Something Rotten In the State of the West

You may get what you want, but you won’t like what you get!”


History is normally written with the benefit of hindsight. That is, historians describe events that have occurred years, decades or often centuries in the past. However, I wonder if today by using a biblical lens we are actually in a position to write the history of our time as it happens, at least in one respect.

This thought came to me as I was watching a TV current affairs discussion from the UK about the attacks of various types on members of the British parliament, many within the parliament precinct itself. These have drastically increased in recent years and include personal harassment, verbal abuse and even assault. In addition, there are rising amounts of vitriolic cyber abuse, including one cited where the desire was expressed to separate an MP’s head from her body!

During the program the question was asked as to whether this is a symbol of a rising current of “nastiness” in British (I would expand to Western) society and if so, what could be done about it?

My mind turned to one of the scariest stories in the Bible. This is found in Ezekiel 10 where the prophet is given a vision of God leaving the Temple in Jerusalem, symbolically leaving His people. The context is that of the state of Israel, God’s chosen people, in the 6th century BC which, despite centuries of warnings from the prophets that God had sent to them, had in effect rejected Him by adopting additional ‘other gods’, namely the Baals. God allowed them to ‘get what they wanted’ but they discovered that they didn’t ‘like what they got’, for the terrible vision given to Ezekiel is one of God abandoning them to their own devices. The immediate consequence of this was conquest by the Babylonian Empire and either death or exile for the Israelite people.

As we write ‘real time’ history, I wonder are we seeing a parallel picture where the erstwhile ‘Christendom’ countries of Western Europe and their New-World offspring have decided to adopt a kaleidoscope of ‘other gods’ and in effect decided to tell God to get out of our societies, lives, schools, universities and parliaments?

                  ‘If you eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil you will die’

The quote at the head of this article is the only thing I remember from a sermon I heard decades ago. However, it encapsulates a biblical truth, which is that, starting with Adam and Eve choosing to do things ‘their way’, God will let us ‘have what we want’ (i.e. our way), but that does not mean we will ‘like what we get’.

As we survey the scene across the societies of the West we see increasing violence, for example the street gangs in Melbourne; an epidemic of knife crime in London; across the board attacks on teachers, school principals, paramedics as they are in the very act of aiding the wounded; attacks on police, nurses and doctors in hospitals (one surgeon recently dying in Australia after being ‘coward-punched’ in a hospital foyer) .

Further, there are increasing numbers of vulnerable people held in ‘modern slavery’ as well as victims of people trafficking in western societies. Current estimates say there are between 10,000-13,000 people held in slavery in the UK alone. Similar issues exist in other western countries, including Australia.

Then there is the increasing number of people (particularly younger generations) for whom illegal drugs seem to be an essential pharmaceutical therapy required for a ‘good life’. A characteristic of this is, as one commentator has remarked, the seeming morphing of Musical festivals into drug festivals set to music.

We see a political correctness-driven tribalization of society, which is the complete antithesis of the Jesus-created One-ness of the ‘New Humanity’ that is God’s intention as described in Ephesians 2:14-22.

In all of this we see the consequences of ‘getting what we want’, i.e. freedom from all the God-given shaping influences for human society given in the New Testament.

The rising current of “nastiness” referred to in the TV show I was watching is an example of one of the symptoms of a societal sickness. In response to this spreading malaise, the generally proposed solutions usually include more police, tougher laws, better education (especially in ‘Civics’) etc. However, while these have value, they are mostly band aids applied to the symptoms of a deeper sickness which is at bottom a spiritual one resulting from the deliberate ejection of God from society.

What makes this worse is that our politicians, educators, and parents, are generally now so biblically illiterate that a spiritual dimension to society is not on their radar, even though this is God’s world and he is involved in ever facet of it. Therefore, those who lead society only focus on symptoms rather than the disease, which is (with apologies to Shakespeare) that ‘there’s something (spiritually) rotten in the state of the West’.

Reflecting on that very scary story from Ezekiel 10, raises the question as to whether the history we write of our time is one of God ‘leaving the temple’ of western society to the consequences of its rejection of Him? Any effective response to the deeper spiritual malaise (to which western leaderships are generally oblivious) can only be a spiritual one, and of this there is no sign in sight.

Such a response has to start with ‘Repentance’, a turning back to God by society. More importantly however, such repentance must start with the western church which is generally failing, as it has for a long time, to carry out its God-given primary task of Mission to a society stumbling in darkness. For this to happen requires it to be set free (unbound) from its bondage to, arguably an idolatry of, anachronistic and ineffective forms of ‘church’ and Mission.

The story from Ezekiel 10 is a truly scary one, but, among other biblical stories, gives us insight into God’s response when a society continually and deliberately rejects him. And God does not change.

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