I heard this morning that the United States is now the third largest mission field in the world. How did this happen? Amazingly to most of us, the Torah anticipated just such a scenario:
[T]he author [of Deuteronomy] was writing to well-to-do landowners. He was concerned that they remember from whence they came and on whom they needed to rely. He treated their economic prosperity as a threat to their required humility before God. He sought to counter this tendency to self-sufficiency by reminding them of their past slavery; and of their dependence on God for a bountiful harvest. He limited their ambitions by emphasizing the need for sabbath rest, and sabbath years. The requirement to rejoice and hold feasts also served to restrict their utilitarianism. He believed that they themselves were not ultimately responsible for their prosperity, and that they would be in the position of the widow, fatherless and alien if tragedy befell them.
Something about the way I’m wired means that everywhere I look I see the consequences of bad theology. To me it’s like looking at heat under infrared, the connections are so glaring and direct. America was settled on the basis of a dangerous and diabolic theology called Manifest Destiny (more on that in another post), and when the impetus of that cooled a new twist was thrown into our lives during the 1950s. Having driven men to misinterpret the Torah, the Adversary now drove them to ignore it. Loosed from our moorings, without an eternal standard of morality, we lost any ability to accurately recognize injustice, and lost the benefit of the practical life instruction God had included for His people.
These days, gratitude is a thing of the past; I see more athletes pound their own chest after a great play than point a finger toward heaven. I hear even pastors talk about how they were a “champion for Jesus” and you can be one too, if you’ll just pull yourself up by your own boot straps and take the initiative like they did.
Today overwhelming percentages even of the well-to-do can be described as fatherless, and waves and waves of people feel lost and alien in their own culture. We have lost our way and substituted the American Dream for the biblical prescriptions; often by reinterpreting biblical language to support our misguided priorities.
Christiana van Houten, The Alien in Israelite Law (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991), 106.