny them their humanity, to show them a lack of love. Marriage as God defines it is a human good, and refusing to uphold it is to commit a human rights violation against others. Finally, we can adopt a different kingdom ethics under Christ’s banner. We might euphemistically call it social justice, but it is at odds with God’s view of society which from the beginning entails diversity in unity: in marriage and the family. Praying for God’s kingdom to come happens as we also hallow the Father’s name on earth as it is in Heaven. Hallowing entails calling holy what God calls holy. In other words, praying the Lord’s prayer with integrity necessitates “seek(ing) first His Kingdom and His righteousness” (Matt. 6.33). It is not simply sanctifying our blessed thoughts. It means obeying the Great Commission, going out into the world and disciplining the nations, teaching them all that the Lord has commanded. Jesus Christ, speaking of the gift of the Holy Spirit, promised His people, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14.18) Let us trust God at His word rather than be deceived by false ideals.