The Fastest Way to Drown

Some of my Pilgrim-and-Strangers-in-Babylonian-Exile brethren cause me to do a fair bit of head scratching whenever the conversation turns to issues of humanitarian concern or military action.

On the one hand, they maintain that we shouldn’t spend much effort “legislating morality,” “transforming culture,” or “imminentizing the eschaton” since victory, righteousness, and judgment belong to the eternal state and not to this sin-besotted age doomed to burn (and good riddance). In a word, we are instructed to stop seeking to convert Civitas Terrena into Civitas Dei by elections, boycotts, protests, community activism, or anything that requires more than merely hammering out a few well-barbed Tweets in the general direction of the uncircumcised Philistines.

Then, on the other hand, they maintain that evil should be punished wherever it is found (or at least wherever it is deemed juicy enough to make the Primetime tv slots). Usually by other people’s children, and with tanks. Apocalypse now, brunch tomorrow. 

We are told with nearly omniscient certainty that we shouldn’t expect to see spiritual reforms brought to pass through political action. That, we are heartily assured, will not bring the kingdom one wit closer. But one is left to wonder if they do actually believe that the kingdom can be come-hithered by the noise of battle drums and the clamor of war tocsins. If anyone is guilty of “imminentizing the eschaton” then surely it is the one who wants to blow everyone to Kingdom Come. That does tend to speed the process along significantly.

On one hand: righteousness and justice are only to be expected after everyone has died at least once; no judicial, political, or otherwise temporal machinations can accomplish truly spiritual ends. On the other hand: Evil people do evil things and God expects us to eradicate evil yesterday. The Bible commands us to receive every refugee, fill every belly, nurse every wound, and topple every murderous regime because “it is written.” “The military is the instrument of retributive justice, so saith the Psalmist!” On this wisdom, bombing people who may have bombed people is the only effective way to ensure that people will stop bombing people. Then we can finally obey God and love our neighbors–or at least whatever ashen bits are left of them once the dust finally settles.

On the one hand: preach the gospel and let God sort out the world. On the other hand: Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war; we are on the side of the angels. In hoc signo vinces.

To be clear, this was not what Jesus meant when he said that the left hand shouldn’t know what the right hand was up to. Such double-mindedness requires one to live with a sort of epistemic incoherence that will eventually become existentially impossible. Two hands can’t work together unless they be agreed.

Now, I have brothers and sisters who are interventionists and those who are non-interventionists. This is not meant to set them in array against each other. Rather, this serves only to demonstrate the inconsistency present in those who rail against positive cultural and political engagement–unless that engagement comes affixed with a bayonet. They want to abandon ship but cling to the canons. While that may not be the worst way to go, it probably is the fastest way to drown. 

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