Ok, ok, the title is a bit of hyperbole. Psalm 46 is the battle anthem for one small and struggling reformed baptist church in Edinburgh that goes by the name Bellevue Baptist Church. Whether any other reformed baptist church either knows the tune or version of Psalm 46 that we sing or, indeed, cares is quite another matter. I doubt Piper knows it. He does, however, know Psalm 46.
Anyway, I thought I’d go through the Psalm 46 in the Bible and explain why it means so much to my church. For the full effect come, visit us and hear us belt it out in lusty tones. All ten of us.
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”
Psalm 46 v 1 - 3
The reaction to my last post on ‘This Little Light’ was mixed. Some liked what I had to say, other didn’t, some felt guilty and one person told me I was a rubbish Christian. It might have been more effective if he/she had had the courage to leave a real name. Someone else complained I’d watched an old video so I watched the new one and realised that a) selling the ‘gospel’ through back flips were still there b) the morality/good works gospel was even more evident and c) it was still resoundingly pathetic and d) it was three times more ethnically diverse.
Anyways, I thought to try and clear the air a bit and in an effort to persuade people just how shallow ‘This Little Light’ is I’d look at a contemporary song that was also successful. Say hello then to ‘East to West’ by Casting Crowns.
Just as a quick point – this is far from the best Christian song I could have chosen. There are many others which are even better. But I chose ‘East to West’ because it was released recently (2007), was a success (25th in US charts) and is by a popular Christian band.
‘You can be a good Christian without theology’ is a statement I’ve heard many a time in some form or other. Generally implied within the statement is that theology is not necessary to live a solid Christian life. Further implied within the statement is a disapproval of people who do view theology as being very important.
That would be me.
It is also a commonly held view that there is no need to be pedantic about theology, that even attempting to correct another person’s theology is wrong (naturally, there are good ways to do this and bad ways, I am, sadly, an expert at the latter rather than the former) and that a serious study of doctrine (principles of Christianity) can even hinder Christian living!
The root cause of these ideas is twofold. First is the seeming divide between theology and ‘real practical theology’. There is some element of truth, having a sound grasp of theology does not always lead to a more fruitful and holy life. I know from my own personal experience how hard it is to put theology into practise and move from a purely intellectual understanding to a deeper spiritual one. It is also true that it is easy to become proud of one’s own theology and look down on others for their ‘inferior’ kind. Like I said earlier corrected wrong theology is good but it can be done in a bad way.
The second reason is to do with the influence of contemporary Western culture which is all to do with subjectivity and ‘if it feels right it is right’ type thinking. Truth statements are viewed with suspicion and everyone is allowed their own truth as we all hold hands and dance around mushrooms.
For the past century the Western World has been doing its best to weed any concept of God out of society. As each year passes as a nation we are becoming more and more secular. Belief in God is barely tolerated, our Christian roots are disregarded and Atheism grabs hold of more and more people.
Yet mankind still has an unconscious need for some type of divine authority. By throwing God out of our way of life this country created a divine sized hole that had to be filled. Unfortunately for us the State decided to step into the breach and take over the role God has to play in every human life.
Alistair Campbell in a rare moment of truthfulness said “This government doesn’t do God.” He forgot to add “It is God.”
For example take the divine quality of omniscience: that is to know everything that can be known. Throughout human history gods have been assigned this trait and in our modern age the State is doing its best to achieve this goal. Over the past decades the knowledge the State holds about its citizens has vastly increased. Thanks to advances in information technology and the ilk it is easier than ever to store, organise and otherwise analysis information on a vast scale. Even now the State is taking steps to combine all Government databases together to create an even fuller picture of its citizens and all their tastes, ideals and decisions. Just as God is said to have complete knowledge about an individual’s sins so the State seeks to know our every misdemeanour. The only barrier that prevents the State from coming close to achieving its goal is the expensive of it.
Another divine attribute is that of transcendence. In other words being over and above all things. When we look at the State today do we not clearly see this? Name one area of your life that has yet to be interfered with by the State. You cannot because there are not any left. Working life, family life, sex life, charity work, education, health, food, travel, holidays, religion, drinking, etc, etc, etc. There is no area of an individual’s life that remains state free. The State seeks to control and regulate every part of its citizen’s existence. It is impossible for even a law abiding individual to live a life unhampered by that of the State. Every year the level of interference the State subjects its citizens too increases as they continue on their power hungry way.
The State mimics another aspect of God’s character by making sure it is Unique. God does not want humanity to worship other gods. Neither does the State want its citizens to follow any other authority except their own. The State is centralised because it fears what will happen if it allows power to flow to other institutions and individuals.
Every god must have its disciples and the State is no exception. It always does its best to foster belief in itself in its citizens. Usually this is done by accusing all those that stand against it of being ‘unpatriotic’. Propaganda is continually spread that without the State society would fall apart and that a bigger and more powerful State should be the wish of every rational and sane individual. Unlike God who demands belief because he deserves belief the State demands belief because it cannot abide by any opposite notion.
God also requests a sacrifice on behalf of his followers. He requests that they give up time, energy or money in service to him. Many do so willingly, some not so willingly. Unsurprisingly enough the State is no different. For the honour of having the State rule over us it demands from each citizen a sacrifice of money called a tax. Over the past few decades the level of sacrifice the State demands has increased. These sacrifices are then used to reward loyal disciples for their hard work and dedication to the State. The more fervent and faithful a disciple is the more likely it will be that their reward is greater. God requests a willing sacrifice given out of love and devotion whereas the State demands a sacrifice that can be given out of any motive as long as it is given. Respect, duty, fear, compulsion, violence, the State doesn’t mind.
Then there is the whole concept of prayer. When things go wrong in a person’s life then prayer is often what people turn to. They cry out to God for help, mercy and that they would get their own way. This process is replicated with the State. When things go wrong in an individual’s life, when businesses fail, when life isn’t deemed to be “fair” enough then the shouts for help begin. People cry to the State for monetary support, for legislation that protects their own vested interest, for an overturning of legislation that goes against their own interests and they call upon the State to make life more “equal”. And like God the State chooses whether or not to answer these prayers. However, God decides which prayers are answered based on his irrefutable wisdom. The State decides on which prayers are answered based on the number of votes or the amount of money it will get. God treats all prayer requests equally no matter who bows the knee but the State always has its priorities, those closer to the State are decidedly more likely to have their prayers answered.
The State also seeks to be the moral authority for society. The State decides on what is right and what is wrong and then educates its citizens appropriately. Unlike God whose code of morality never changes the State can and will change their perception of good and evil at their own self serving whim. What’s more when we look at the behaviour of the people who represent the State can we really credit it with any moral authority?
The State is becoming more and more like a divine authority. It is fulfilling the role of God with ever increasing confidence and arrogance. But why should we be concerned about such a thing?
God is given the qualities of holiness, perfection, righteousness and loving. God is a being who is beyond our understanding and who can never be or do wrong. God is a completely holy unchangeable being who cannot make mistakes. God is God.
And the State is merely a collection of individuals. The State is a group of human beings who claim authority over a larger group of humans. As such all the flaws, sins and defects that exist in a single individual exist also in the State. But due to its power and size these qualities are magnified to even greater levels. At its worst the State is an instrument of evil and at its best an institution for violence and coercion. Yet our society persists in treating it as a God. We apathetically let the State increase its power over us. We watch from the sidelines as one by one our freedoms are curtailed. We watch as the State seeks to reach even greater heights of divinity.
We all worship at the altar of the State.
And this cannot be good. Giving one institution enough power to rival God? It is madness. We see everyday that the State is imperfect, it most certainly isn’t holy or righteous or loving. It flaunts its flaws at us yet still we persist in sacrificing to it, we still pray to it, we still follow it.
This leads us to a much more serious thought: if the State is God how to we combat it? How can an individual take on a god? I would suggest voting for a party that promises to downsize the State, to undivine it, to lessen its power and give up its authority but there isn’t one. Every single political party seeks greater power and greater divinity.
There is little human action that will solve this problem. Personally, I am going to pray. Not to the State but to God. I will pray for a day when society recognises that the State’s power needs to be constrained, that the State is not a divinity and should not be treated as such and that the god shaped hole in our society will once again be filled by the one true God.
And finally, I leave you with one encouragement. The State is a flawed, imperfect, greedy, selfish, power hungry group of individual human beings trying to set themselves up as God. And when it is put like that how else can it do anything other than fail?