The breeze off the Bosporus calmed my nineteen year old nerves. I was having tea in a garden at the residences of a historic Ottoman mosque with the Turkish son of an imam and an American pot-smoking sorority member, my female travel companion for the day. As all three of us talked about life, beliefs, and interests, I came to realize that I had far more in common with this devout and polite young Muslim man than I had with my fellow female American college student.
In one breath she told stories of breaking international drug-smuggling laws while studying in Paris, in the next she declared her intention to become a lawyer to fight for “justice”. I still have no idea what that word meant to her, especially given her decided relativism on just about every topic of ethics we encountered. Hers was a sadly vapid and transitory worldview, one that was almost impossible to engage directly for its sheer lack of discernible foundation.
The son of the Imam, on the other hand, believed in universal absolutes and moral law. He asked questions about matters eternal and how they related to this present world, genuinely interested in hearing my perspective while defending his own. We engaged on the perceptions about our faiths versus the actual teachings we claimed as truth, and discussed the vapid and rootless dangers found in secularism. As we spoke, my fellow American was fairly bored, apathetic, and disinterested.
He was a young student who kindly opened his home and life to two foreigners with the solitary goal to exchange thoughts and ideas. He did so in a way that respected our dignity and sheltered us from the ugly behavior that runs rampant in the tourist quarters of his city. We did not need to minimize the critical theological differences between our creeds in order to recognize in each other a kinship. Ours was a kinship forged in an earnest search for truth and righteousness.
You see, that young man sought after truth, knowledge of God, and the root dignity of man, with more passion than most people I have encountered in my life so far – in or out of the American church. I still pray to this day that he is an Emeth, be it either on this earth or before the thrown of God.
How certain are you about who is on your side? As we approach a major election in this country I often hear the imagery of teams used to suggest a clear discernible line between who or what is defensible and who or what it not. Those on the “other side” are evil, while those deemed to be on our own political side – no matter how flawed – are seen as fundamentally good, perhaps just misguided. The people most like us are surely the ones who are for us. Those who are the most different are met with suspicion and often fear.
But what if our sense of teams is wrong? What if we’ve chosen to join a movement that actually undermines everything that we claim to hold most dear? What if we aren’t looking clearly enough for the dangers of our own teams and our own battles? Then what are we to do?
For those who feel caught between two evils, for those who wish to speak against lies but find precious few willing to join them, for those wondering how to stand for truth and justice in a depraved and cynical world, this is for you.
In 1910 G.K. Chesterton penned an allegorical tale, The Ball and the Cross, about two Scotsman dueling for truth in the streets of London and throughout the British countryside. Evan MacIan, a devout Catholic, and James Turnbull, a devout atheist, both take up swords with the intention to fight the other to the death in defense of their core beliefs. Labeled madmen by their fellow countrymen, the two embark on a fanciful journey of engagement that leads to some surprising conclusions, including the formation of an indelible companionship based on their common defense of eternal truth.
Toward the end of the novel both MacIan and Turnbull are met with dreams that promise to show the fulfillment of what each is fighting for only to reveal two different, yet similarly rooted, evils. Each are led away in flying boats by men with no names to the frontline of two dystopian visions for the future of London. In these depictions of evils we find a reflection of our own times, and our own temptations. To see them, to understand them, and – finally – to forsake them both for the embrace of Christ: this is our calling.
We long to be drafted for a fight. In the opening sequence of both dreams, Chesterton’s dueling Scotsmen are met with appeals to come and join the real fights their hearts have longed for. As the mysterious man first tells MacIan, “you have remained here long enough, and your sword is wanted elsewhere.” There is something in these lines that speaks to those of us who desire to be wanted, needed, and appreciated.
It beckons to those of us who are dissatisfied with the life we are living or who deeply desire to be a part of a greater cause. The men with no names in both dreams know of this temptation and desire, for they know the hearts of their would-be warriors. The call to come fight in their battles is how they lure each truth-fighter into their midst.
Sometimes I think we are drawn to politics because of all it seems to promise. The power, yes, but also a sense of importance or mission that maybe we don’t feel in our day to day work. Think of the common political rhetoric we hear and how elevated the language has become, how grandiose the goals are for a better tomorrow.
Politicians promise to fix our problems, ease our fears, and provide hope and purpose for our lives. When a political candidate asks for your support, for you to join their team and fight for their visions of a certain kind of country, it can be compelling in ways that we are rarely moved. We all want our lives to mean something greater than ourselves.
And for many, the temptation is strong to believe that how we vote, who we support, or what policies we advance, presents just such a battle to wage that will reward us with the dignity and honor our hearts desire. We may not have swords of steel, but many of us are called upon by the political causes of our day to rise up with the swords of our mouths, our intellect, our social influence, our pens, and our votes.
When we choose to become a surrogate for a certain politician, when we decide that we will support them for one reason or another, we can often find ourselves enlisted in a battle where our sword is wanted and our life appears to have new purpose and fulfillment. Perhaps at first we are reluctant or disillusioned, but once suited in the armor of these wars our instinct and heart’s desire for mission leads us to fight on their behalf.
The truth is that it feels good to have a tangible cause to claim as our own. To have a visible enemy and a measurable path for declaring victory. We desire to be on the winning side and to feel all that comes with hard fought success. We long to be drafted for a fight.
Without God, security forged in the name of law and order leads only to tyranny. Donald Trump has declared himself the law and order candidate, and his claim is that this mission will keep us safe and secure as a nation. But he is not the first to use these terms or proffer these ideas.
In MacIan’s dream, the man driving the flying ship told Evan, “I must not say who I am until the end of the world; but I may say what I am. I am the law.” This figure, who claims to represent the law, notably as we shall discover, a law without God, reveals what a world under his dominion would be like.
Claiming that “The king has returned”, he takes MacIan up through the stars. Foreshadowing the state of the nation, the man who is the law notes of the heavens:
“There is an answer to all the folly talked about equality. Some stars are big and some are small; some stand still and some cycle round them as they stand. They can be orderly, but they cannot be equal.
“They are all very beautiful,” said Evan, as if in doubt.
“They are all beautiful,” answered the other, “because each is in his place and owns his superior. And now England will be as beautiful as the heavens, because our kings have come back to us.”
In this world there is no equality, merely order. Perhaps, at first blush, this doesn’t sound so bad. Isn’t it supposed to be that way, after all? The man who is the law claims that the world he is creating with the return of the king is one that reclaims “…all that was ever lost by insolence and overwhelmed in rebellion.” It is a world with pageantry, cathedrals of armed guards, and stoic greatness.
When the sole object is the law, the borders of one nation can be managed with ease. As they draw closer to London in their journey, MacIan asks if the war is still raging. The response of his would be captain is telling and somber:
“It rages like the pit itself beyond the sea wither I am taking you,” answered the other. “But in England the king enjoys his own again. The people are once more taught and ruled as is best; they are happy knights, happy squires, happy servants, happy serfs, if you will; but free at last of that load of vexation and lonely vanity which was called being a citizen.”
“Is England, indeed, so secure?” asked Evan.
England won her security in this dream, but at what cost? At the cost of an enduring chaos and war for the rest of the world, a world completely left behind when the goal of establishing the might of the ancient kings and kingdom was made paramount. At the cost of their own dignity as citizens. At the cost of a hard earned freedom, all relinquished in order to become secure from the battles of the outside and the fears from within.
The picture offered of this secure world is one of ordered domestic tranquility with a unsettling undertone:
“As they were sailing down Ludgate Hill, Evan saw that the state of the streets fully answered his companion’s claim about the reintroduction of order. All the old black-coated bustle with its cockney vivacity and vulgarity had disappeared. Groups of laborers, quietly but picturesquely clad, were passing up and down in sufficiently large numbers; but it required but a few mounted men to keep the streets in order. The mounted men were not common policemen, but knights with spur and plume whose smooth and splendid armor glittered like diamond rather than steel.
Only in one place – at the corner of Bouverie Street- did there appear to be a moment’s confusion, and that was due to hurry and rather than resistance. But one old grumbling man did not get out of the way quick enough, and the man on horseback struck him, not severely, across the shoulders with the flat of his sword.
“The soldier had no business to do that,” said MacIan sharply. “The old man was moving as quick as he could.”
“We attach great importance to discipline in the streets,” said the man in white, with a slight smile.
“Discipline is not so important as justice,” said MacIan.
At first, you might think, ‘how splendid!’ The criminals, the beggars, the unruly crowds all cleared away for the sake of order, safety, prosperity, and efficiency. And yet there is a darkness that lingers. A darkness that silently queries as to the fate of the drunkards, the poor, and the foreigners. A darkness that wonders at the nature of the people’s hearts and souls working under this state of discipline. As the man who is the law enlightens:
“The people must be taught to obey; they must learn their own ignorance. And I am not sure,” he continued, turning his back on Evan and looking out of the prow of the ship into the darkness, “I am not sure that I agree with your little maxim about justice. Discipline for the whole society is surely more important than justice to an individual.”
Where respect for the individual dignity of all men is traded for law and order, where discipline is bought with the currency of fear, there can be no true justice. The man in white, who is the law, continues:
“In our armies up in heaven we learn to put a wholesome fear into subordinates.”…
“Besides,” continued he, in the prow, “you must allow for a certain high spirited haughtiness in the superior type…Just as the sight of sin offends God,” said the unknown, “so does the sight of ugliness offend Apollo. The beautiful and the princely must, of necessity, be impatient with the squalid…”
And here is revealed another truth of the law without God. The value of people is determined not by their character or innate dignity, but by their physical and material worth. The spiritual value of each life ceases to matter, at least not with dignity or reference to a greater dominion than the one created on earth.
Thus we see the creation of two laws and two standards, one for the leaders and the beautiful elite and one for the common people. What began as resurgence for the supposed good of the people to reestablish the greatness of their nation ends in a horrific vision of inequality and elitism enabled by a rule of fear.
Faced with claims and actions of this nature, the defender of truth, a lover of Christ, will speak out.
“Why you great fool!” cried MacIan, rising to the top of his tremendous stature, “did you think I would have doubted only for that rap of a sword? I know that noble orders have bad knights, that good knights have bad tempers, that the Church has rough priests and coarse cardinals; I have known it ever since I was born. You fool! You had only to say, ‘Yes it is rather a shame,’ and I would have forgotten the affair. But I saw on your mouth the twitch of your infernal sophistry; I knew that something was wrong with you and your cathedrals. Something is wrong, everything is wrong. You are not an angel. This is not a church. It is not the rightful king who has come home.”
The law, instituted by a return of an earthly king and peddled by the as yet unknown man, is false. The horror of this dystopian world represents more than the failings of a single person or leader. It represents the wholesale surrender of justice, freedom, and individual dignity, all in the name of security and a restoration of mythical greatness. It represents the death of the soul, a callousness that demeans and destroys the inner life and worth of men for the sake of external order. Without God, security forged in the name of law and order leads only to tyranny.
Without God, revolution for the sake of humanity leads only to death. Hillary Clinton has declared that we are stronger together. But what if someone is unable or unwilling to move in the direction of what is deemed fair or best for all? What if some lives are an inconvenience to the whole?
James Turnbull, like his dueling partner, was met by a man with no name who came with news that Turnbull had been waiting his whole life to hear. After declaring, “I want you”, the unknown man wearing a red scarf clarified:
“I want exactly what you want,” said the newcomer with a new gravity. “I want the Revolution.”
Turnbull found himself conflicted, for he started to worry about the fate of his new friend. Yet he was ultimately persuaded to leave him behind for it would interfere with the mission “to destroy the Pope and all the kings.” In contrast to the world of surreal order revealed to MacIan, this was a world of chaos. As the unknown man explained:
“The heavens are full of revolution – the real sort of revolution. All the high things sinking low and all the big things looking small. All the people who think they are aspiring find they are falling head foremost. And all the people who think they are condescending find they are climbing up a precipice. That is the intoxication of space. That is the only joy of eternity – doubt.”
In this world of revolution, God is the ultimate enemy to be overthrown. As the unknown man says, “I mean nothing in God’s name.” Traveling over the city of London, he explains to Turnbull just what is taking place below:
“We arrive at a happy moment,” said the man steering the ship. “The insurgents are bombarding the city, and a cannonball has just hit the cross. Many of the insurgents are simple people, and they naturally regard it as a happy omen.”
With the cross and all it stands for demolished, the glory of mankind is meant to rise. Such rising is not without great cost, however. The unknown man clarifies that he has brought Turnbull to London “to take part in the last war of the world.”
“The last war!” repeated Turnbull, even in his dazed state a little touchy about such a dogma; “how do you know it will be the last?”
The man laid himself back in his reposeful attitude, and said:
“It is the last war, because if it does not cure the world forever, it will destroy it.”
Seeking to cure all the ills of the world, it seems, is a dangerous task. A task destined to either great success or complete failure. Wars of totality, wars of annihilation, wars aimed to supplant the dominion of God that claim His work of completion and perfection as their own, can only end in this way.
James, looking to understand the uprising at hand and the nature of the fight, seeks clarification from his guide:
Turnbull wrinkled his forehead. “Are all the poor people with the Revolution?” he asked.
The other shrugged his shoulders. “All the instructed and class-conscience part of them without exception,” he replied. “There were certainly a few districts; in fact we are passing over them just now – ”
Turnbull looked down and saw that the polished car was literally lit up from underneath by the far-flung fires from below. Underneath whole squares of solid districts were in flames, like prairies or forests on fire.
“Dr. Hertz has convinced everybody,” said Turnbull’s cicerone in a smooth voice, “that nothing can be done with the real slums. His celebrated maxim has been quite adopted. I mean the three celebrated sentences: “No man should be unemployed. Employ the employables. Destroy the unemployables.”
The reign of Science and “equality” had come. Without God, without an anchor or a compass other than the collective good of mankind, hell on earth had arrived. If the world is to be perfect, if progress is to be final, some lives must be sacrificed for the good of the whole.
There was silence, and then Turnbull said in a rather strained voice: “And do I understand that this good work is going on under here?”
“Going on splendidly,” replied his companion in the heartiest voice. “You see, these people were much too tired and weak even to join the social war. They were a definite hindrance to it.”
“And so you are simply burning them out?”
“It does seem absurdly simple,” said the man, with a beaming smile, “when one thinks of all the worry and talk about helping a hopeless slave population, when the future obviously was only crying to be rid of them. There are happy babes unborn ready to burst the doors when these drivelers are swept away.”
Perhaps the revolution began with the intent to help these very people, but as they started progressing toward a godless, rootless, social justice an irreverence for the weakest life set in. Turnbull began to object:
“These people have rights.”
“Rights!” repeated the unknown in a tone quite indescribable. Then he added with a more open sneer: “Perhaps they also have souls.”
“They have lives!” said Turnbull, sternly; “that is quite enough for me. I understood you to say that you thought life sacred.”
“Yes, indeed!” cried his mentor with a sort of idealistic animation. “Yes, indeed! Life is sacred – but lives are not sacred. We are improving life by removing lives. Can you, as a freethinker, find any fault in that?”
What a poignant and direct condemnation of the philosophy behind the pro-abortion movement. Then again, what poignant and direct condemnation of any philosophy that degrades, devalues, or destroys the life of any individual for the sake of the whole.
Think of the fear of disability in the young and the subsequent advocacy to end life before it has begun on the sheer basis that their life might be hard, diseased, or imperfect. Think of the one-child policy and all the human pain that has caused. Think of those who advocate that we must limit human life for the sake of the planet. Think of the glorification of euthanasia as a way to ease the pain of an individual and the collective burden such pain presents the wider community. Where individuals are not loved unto life, death shall reign.
The dialogue continues, after Turnbull replies that he can, indeed, find fault with that argument:
“Yet you applaud tyrannicide,” said the stranger with rationalistic gaiety. “How inconsistent! It really comes to this: You approve of taking away life from those to whom it is a triumph and a pleasure. But you will not take away life from those to whom it is a burden or a toil.”
Turnbull rose to his feet in the car with considerable deliberation, but his face seemed oddly pale. The other went on with enthusiasm.
“Life, yes, Life indeed is sacred!” he cried; “but new lives for old! Good lives for bad! On that very place where now there sprawls one drunken wastrel of a pavement artist more or less wishing he were dead – on that very spot there shall in the future be living pictures; there shall be golden girls and boys leaping in the sun.”
Such is the vision of a social revolution without God. It starts with seeking justice for the oppressed. Kill the kings! Kill the bankers! Kill the powerful! Kill the rich! But then the mission quickly becomes about maximizing the best life for the most number of people. Kill the weak. Kill the unwanted. Kill the inconvenient. Kill the unproductive. Kill the uncooperative.
Their sacrifice is needed for the good of the whole, is it not? Surely equality for most is worth the destruction of a few. Such is the logic of the godless revolution. Such was the horror of the godless authoritarian regimes of the 20th Century. It happened in our past, in some corners of the world it is happening in the present, and it can most certainly happen again in our future.
Where only certain lives are valued, no one can be truly loved or loving. To honor all life means to honor the innate dignity of each human being as creations with a Creator. Without God, revolution for the sake of humanity leads only to death.
The goodness of God always respects and loves the dignity, sanctity, and equality of every individual life. The dystopian visions offered by Chesterton over 100 years ago remain remarkably relevant, for these are the extremes of a world without truth and without God. I have a feeling that to some of you one outcome likely seems worse than the other, but such an assessment would fundamentally miss the point. Both are evil.
Both revoke the sovereignty of God for futures where men seek to take His authority as their own. One offers the vision of a pretender, a human savior who alone can fix all that ills us. The other offers the vision of a revolt, the overthrow of God and His standards of life for the supposed good of the whole. Both turn the State and its rulers into gods, creating an idolatrous worship of man and government in the place of Christ.
Our current candidates for president and the ideals they represent may fall along different places on this spectrum of danger and death. It is up for interpretation just how close to each nightmarish future the current candidates comes in their policy prescriptions and personas as supposed balms to our fears and unmet desires.
You may see a little of each dream in both candidates, or perhaps you see this election in stricter ideological terms. Regardless, neither candidate espouses a vision of life and authority that aligns with the love and truth of God. The goodness of God always respects and loves the dignity, sanctity, and equality of every individual life.
All evil leads to the same place. The notion of the “lesser” evil is typically a false concept. Either your options represent true evil, and therefore are all equally bad, or they really aren’t evil to begin with.
I fear we have deluded ourselves into buying into a great lie of civil religion, a lie often claimed to have God on its side. This lie tell us that our desired policy preferences are all moral goods, and therefore those of the other side are inherently evil or immoral.
What if both sides to a policy solution are legitimate moral goods, for their ends are morally desirable? What if they are just different ideas on how to walk out similar principles? Or what if they are just preferences? What if both sides to a policy solution are merely secular in nature, for the stated goal carries little to no moral significance?
I genuinely believe in the economic efficacy and importance of free trade, but are those who are against it fundamentally evil? Some people believe the government has an obligation to take care of those struggling at the margins of society while others see this as the work of private organizations. Perhaps we disagree about how best to achieve the goal, but do we not both agree that those who are in pain or poverty need to be helped? Why create enemies where there are none?
We live, for now, in a democratic republic. We compromise and work with people who have different ideas of how to achieve similar ends. Just because we disagree about how to solve problems does not mean we must also disagree that there are specific problems most Americans want to address. Compromising on issues like healthcare, immigration policy, taxes, or criminal justice reform does not automatically make you an enemy of truth or a hypocrite in representing your fundamental values.
In contrast, because it seems every deviance from our chosen party affiliation is labeled an apostasy to not just the political good but also the moral good, we have obscured the true evils that dwell among us and ask for our allegiance. Sure, we can usually identify the dangers present in our political opposition. But when we, say, list praise for abortion alongside the embrace of food stamps, a dovish foreign policy, or a particular tax rate, all as evil things worthy of equal condemnation, we weaken our voice and testimony on the issues that truly matter.
Moreover, when we obsess over the particular evils of the “other side”, we risk blinding ourselves to the evil that dwells within our own causes and among our fellow compatriots.
An exclusive and authoritarian nationalism, the flagrant abuse of power, an unashamed display of greed and success at all costs, a desire to torture or even kill innocents for our own security, a callousness to the suffering or failure of others, a disregard for personal virtue in political leadership, the superiority of one culture, ethnicity, or person over another, all these evils must be guarded against no matter the bearer.
Likewise, a socialist mindset that values the collective “good” above the individual, that labels some life as less important than others because of the pain, inconvenience, or financial drain they represent, a belief that truth is relative and therefore lies are permissible, a denial of a common morality or the existence of a creator, these are all evils that cannot be endorsed or advanced.
In the contrast offered by Chesterton’s dreams there are no lesser evils. Both dreams are equally unrighteous and worthy of condemnation. Both dreams were designed to warn each truth fighter of the dangers in their own thoughts and to bring them closer to the true king and the true battle, a battle won through surrender of self. Both dreams served to bring each man closer together, to remind them of the goodness they shared, and to instruct them about the evil they needed to reject.
Lack of equality, justice, and freedom for individuals as found in the fight for “the law” is not rendered right or good because crime and vulgarity is banished from the streets (although perhaps not in the rulers themselves) and authority and order reigns supreme.
Lack of protection for the sanctity of all life – no matter how inconvenient, ugly, or painful – as found in the fight for the “revolution” is not made acceptable just because institutional abuses of power are finally upended or avenged.
Don’t fool yourself. All evil leads to the same place.
In the end, we always have a choice. Contrary to the popular lies spreading throughout our contemporary discourse, when brought face to face with representatives of evil we have a choice to say no. We have a choice to do the unexpected. We have a choice to take the narrow path and the hard way.
Chesterton understood this point well. When told that he had no choice but to see the returned king, presumably in submission, Evan MacIan refused:
“Do you desire death?”
“No,” said Evan, quite composedly, “I desire a miracle.”
“From whom do you ask it? To whom do you appeal?” said his companion sternly. “You have betrayed the king, renounced the cross on the cathedral, and insulted an archangel.”
“I appeal to God,” said Evan, and sprang up and stood upon the edge of the swaying ship.
The being in the prow turned slowly round; he looked at Evan with eyes which were like two suns, and put his hand to his mouth just too late to hide an awful smile.
“And how do you know,” he said, “how do you know that I am not God?”
MacIan screamed, “Ah!” he cried. “Now I know who you really are. You are not God You are not one of God’s angels. But you were once.” The being’s hand dropped from his mouth and Evan dropped out of the car.
Likewise, Turnbull has a similar moment of revelation where he, too, decides to jump out of the flying ship taking him to the frontline of a battle that was not his to fight. Both came face to face with the epitome of evil and rebellion. Both visions, both worlds – of law and of revolution – came from the same fallen angel. Once the source of their evils was revealed, the two truth duelers knew how to respond.
But what are we to do? This is the resonating question that remains unresolved by much of our national discourse at present. Drawn from Chesterton, I have a few tentative suggestions of how best to proceed:
Step 1: Find your Turnbull
Chances are that you are not alone in the passions now cultivated in your heart as you confront these societal questions of goodness, evil, dignity, and truth. Perhaps your life is full of Turnbulls, of fellow travelers seeking after truth with the same earnest questioning and resistance to popular movements and ideas that hold others captive. Or perhaps you need to go out and find at least one other person with whom you can engage.
One of the Turnbulls in my past was the imam’s son. Be they fellow Christians, or those seeking from starting places outside of divine revelation, find your friends and dialogue with one another. Band together. Sharpen each other. Help each other. Bless, minister, and engage. In a world gone mad, these friends of truth are a great gift from above.
Step 2: Don’t be deceived
It would have been so easy for MacIan and Turnbull to say yes to the fights they were recruited to join. These were, after all, earthly manifestations of the battles their hearts had dreamed of and yearned for. These were great narratives wrought in an attempt to address all they felt was wrong with the world. How desperately our hearts want to be given a mission and told that we have an important role to play.
It is empowering to believe that we can be a part of something great, be it the ordering of the world in the name of security or the last battle of the world in the name of the common good. But we err when we let our desire to fight overlook the root evil that lies behind those who would beckon our swords.
Ask yourself, who is calling you and for what purpose? Keep your eyes open in this treacherous world and resist the cunning spirit who would use your best intentions to enlist your services for a cause that is neither just, nor holy, nor righteous, nor true.
Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. – Galatians 6:7-9
Step 3: Jump out of your ship
We live in a world that often assigns us to certain kinds of boats. Our race, our citizenship, our families, our denomination, our favored sports team, our political affiliation. We can choose different labels at times, but no matter where we find ourselves it is easy to go along with a human narrative or cause because it is the rallying call of the ships that we sail within. Sometimes these boats are harmless, for they provide our sense of community or identity. But sometimes they seek to take us to places that are contrary to the calling of the Lord.
When we find that our boats of birth or choice seek to sail upon winds counter to the glory of God, to take us to the frontline of battles we are not called to fight, then we must be like MacIan and Turnbull. We must call out to God for help, pray for a miracle, and jump out of the supposed safety of these berths into the protective arms of our Savior.
In a world that treasures labels and tribes of all kinds, this can be a frightening prospect. Perhaps you have always been a Republican or a Democrat and to not vote as such (or for at least one of the two) seems like a direct challenge to your identity or your very calling in this world. How desperately we want to believe that our causes and boats are right and true! But this is where we must recall that our true identity is found in Christ, not in any label or power or battle the world can offer. Dare to jump, dare to leave all labels and vessels behind but one: Christ follower.
It’s time to reevaluate what the work of God in this world is meant to look like. It’s time to question our preconceived notions of what God is asking of us as a people. I cannot tell you what that future will look like, but I can promise that as we forsake the boats of this earth, we will be met with the power of God, not man, that shall rise us up on wings like eagles to carry us and – we pray – our Turnbulls, to our true eternal home.
Step 4: Put down your sword and kneel
In the final pages of Chesterton’s saga, in the midst of a great battle against those who wish to silence the cause of truth, MacIan, Turnbull, and the friends they made during their crusade encounter another man without a name – the one who was labeled by the authorities as both the most dangerous and the most insane. Yet this man turned out to be the true King, the true answer to all the world’s ills.
Both MacIan and Turnbull find their swords cast aside as they and their companions fall to their knees before his Holy presence. Having resisted the temptations of evil battles and evil leaders, they found the true battle and the true leader their hearts longed for.
It is through surrender to Christ, through death in Him, that we will conquer the ills of the world. It is in rejecting calls to join in these worldly fights as the false gods they really are that we will be fulfilled and our heart’s desire shall be met.
Come before the Lord in prayer, worship, and holiness. Stay true to Him regardless of the cost, regardless of what others call you, regardless of the temporal consequences some are quick to proffer in admonishment. Fear not the ways of man. Rather, take heart in the ways of God.
No eternal fate of a community or country or soul is won or lost in a single worldly election. No fate of a country or a court, no earthly fight, is worth selling your soul or compromising your values and your Spirit-breathed conscience.
God is in control and He is sovereign. He always has been and He always will be. We know the end of the story. Let’s choose to serve the One who has already overcome and work for the advancement of His kingdom, which is not of this world.
O God of earth and altar, Bow down and hear our cry, Our earthly rulers falter, Our people drift and die; The walls of gold entomb us, The swords of scorn divide, Take not thy thunder from us, But take away our pride.
From all that terror teaches, From lies of tongue and pen, From all the easy speeches, That comfort cruel men, From sale and profanation, Of honour and the sword, From sleep and from damnation, Deliver us, good Lord.
Tie in a living tether The prince and priest and thrall, Bind all our lives together, Smite us and save us all; In ire and exultation, Aflame with faith, and free, Lift up a living nation, A single sword to thee.
~ A Hymn: O God of Earth and Altar,
We must refuse to call something “good” that is not in any way representative of God’s goodness. We must reject any temptation to believe that because we, or our favorite church leader for that matter, is a part of one of these fights that certainly renders the battle worthwhile.
Unless God is present, and He is not present in the evils set before us, no amount of our perceived personal light or the supposed goodness in one facet of a candidate’s platforms, will be enough to overcome their own wretched ends. Our swords, once commissioned for a battle of darkness, will be used only for the advancement of the evil we choose to represent.
We can remain mindful that each person of faith, each person actively seeking truth, may walk out the four prescriptions above in slightly different ways when it comes to the upcoming election. Not voting. Supporting third parties or write-in candidates, of many different types and varieties. Voting for a leading candidate with a humble and silent grief. But the most important feature for us to embrace is the refusal to take up requests to fight on behalf of the fallen angels of law or revolution, on behalf of these angels of death.
In the context of our times and our communities, those who engage one another for the sake of truth, those who choose not to be deceived by the popular movements of our times, those who will jump out of the safe categories and labels offered by our culture to instead lay down their swords at the feet of Christ, could well be deemed lunatics. We may be cursed, or mocked, or criticized. But such is the calling of Christ.
We cannot afford to loose our witness to this madness. And yes, the truly mad are those committed to the lies proffered by the philosophies of tyranny and death, found on both the political left and right. We must disregard attempts to make those who resist or stand apart look like the ones who just don’t understand or who aren’t doing their share to save the country or save the world.
Take courage friends! Our identity is not found in our political allegiance, nor is it found in the fate or morality of our country. We have a Creator in Whose image we are made. We have a Savior in Whom we can find refuge. Look to Him. Look for Him. And leap into His arms in times of trouble, believing in the miracle of His salvation and the power of His dominion.
The good news is that God has already conquered and Christ has already won. His Bride will rise resplendent and His Body shall one day be made whole. We can follow Him into the fire knowing that He will protect us from the flames. In the end we always have a choice.
* Image credit to Ben Hatke