Recently I came across an article that has provoked considerable thought. The author reminds his readers that “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” and he wonders if we Americans have replaced the hard work of seeking wisdom with the easy allure of embracing folly.
“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you Bethsaida, for if the mighty works which have been done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes” (Mt. 11:20)
How does this stern admonition delivered by Our Lord two millennia ago relate to us today in our morally untethered world where in Daniel Moynihan’s celebrated phrase we continue to “define deviancy down”? How does it relate to a society that wants the blessings of God without the inconvenience of God?
One implication is clear. While individuals commit sin so do societies. Just as individuals can suffer the consequence of personal sin so can societies suffer the consequences of their corporate sin.
Since our founding we in the United States have, as a nation, enjoyed bounteous blessings, blessings which not long ago would have been considered miraculous. For most of our history our response has been a grateful acknowledgment of the beneficence of Providence. Coupled with our gratitude has been a resolve to observe a moral code we understood to be divinely ordained. But now we enter a nihilistic social milieu which is post-religious and, incredibly, post-rational. We have deified science and have abandoned philosophy. We have relegated God to the faded pages of our juvenile scrapbook where in moments of nostalgia we might gaze with cynical amusement on him and recall incredulously the truth, beauty and love we once foolishly believed he represented.
One wonders what woes await us.
How facilely we as a society have allowed our moral descent! With the noble aim of tolerance, we tolerate practices which in generations earlier would have been egregiously taboo. And, with our twisted notion of tolerance we shout down as being intolerant those voices from the desert warning us to repent.
Indeed, one wonders what woes await us.
But, let us derive some hope in the exchange Abraham had with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham persuaded God to spare those iniquitous towns if among their denizens at least ten righteous men could be found. Ten were not found and we know how the ensuing wrath of Yahweh manifested itself. But, the point is that God was willing to spare them for the sake of righteousness.
The wrath of Yahweh. There are self-avowed Christians who unwittingly embrace the heresy of Marcionism which asserts that the Jewish Scriptures – which we call the Old or First Testament – are irrelevant to Christianity. Therefore, these misguided believers contend the stern and vengeful justice attributed to God in those ancient, sacred writings no longer applies to us. All permissive love – unmonitored by the demands of justice – is claimed to be the supreme force. But these followers of Christ should read the full passage from the Gospel of Matthew cited above. Jesus himself references Genesis 19 and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Clearly the God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament and, with exhausted mercy, he may indeed allow us to condemn ourselves.
The author of the article I read leaves his readers wondering: are there among us enough righteous men and women to persuade God not to abandon us to our own folly?
Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. How is such fear, such awe, such reverence possible if the Lord himself is ignored?
One wonders what woes await us.