False Faith in Men & Governments

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“[Reinhold] Niebuhr argued that human thinking always elevates some finite value or object to be The Answer. That way we feel that we are the people who can fix things, that everyone opposing us is a fool or evil. But as with all idolatries, this too blinds us. In Marxism [socialism] the powerful State becomes the savior and capitalists are demonized. In conservative economic thought, free markets and competition will solve our problems, and therefore liberals and big government are the obstacles to a happy society.

The reality is much less simplistic. Highly progressive tax structures can produce a kind of injustice where people who have worked hard go unrewarded [and are actually punished for their hard work] and are penalized by high taxes. A society of low taxes and few benefits, however, produces a different kind of injustice, where the children of some families who can afford good health care and elite education have vastly better opportunities than those who cannot. In short, ideologies cannot admit that there are always significant negative side-effects to any political program. They often cannot grant that their opponents have good ideas too.

In any culture in which God is largely absent, sex, money, and politics will fill the vacuum for different people. This is the reason that our political discourse is increasingly ideological and polarized. Many describe the current poisonous public discourse as a lack of bi-partisanship, but the roots go much deeper than that. As Niebuhr taught, they go back to the beginning of the world, to our alienation from God, and to our frantic efforts to compensate for our feelings of cosmic nakedness and powerlessness. The only way to deal with all these things is to heal our relationship with God.” – Keller, Timothy. Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters. (New York: Dutton, 2009.), 106-107.

“Man is insecure, and . . . he seeks to overcome his insecurity by a will-to-power. . . . He pretends he is not limited.” – Keller, 110.

“When the illusion of control disappears, we become men and women of prayer.” – Matt Chandler

“[In Daniel 2:31-35] The statue represented the kingdoms of the earth. It appeared as a giant idol, and represented the idolization of human power and achievement. It was human civilization – commerce and culture, rule, and power, all exercised by human beings to glorify themselves. . . . [Nebuchadnezzar] had not believed, however, that there was one preeminent, all-powerful lawgiver to whom everyone was accountable, including him. He was being told that there was one supreme God, who was sovereign and judge, and to whom he was responsible for his use of power. . . . What we learn here is that theology matters, that much of our addiction to power and control is due to false conceptions of God. Gods of our own making may allow us to be “masters of our fate.” Sociologist Christian Smith gave the name “moralistic, therapeutic deism” to the dominant understanding of God he discovered among younger Americans. [Smith] describes this set of beliefs: God blesses and takes to heaven those who try to live good and decent lives (the “moralistic” belief). The central goal in life is not to sacrifice, or to deny oneself, but to be happy and feel good about yourself (the “therapeutic” belief). Though God exists and created the world, He does not need to be particularly involved in our lives except when there is a problem (that is “deism”).

This view of God literally makes you master of your fate and captain of your soul. Salvation and happiness is up to you. Some have pointed out that “moralistic, therapeutic deism” could only develop in a comfortable, prosperous society among privileged people. People “at the top” are eager to attribute their position to their own intellect, savvy, and hard work. The reality is much more complicated. Personal connections, family environment, and what appears to be plain luck [the grace and sovereign will of God] determine how successful a person is. We are the product of three things – genetics, environment, and our personal choices – but two of these three factors we have no power over. We are not nearly as responsible for our success as our popular views of God and reality lead us to think.” – Keller, 114-116.

“The Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone He wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men.” This means that anyone who is successful is simply a recipient of God’s unmerited favor. Even the people at the top of the world’s hierarchy of power, wealth, and influence are really “lowliest” – they are no better than anyone else. This is a rudimentary form of the Gospel – that what we have is the result of grace, not of our “works” or “efforts.” – Keller, 120.

“Any religion that needs state and government power (especially if it would result to terrorism) to enforce obedience to it, is a religion without confidence in the power of its god, or even any regard for basic humanity.” – Unknown

“Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie!” – Psalm 40:4

“It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.” – Psalm 118:8-9

“Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.” – Psalm 146:3

“Stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he?” – Isaiah 2:22

“Thus says the LORD: ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD.'”– Jeremiah 17:5

“Isaiah said these things because he saw His glory and spoke of Him. Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in Him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” – John 12:41-43

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” – Ephesians 2:1-10

“What did you have to do with being born? Did you work hard to earn the privilege of being born? Did it happen due to your hard work and skillful planning? Not at all. You don’t earn or contribute anything to being born. It is a free gift of life. And so it is with the new birth. Salvation by grace – there are no moral efforts that can earn or merit it. You must be born again.” – Keller

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