Of all the points of parallel relevance the past has with modern society, there are sometimes moments when historical parallels between past and present collide.
This nexus isn’t always clear or easy to acknowledge. The past may be misappropriated and misrepresented; hyped up to buttress a political agenda.
Key players manipulate the material in order to provoke a response, carefully steering reactions in a particular direction for political gain.
Throughout history the Christian Church has come up against this, battling forces within and without. Along the halls of Church History can be found the graffiti of false prophets, corrupt leaders, anti-Christs, and, the more surreptitious, pseudo-christs.
There have, for example, been a number of notorious examples of cults, false prophecies and dates given asserted to be the exact return of Jesus Christ and the end of days.
Like freedom, truth has to be fought for. Like freedom, the greatest threat to truth is the corruption of it.
One of the great positives of Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, is that he provides an insight into the secularized church mindset. The, politically necessary fake-it-to-maintain-it, surface only profession of, in Machiavelli’s context, faith in Jesus Christ in order to maintain status, power, control and influence over the people.
‘There is nothing more important than appearing religious. In general people judge more by appearances than first-hand experience , because everyone gets to see you but hardly anyone deals with you directly. Everyone sees what you seem to be, few have experience of who you really are, and those few won’t have the courage to stand up to the majority opinion underwritten by the authority of the state.’ [i]
Social media provides the most poignant example of where a nexus between past and present exists. Just as Machiavelli, half mockingly describes politicians and the socio-political mix of his time, for a good majority, appearance is placed over substance.
Seeming to be something, or be doing something is part of the rule of the day. Today, it’s correct, politically incorrect, label is “virtue signalling”.
The nexus isn’t easy to see because it’s feared. Learning from the past empowers responsible action in the present. When allowed to speak freely, the truth of the past secures the future.
Either the truth of the nexus is too close for comfort, or what confronts us isn’t in line with political narratives that shape, and seek to shape, the way people think, act and speak.
Ideas that are deified, demanding an absolute pledge of allegiance to those, who by blurred distinctions, coerce the surrender of tried and trusted systems that ensure basic civic freedoms. Those who bind truth to lies with threats to deny those civic freedoms under the guise of treason.
God’s Word as law, given in grace is supplanted. Man’s word as law, given to enslave, is enthroned. Chiseled into existence with the arrogant proclamation, “God is dead”. This jubilant euphoria at man triumphant; God conquered, is, however, short lived.
The great evil committed in the Garden, now cemented in the creeds of an incorporated and thought-to-be newfound lordlessness. The regression towards a pre-Christ primal atheism strikes a devastating blow against humanity.Those this side of all of histories examples, say with lament, “man is dead”.
Human lords are divided,
‘no longer able so unambiguously to distinguish the light of Lucifer from the light of God […] Humankind has got what it wants; it has become creator, source of life, fountain head of the knowledge of good and evil […] it is the lord of its own world.’ [ii].
This was the case in Germany throughout the 1930’s: “To the good Nazi not even God stands before Hitler” [iii] Humanity becomes the source of good and evil; ‘living out of it’s own resources'[iv] in a rejection of God’s grace. The fickle motion of whim, feeling, and lust, combined with a reasoned insanity. Humanity strikes a devastating blow against itself.
Examples of this can be seen in how some modern proponents utilize Religion or ideology to justify their rejection of God’s Lordship in Jesus Christ. Via claims to superior, “inside” knowledge or the Darwinian excuse that the strong determine the treatment (mistreatment) of the weak.
Helmut Gollwitzer, in response to the so-called, reasoned insanity, of ‘Kristallnacht’ (Night of broken glass/crystal) preached:
”Those who cannot admit their guilt before God can no longer do so before men and women. Then begins the insanity of persecution that seeks to make the other person into the devil in order to make themselves into a god. Where repentance stops, inhumanity begins; there all common bonds shatter even while one tries to strengthen them through tenacious self-justification and self-pardon’ [v]
– (November 1938, Berlin, Sermon: ‘About Kristallnacht’ )
In the progressive quest to work for God, or alternatively ignore God, we find elements which seek emancipation from God.
Consequently, the biblical promise of a ‘newness of life’ (Romans 6:4) is replaced with a mystical fog or a reason induced cold pragmatism. Most often affirmed by an esoteric elitism who, hiding behind entitlement, choice, nature and good intentions, hypocritically end up forcing a tyrannical ‘denial of life’ upon humanity.
Ultimately, the charade is found wanting and sinful humanity is once again reminded of its tendency to parade darkness behind a veil of light.
No matter how hard we try, we cannot apprehend that which can only be given to us.
Humanity remains unfree in the ignorance and futility of its quest to be free from the Creator, who has and still does, have a right to His creation. By enforcing His right the Creator appears as powerless. In mercy, He lowers Himself in order to raise us up.
‘Freedom to be for God is not a freedom which we have taken, but a freedom which God has given to us in His mercy’ [vi]
Our lack of sensitivity and response to God’s approach i.e.: our lack of ‘receptivity to revelation through gratitude and humble recognition’[vii], leads to a rejection of God and His freedom.
Humanity is triumphant only because God triumphed! Without God, nothing. For ‘God gives of God’s own life, of God’s Spirit. Human beings do not live as human beings apart from God’s Spirit.’ (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation & Fall p.79)
“Extract us from sin, He Who dwells in the heavens
as the sun sets, call to those who pass through fire and water
Next Year in Jerusalem.” (source)
[i] Machiavelli, N. 1532, The Prince Penguin Classics, 2011, (p.71)
[ii] Bonhoeffer, D. DBW 3:Creation & Fall
[iii] Julien Bryan, Henry Luce & Louis de Rochermont, 1939. March Of Time: Inside Nazi Germany
[iv] Bonhoeffer, D. DBW 3: Creation and Fall
[v] Gollwitzer, H. 1938 in Stroud, D. (ed.) 2013 Preaching in Hitler’s shadow: Sermons of resistance, Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing p.120
[vi] Barth, K. 1938 Church Dogmatics I.II Hendrickson Publishers p.260
[vii] ibid, 1938
YouTube: Jerusalem (Swedish Band): ‘Next year in Jerusalem’ from the album ‘Prophet‘, 1993
Image: United States Holocaust Museum, Kristallnacht