God is at work in the world! Jesus said so (Matthew 5:45-48). Paul said so (Acts 14:16; 17:24-29). We see His work all over the place, in non-Christians as well as Christians. It’s just that millions of us don’t know that it’s His work when we love faithfully or think and do lovely things or refuse to do what we know is plainly unjust. We do see this all around us and we need to acknowledge it as the work of a gracious and faithful God who works in the midst of a world of humans who don’t know the truth about God or themselves. Are we capable of cruelty and selfishness beyond belief? Of course! Who doubts it?
Sin in all its forms is brutal, infectious and corrupting; it blinds and enslaves, it justifies itself in sophisticated ways—“It’s right that we should do these things because…” and individuals and movements and nations offer moral justification for what they do. Once more, “What we are doing is morally right because…” Few are willing to be and do evil without attempting to justify it. It’s true that in some quarters the question, “And why did you beat her to death?” gets this for an answer, “Hmmm, maybe because it was Tuesday and I was in the mood.”
Humanism in its strident crusading form proclaims as its watchword: “Goodness without God!” “Humanism” doesn’t weep but many humanists do. Humanism doesn’t help others but many humanists do. Humanism doesn’t place the ‘blame’ where it belongs for cruelty and selfishness that beggars belief—on powerful, cruel and selfish humans but many humanists do.
There are those of us who had grown weary of the evil we were/are addicted to, evil that God couldn’t or didn’t help us to overcome, so we say we converted to Humanism without God to build a better life and to help others live freely and in peace. No Sin, you see! This is ‘the higher calling.’ Reject God and you reject “Sin” and find peace and a guilt-free life. Rather than confess we are enmeshed in sleaze or cruelty we become ‘intellectually honest’ and turn from God, no remorse about the past or repentance required in the present or future.
I suppose that would mean no one sins. We end up with a world that agnostic and humanist, Bertrand Russell, looked at with great sadness; confessing that he saw things going on in the world that appalled him but he said he had no rational grounds for condemning it. Agnostic Nietzschean scholar, Walter Kaufman said, “Try not to call anything evil.” No one lives this way! No one can live this way. We all end up believing there’s a ‘higher ground’ and Herbert Butterfield (Cambridge professor of modern history for 35 years) said he learned down the years that all the nations claimed they stood on that higher ground. History proclaims a central sin: “Self-righteousness.” You never heard Stalin, Hitler or Paul Pot confessing they had done wrong. You would have heard them admit they made tactical or strategic mistakes, but they were always doing the right thing.
The wave that is climbing highest and becoming stronger in the West, in scholarly theological gatherings and religious conversations and sermons, is the social justice wave. How can we regret the desire for social justice and the concrete attempts to gain it? We can’t and shouldn’t! It matters much to GOD! Read through the prophets in the Holy Scriptures, and if you have a mind to, read some of Rabbi Heschel’s work on The Prophets and see how fiercely interested God is in social justice.
But the speech of the prophets is saturated with phrases like, “Thus saith the Lord!” What they had to say was not based on rational argument or warm humanitarian feeling (though they would not sneer at such things)—what they had to say was the voice of GOD and they weren’t educated enough to hide that!
Most of what we (at least what I) hear these days is sociology and the religious/theological fashion which is the result not of sustained listening to and reflection on the self-revelation of God beginning in Genesis and culminating in the indwelling Lord Jesus—Humanism and many fine humanitarian people are the engine that drives it.
Of course if that’s what it takes to waken God’s Companions we should thank Him for it but, as Lesslie Newbigin, warned us years ago, it’s astonishing how quickly the reign of God becomes a church program or a theological fashion.
This piece has wandered from what I meant to say and say in few words. Humanism promises a better world now, or at least soon, and it promises it on the basis of human effort and thought (without GOD, of course). It’s a bit like looking in a cemetery for the secret to staying alive. (See Isaiah 8:19 which is addressed to God’s people.)
The Humanistic speech is addressed to those who have the time and freedom to think about it. It might be useful to a great host here and far away but it assumes they’ll be alive tomorrow to hear it and benefit from it.
The trouble with a Humanism without GOD that troubles me most is that it destroys—utterly destroys—all hope of justice for the unnumbered millions who never got any from the day they were born until the day they were butchered or burned, raped and sold and starved into oblivion!
What about them? What about them?
The future offered by Humanism is THE VAST DEATH OF THE MINDLESS UNIVERSE THAT KNOWS NOTHING OF ‘JUSTICE’ AND NEVER DID! It ignores the machete-hacked parents, the boy-soldiers in Africa and the very young girls who are kept to be gang-raped to death before they become mentally unhinged and kill themselves. This! This is superior to the prophetic “God will judge the world in righteousness and has given assurance that He will do it by raising Jesus from the dead”? Acts 17:31.
Lectures and sermons that nod at appropriate ‘liberation texts’ from the Holy Scriptures, and then proceed to offer sociology and historical surveys, without remainder, are no substitute for establishing congregations of Jesus Christ with Him and the meaning of Him as the throbbing center of “the whole counsel and purpose of God.”
No doubt we will, and should, take any help God gives us through any avenue but when hermeneutical strategies and society’s newest and focused interest become our major interest and impetus and our teaching/preaching/writing and lecturing is for peer review or peer sampling then the Holy Scriptures are pushed into the background and the entire world suffers loss as it spins farther from its Sun and deeper into unfathomable cosmic darkness.
(Holy Father, give us we pray, teachers drenched with a rich understanding and living relationship with your Holy Bible and with yourself the loving Creator and the Judge of all the earth who has done, is doing and will finally do what “is right.”)