I grew up at the tail end of the Baby Boom. In school we learned foundational American principles such as being endowed with inalienable rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We learned about the rights accorded to us by that very important part of the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights.
In that age, prosperity was increasing for a majority of Americans. My father said that he went into the military because he didn't want to spend his life looking at the back end of a horse. I grew up hardly knowing what a horse was. Pretty much everything I could want was within reach, for me and for most of my peers.
It made for a very self-centered generation, sometimes called the "Me" generation.
At the age of nineteen, I came to know Jesus, and started to really read the bible. It didn't take long before I came across a verse which, for years, I considered to be one of the most challenging in the New Testament:
The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?
(1 Cor 6:7 NIV)
This verse fundamentally challenges so much of what my culture is based on. How could I possibly choose to be wronged or cheated?
Although I don't usually find myself following the traditional church calendar, this week was the beginning of Lent, when many Christians begin observing a period of fasting. And so, I find myself looking at Isaiah 58. In a nutshell, this chapter states that denying yourself of something (such as food) doesn't in and of itself gain the favor of God. What he desires is a change of heart—away from selfishness, and toward social justice and compassion. Which is a little bit like this:
They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.
- The blood of the Lamb is something we can only receive. And it is only available because Jesus chose to be wronged, to be cheated.
- The word of the testimony is only valid when it reflects the reality of our lives.
- Not loving our lives, even in the face of death, is in every way the opposite of asserting our rights. In other words, we choose to be wronged and cheated.
These are things which do not come naturally to me, and perhaps not to you as well. But I am convinced that these things are dear to the heart of the Father.
It is perhaps something of an irony that Paul's challenge to "why not rather be wronged?" was written in a far more savage culture than my own. In Paul's age the worship of gods who demanded sacrifice was the norm. There were parents who "passed their children through the fire," but also more subtle forms of human sacrifice such as public executions, gladiator fights and warfare. That kind of worship empowers demonic influence in society; which, in turn, leads to a society where people feast their eyes on evil and entertain themselves with human death. This makes fertile ground for persecution of Christians. In our day, we see some of this "worship" in the realms of abortion, law enforcement and terrorism; and people who entertain themselves with death in movies, video games and more.¹
The key to overcoming that kind of darkness is found in the three weapons described in Rev 12:11. We can not be a people who demands or asserts our rights, and at the same time hope to have any sort of authority for putting an end to abortion. I believe that the Father longs for a people who demonstrate his strength through weakness—just as Jesus did on the Cross, and just as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did when they told their king:
If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.
(Dan 3:17-18 NIV)
¹ Much of this paragraph is excerpted from my forthcoming book, The Call of the Child.
- For a good portrayal of what Roman worship and persecution of Christians looked like in the third century, I recommend the historical novel, Perpetua by Amy Peterson.