Surveying the nations of his day David gave voice to what he saw with the words, ““Do you rulers indeed speak justice? Do you judge uprightly among men? No, in your heart you devise injustice and your hands meet out violence on the earth” Ps 58: 1-2. David’s own heart was set on doing what was right, constantly giving thanks to His God whom he knew to be righteous, faithful and just. He hated wickedness, as his psalms constantly show. He was a man of deep integrity, a “man after God’s own heart”. It was this integrity that makes clear that his stricture of other rulers of his day was not a foolish generalisation but was an accurate, and to him a distressing assessment.
If he had looked around the world in our own generation I have not the slightest doubt that he would have come to precisely the same general conclusion: rulers who “devise injustice” and “meet out violence” are to be seen everywhere across the world. There has been a disturbing collapse of many so-called “democratic” states into autocratic and despotic rule over the last two decades or so. This has been particularly the case in Africa among the old colonial states where there has been widespread violence; and recent developments in South Africa are most disturbing. But it has also been the case in South Asia and South America. “Strong men” everywhere, have exploited (or devised) revolutionary situations and have seized personal and arbitrary control through “necessary safety” measures, locking out any form of opposition, legitimate or otherwise. Two of the most influential nations of the world, Russia and China, are despotic in essence, despite a “democratic dress”; here, as elsewhere, the strength and security of the “strong men” are always preferred to justice. After a brief flurry the Arab Spring has quickly reverted to despotic rule and its usual oppressive measures. The Middle East indeed has seen appalling violence and utterly unscrupulous actions from “rulers”. The gains for all these rulers are always great wealth (rarely, if ever, acquired justly) and power.
If we look at the “democratic” nations the picture is still very much as David painted it. Corruption is running at an increasingly high level, intrigue is universal and vicious, libel and misrepresentation is increasingly blatant, not least in the U.S. which considers itself the heart of the free world! Europe, caught up at the present in the throes of a vicious and unforgiving divorce with the UK is no better, and its history in the last century has been one in which it launched two devastating world wars!. This, of course, is not to belittle the fact that there are many individuals who have a heart like David’s and seek justice and righteousness but the overall pattern is clear. The democratic instruments of government which men have produced are in themselves to be much admired and have brought high levels of justice and freedom. But they all suffer from one inescapable fault; the violence, ambition and greed of fallen human nature. They all tend to flounder on those flaws.
None of this should really surprise us. Satan offered Jesus all the wealth and rule of the kingdoms of the world, and so indicated that he had a level of control over the world’s rulers. His kingdom is one of oppression, violence and deceit and he finds faulty humanity a convenient partner for his rule over human kingdoms. He did not mention, however, God’s supreme Kingship over all things and Jesus was not interested in the vain glory of a ruler-ship which would always involve fear and violence. Jesus in any case already had a very similar promise from his Father, a promise enshrined prophetically in the Psalms; “Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.” (Ps 2:8). This was a promise, not of receiving the rule of corrupt and sinful nations, but of receiving nations whom he would both judge and also redeem from sin. And it was an utterly certain promise.
We have seen two thousand years of human history since Jesus died, rose and ascended. In our generation it is well documented. The lessons of history are not always easy to read and in any case are largely ignored, but in the case of humanity in general history’s verdict is totally unmistakeable. All the evidence points to the fact that it is the deep flaws in human nature of greed, pride, arrogance, violence and envy that are fundamentally responsible for the story of self-destruction which makes up human history over the ages. These flaws are characteristic of all human hearts, but they seem particularly manifest among kings and those in positions of power. As we have been very perceptively told by a foremost British historian, “All power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. His comment has now become a well-known axiom, but little heeded! It means that holding on to power at the point when it threatens to be lost is the point at which violence and injustice is most certain to appear. (We have so many examples in the modern world of this fact). It means that being able to use power without any accountability (despotic power) is always a temptation too far. It means that to gain power is actually to arrive at a moral slippery slope where very few indeed keep their balance!
This is a lesson from history which very few thinkers are prepared to engage with. And yet it is the central problem of our world and the whole human race. “We’re not that bad!” would be a common retort – this denies the depth of the problem. “Evolution will sort it out at some aeon of time” – this very conveniently parks the problem. “Well, there’s nothing we can do about it; and we are trying to teach “values””. The problem has never been, however, about “knowing values” but about living them! It’s moral dynamic we need, not “education”.
Thankfully it is precisely this problem that the biblical narrative engages with. That is why the biblical narrative can never be accused of irrelevance. From Genesis to Revelation the focus is on the human “fall” from grace. The first thing that it seeks to establish is that it exists and is not to be denied. No excuses are offered. Human nature is pictured in the raw, just as it is. The second thing it establishes is that the solution of the problem is beyond humanity’s own competence. In particular a code of moral behaviour is shown to be not a solution to humanity’s failure, but is shown to be something that makes human inability to shake off its flaws all the more evident. So the Ten Commandments, though impeccable as a code given by God, could not provide the moral dynamic humanity needed to live uprightly and without violence. That is the lesson of the Old Testament.
What humanity really needs, and this is the radical solution, is a thorough transformation from within; the old propensities in human nature toward evil need to be replaced by equally strong propensities to do what is good, just and peaceful. New motivations of love are what are required. Nothing less than a “new creation” will suffice. This is the point grasped by the New Testament gospel, and re-iterated throughout its books. To use its most graphic expression humanity needs to be “born anew”. It needs a new “injection” which nullifies the old nature and release a new nature. And this is precisely what the gospel offers. It offers a new nature from the Creator God through the power of His own Spirit. No source other than God would be possible or sufficient for such a change. Self-change by meditation and such like exercises simply would not avail. There is a majestic simplicity about this solution to humanity’s inner need, as well as a profound logic. And it is a measure of God’s concern for his creation that He is ready to do this. The way has been opened by the sacrifice of Jesus, and by his consequent release of the Holy Spirit into those who seek such a change. Innumerable people across the world have experienced something of such an inner change in following Jesus.
The “radical solution” is not simply a matter for the present world, however. The purpose of God is to complete his work by taking us through death into a new resurrection experience with a new body, equally radically changed. This will be part and parcel of a process in which this world will be brought to its end and a new world created. We shall be new creations in new bodies with a new divine likeness in holiness, and in a new world which knows no death but of which eternal life is the key feature.
Too good to be true? Or too wonderful to be missed!