Living with a Sense of Direction
Pointing the right way in society's drift.
by Carl Phillips
We like to think the world today is vastly different from the world of 2,000 years ago, when Pontius Pilate publicly washed his hands of the fate of a Man condemned for heresy by the religious leaders of His time.
Today we have countries whose leaders have been charged before world courts with assorted human rights violations, including murder, torture, and rape. In the days of Jesus the nearest thing resembling a world court was a hearing before the Caesar of Rome. And there were few, if any, universally recognized human rights.
The religious leaders in Jesus’ day managed to get a stamp of approval from a Roman prelate, Pontius Pilate, which allowed them to crucify Christ. Legal or not, the crucifixion would be over and done before anyone had a chance to appeal Pilate’s decision. The high priest and the Sanhedrin bent and twisted the existing law to suit their own ends.
It is a measure of Jesus’ influence at the time that even Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, refused to interfere in what the religious authorities were doing to Jesus. He tossed the hot potato right back to Pilate.
Supremacy of humanity
The Greeks had introduced democratic government to the world, and the Romans built on that. Although a Caesar for life ruled the empire, there was a senate that both chose him and advised him afterward. By today’s standards, this part republican, part democratic government hardly deserves to be called either. But it was radical freedom at the time.
These two governments — Greek and Roman — had their roots in the idea that nothing in all creation was greater than humankind. The Greeks, in fact, worshipped the human form, staging athletic contests in which the players were naked and building huge amphitheaters where such contests could be held. Also staged in these places were plays, both tragic and comedic, that would today be judged pornographic, unfit for our children to view.
This Hellenized view of the world has evolved into today’s secular humanism, which holds the public imagination as Hellenization did when Jesus walked the dusty roads of Israel.
So the battle continues between Christians and secular humanists for control of humanity’s spirituality. Christians have always come out on the short end of the stick, primarily because of the self-sacrifice required to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves. We love ourselves a lot, don’t we?
Even the Christian view of the creation of man tends to support the secular humanist view, because Christians, too, believe man was God’s final crowning jewel. Christians believe man is created in the image of God. Secular humanists believe man evolved to the top of the heap.
But the result is the same: The emphasis is on man as the epitome of creation.
Fall from grace
Man, according to Christian belief, was created perfect and fell from grace of his own accord. From the time of Paul, an early follower of Christ, we have been aware that man is far from perfect — that, indeed, he cannot possibly be perfect. He has concerns of the flesh that lower his eyes to the world around him and cause him to lose sight of his spiritual heritage.
But secular humanists don’t accept the idea of this fall from grace, this original sin. They believe the body of man is perfection on earth. They concern themselves with this present existence, here and now, and either dismiss the notion of eternal life out of hand or else resolve to deal with it when it becomes an immediate concern. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
So in today’s world, forced to deal with the pressures imposed by governments that are either secular humanist or rooted in some religion that may or may not be Christian, each of us must exist and make our choices based on our own concept of what is true, what is right, what is important.
To do this, we establish priorities. In the Christian life, God is the highest priority, followed by family, then extended family, then friends. When we base our daily decisions on a priority list such as this, we take care of the important things first.
We cannot put God first without considering His church, His ministries, and His concerns as expressed through His Son, Jesus Christ of Nazareth. All those things are religious concerns.
Need for God
Some early philosopher — I forget which one — said that if there were no God, man would have to invent one. This was his way of expressing the idea that every man needs something spiritual above and beyond himself to work for, to strive toward, to seek to achieve. That’s what religion does for us.
Of all the religions in the world, we choose the one that suits us. Usually this choice is rooted in our families, in their choices down through the generations. But only Christians can point to a God who loved humanity enough to send His Son to live among us as a man, to be tempted as we are tempted, to suffer as we suffer, to be born and to live and laugh and weep and finally die as each of us must do.
Only Christians have this personal, heart-to-heart relationship with God.
John 3:16 is at the very heart of our church: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (NIV).
Whenever Christians lose their sense of direction in this world, they refer to that love compass and allow it to point them in the right direction.
Are you going in the right direction?