IMMORAL SOCIETIES ENSLAVE THEIR PEOPLE

BY Jim Jordal

 The word of Yahweh came to Zechariah, saying, "Thus has Yahweh of Armies spoken, saying, 'Execute true judgment, and show kindness and compassion every man to his brother. Don't oppress the widow nor the fatherless, the foreigner, nor the poor; and let none of you devise evil against his brother in your heart.' But they refused to listen, and turned their backs, and stopped their ears, that they might not hear. Yes, they made their hearts as hard as flint, lest they might hear the law, and the words which Yahweh of Armies had sent by his Spirit by the former prophets. Therefore great wrath came from Yahweh of Armies...These are the things that you shall do: speak every man the truth with his neighbor. Execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates, and let none of you devise evil in your hearts against his neighbor, and love no false oath: for all these are things that I hate," says Yahweh.   Zechariah 7:8-12; 8:16-17  (emphasis mine)

It’s as old as the hills, folks, that power-hungry rulers use every opportunity to fleece their own people and transfer money up the income stream to the few at the top. Most of these corrupt leaders consider it their earned right to use whatever governmental position they hold to extract money from the people through corrupt stratagems and legal maneuvers enacted by their corrupt friends.

I can’t conceive of a time in the history of nations that this has not been so. A wag once defined government as a strategy designed to transfer wealth from the bottom to the top. Whenever that was, it’s still alive today doing its evil work in probably half the nations on earth.

Immigration, especially that from Mexico and other equally distressed countries, is much in the news. But walls, troops, guards, and threats won’t solve the problem. One TV contributor of the many I watch, last week finally voiced what really is needed. He said that until economic conditions are vastly improved, and political corruption is ended, there is no hope for any other lesser method to make any real difference. Many South and Central American countries have long histories of dictators backed by armies of hired troops able to control popular uprisings against tyrannical rule as it bleeds money from the nations’ limited supplies. This money generally ends up in Swiss banks or gated communities, or gigantic yachts, or private 747s, or in very risky hedge funds and other perilous ventures.  And so generation after generation remains poor and the poorest and perhaps bravest of them seek asylum in the U.S.

And then there’s our idiotic, spendthrift manner of using earth’s resources as if there’s no tomorrow. And for some there isn’t because they believe they will be raptured off to heaven as the earth destroys itself in a cataclysm of nature. So caring for the earth and its denizens is essentially useless to some who, by the way, have watered down their public pronouncement because they anger voters so much. In underdeveloped nations the problem is even worse as tyrants sell pollution rights to wealthy gold mining companies and oil drillers who ignore suffering of indigenous tribes as they are literally poisoned by drinking their own water. And even worse is that polluting companies can take their cases to a private court that usually declares the natives guilty of harming the polluters. Talk about real justice, huh?

The love of money is the root of all evil, scripture says. There’s a vast difference between having money and loving it to the extent of destroying one’s very soul. Some families of old money consider it socially bad form to exhibit wealth and flaunt it before others. But some of the new rich consider it a source of great pleasure not only to brag of their new wealth, but to vividly described how they manipulated society to gain it.

So there’s nothing inherently wrong in being wealthy as were some of the patriarchs; but it is sinful to use wealth to harm others and to pollute God’s creation. If you look again at the text passages you’ll see that all the ones typed in bold are now being used somewhere on  earth to help destroy people and whatever good values of their cultures still exist.

MACHIAVELLI RETURNS

By Jim Jordal

Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have held, to subdue nations before him, and I will….open the doors before him, and the gates shall not be shut….that you may know that it is I, the Lord, who call you by your name, even the God of Israel. For Jacob my servant's sake, and Israel my chosen, I have called you by your name: I have surnamed you, though you have not known me. I am the Lord, and there is none else; besides me there is no God. I will gird you, though you have not known me; that they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none besides me: I am the Lord, and there is no one else. I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil. I am the Lord, who does all these things. Isaiah 45:1-7 (editing and emphasis mine)

In this passage, Isaiah details the classic case of God’s sovereignty in human affairs. Cyrus the Great founded the Persian Empire and constituted a scourge upon the world around him. But God takes him down a bit by openly calling the heathen king his anointed, and promising that he would be the power that God would use to free Israel from the earlier Babylonian captivity. Although Cyrus did not know God, nevertheless God knew him and would use him as he pleased.

Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) was a student of the Latin classics who thought deeply on questions of applied power and its successes in government and business. In the course of his studies he became convinced that possessing and keeping naked power was the chief goal of many politicians and businessmen. He wrote, not of the socially beneficent moral society desired by reformers and do-gooders, but of societies and leaders as they really were. To men desiring only power, morality was irrelevant unless it was to delude the people into accepting or at least not resisting them. In fact the general idea of leadership was to “get them before they get you.” The leader must also select malleable underlings who wholeheartedly support him, and should ruthlessly remove or destroy any who dare to threaten his empire. The leader should always claim that whatever was done, no matter how arrogant or damaging, was done for the benefit of the people and with their approval.  

After watching and listening to power-hungry political players, you’d almost be persuaded that Machiavelli has returned to take up residence in Washington D.C. If he isn’t there in the flesh, he certainly is in spirit, since his ideas seem to pervade much political thinking and acting. It becomes more obvious each day that lies dominate truth, and power easily topples justice. It seems we’ve created a Machiavellian monster without the presence of the founder, who in spirit lurks behind every action.

Political science classes study Machiavelli’s The Prince (1513) to learn how bad it really could be by comparing the tyrants of history and their stratagems for getting and keeping power. Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin usually turn up as the most successful practitioners of power. During the 1930s Stalin killed about 20 million Russian peasants in his collectivism program for agriculture and because of his paranoia about those plotting against him.

According to classicist Professor Rufus Fears, whose beliefs I quote regularly and am referring to in this article, a successful tyrant needs five main characteristics or abilities: they must be shrewd, dishonest, stingy, cruel, and monstrously egotistic. Machiavelli studied history to learn how potential tyrants use and sharpen these qualities to a fine edge to achieve the power they seek. His findings were that successful power seekers must choose their close political associates with great care, seeking people that will agree totally with whatever errors are being committed, and who will be removed from office for any public disagreement with their cabinet.

Your task as caring citizens is to compare the policies and actions of the present administration in Washington D.C. (tax cuts, global warming decisions, tariffs, guns, social security, and whatever else you care about), with the stated values of Machiavellian leaders. You may be a bit frightened as you do this, since things do not look so good when you do. But just remember as Isaiah said about Cyrus the Great: he didn’t know God, but God knew him and used his to deliver his people. This same sort of thing is happening now and will continue. 

ARROGANT OPPRESSORS: THEN AND NOW

By Jim Jordal

Woe to those  who are at ease in Zion, And to those who are secure on the mountain of Samaria, The notable men of the chief of the nations…. who put far away the evil day, And cause the seat of violence to come near; Who lie on beds of ivory, And stretch themselves on their couches, And eat the lambs out of the flock, And the calves out of the midst of the stall; Who strum on the strings of a harp; Who invent for themselves instruments of music, like David; Who drink wine in bowls, And anoint themselves with the best oils; But they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph.                                                                   Amos 6:1-6 WEB

In this passage of his prophetic litany Amos is appalled by the arrogance of wealthy tribal leaders who seem not to care about the sufferings of their people. He describes this hubris of unconcern by saying “they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph” (the people descended from the patriarch Joseph).

Their arrogance includes hordes of possessions and great personal indolence. They anoint themselves with aromatic oils as they lounge on couches of ivory. They surfeit themselves on gourmet food and wine while being serenaded by harps. Amid all this excess they arrogantly refuse to listen to the prophet’s call or to in any way help those fellow citizens living in destitution. Sounds like decadence of almost unimaginable scope, especially to an unlettered prophet like Amos whose only claim to fame was that he listened to God and repeated God’s warnings to his decadent people.

Their arrogance prevents them from seeing Daniel’s “handwriting on the wall,” or from giving any attention to Amos’ threats. As we often must discover only through suffering, money and its worship tends to separate us from ourselves, our families, and most of society. We become lonely and isolated, and deal with our angst by gathering more possessions and luxuries around us, wondering all the time why life is so unsatisfying.

Look at today’s world with daily reports of mass violence coupled with an angry, groaning physical earth erupting in natural disaster of every sort. The earth has good reason to be angry, since it has been pillaged and plundered since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. And its people also have adequate reason to be angry. It’s now becoming common knowledge that the recovery from the Great Recession of 2008 has failed to reach the bottom half of families. In fact, in the U.S. most of the gains from recovery have gone to the top one percent of the income pyramid.  Why? Because of the immense power possessed by the same groups of people criticized by Amos---those who lounge in luxury without a care for the remainder of humanity.

Oh, yes, they spout great gobs of sympathy for the underclass made poor by their corrupt manipulation of the power structure. They pontificate much---just listen to their political promises---but very little that could really help the poor ever occurs. Congress no longer represents all citizens because it has sold out to big corporations and their wealthy scions, replacing justice with enthroned power. 

Yes, Amos was angry, and rightfully so. In chapter 5, verse 7, he charges the arrogant manipulators of power in this way: “You who turn justice to wormwood, and lay righteousness to rest in the earth.” Amos perceived the truth as few others of his time did---he saw clearly that arrogance and greed would soon destroy his society unless it repented before God. But it did not repent and was soon carried into foreign captivity.

Will the same thing happen to our country today? Were it not for the unchanging truth and love of God for his people, it would. But we are in a different time than Amos. We are in a period of shaking as the Kingdom of God on Earth is being born. We will see violence and anger, but this time we will turn to God, not because we are smart or good, but because he promised this in his New Covenant found in Jeremiah 31 and Hebrews 8. Read it and see what God will do.

ME, ME, ME... MORE, MORE, MORE... NOW, NOW, NOW!

By Jim Jordal

 And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.                                                             Luke 12:15-21, KJV

It’s the mantra of a failing culture and a fading country---once great but now in decline amid the raucous clamor of all persons for themselves with little or no concern for the possible outcomes of their ignorance and greed.

Almost every time you turn on TV you are immediately assaulted by the worldly philosophy of “me, more, and now.” There appears to be no middle ground: “Get it now while you still can.” It’s a sad, gyrating, twisting dance between buyers, sellers, advertisers, regulators, producers, consumers, entertainers, politicians, and even on occasion the quiescent religious establishment that lends its tacit approval to the whole sad affair.

Why did Jesus caution the players in the above drama to “Beware! Keep yourselves from covetousness, for a man’s life doesn’t consist of the abundance of things he possesses.” Is it because covetousness when not yielded to the healing hands of Jesus becomes an all-consuming fire? Again, it’s not wrong to have possessions or good things of life, but it is wrong to allow them to control your life so that they become for you another form of idolatry.

If you don’t yet believe in the awesome power of greed to seduce and control human beings, consider the oft-reported but seldom bemoaned struggle among some of the mega-rich over dwellings and the other great status symbols: yachts and private jets. As one rich man said, “Why do I need ten houses? I can only live in one at a time!” But one is not enough, neither is a hundred-foot yacht or a small jet enough. Yachts keep getting bigger and bigger as the uber-rich struggle to keep ahead of each other. Now new yachts sometimes reach 600 feet long, complete with gymnasiums, art galleries, movie theaters, Olympic-size pools, gourmet restaurants, and their own helicopters and shore boats. And the jets grow from small single turbine engines into full size 747s. And it never ends as greed and ostentation struggle for dominance and human approval. But worst of all is that some of the people flaunting such wealth also own financial institutions and other corporations supposedly dedicated, not to the public welfare, but to creating more wealth for owners.

The Parable of the Rich Man (above) illustrates the quandary of wealthy persons who depend upon their hoarded wealth to carry them through bad times and old age, but soon find they have no safe place to store it. Back then it was barns and granaries that stored wealth; now it’s secret off-shore accounts, collectibles, and ostentatious living. But make no mistake: when hoarded wealth becomes the major source of our attentions and the only cushion against troublesome times, we are in deep spiritual trouble.

Jesus goes on to elaborate on one great fear of many very wealthy people: Who gets what I’ve hoarded when I’m gone? We read about the legal squabbles and familial infighting connected to the disposition of great fortunes, and wonder if we could escape a similar fate if we had great wealth. But God provides the answer: Be rich toward God, meaning among other things that we use whatever wealth we possess to honor God and to support human decency in all phases of life and business.

WHAT IS THE BIBLE ABOUT?

By Jim Jordal

I’ll probably step on a few denominational toes with this one, but here goes. I believe the Bible is about deliverance from bondage of every sort through the shed blood of Christ at Calvary and the wise and loving application of jubilee justice and righteousness by Christ ruling in his earthly kingdom.

To parse this a bit, think that deliverance means release and future freedom from whatever bonds are troubling God’s people. Personal salvation is God’s deliverance from the bondage of sin. Unfortunately, evangelicals too often equate sin only with sexual purity, personal piety, and doctrinal correctness. These sins are committed by individuals who abuse the clear commands of God, and thus earning separation from God until forgiven in an act of contrition, surrender, and acceptance of Christ as Master of their lives.

But there is another level of sin beyond personal behavior. There is also national sin, whereby nations abuse and oppress not only their people, but the earth itself. This unfortunate and very destructive situation occurs when small groups of dominant persons gain enough control over the governmental process and existing economic institutions to virtually enslave everyone else.

That’s essentially what has happened today in the United States as an equitable distribution of income no longer exists. The middle class has been hollowed out through union busting, trade agreements spreading American jobs over the globe, and tax policies favoring the already rich. Lincoln’s venerated Gettysburg phrase “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” daily drifts closer to what seems to be government over all the people for the benefit of the top few percent of the income pyramid.

The surprising thing is that the very people being destroyed still persist in supporting the system doing the destroying. The present domination of business and government by corporations and their powerful allies in high finance and the media enable this unfortunate situation to persist. And those who protest are rapidly marginalized as mavericks, progressives, and socialistic dreamers.

Isaiah got it right when he described the unjust situation existing in his land several thousand years ago. Quoting the dominators, he said: “My hand has found like a nest the riches of the people, and as one gathers eggs that are left, I have gathered all the earth. And there was no one who moved his wing, nor opened his mouth with even a peep” (Isa. 10:14).

That’s hubris folks---outrageous arrogance. They are proud of the fact that no one even peeps as they are robbed of their nest eggs by spoilers and plutocrats intent on nothing but ever- increasing profits and power.

But miracle of miracles---the victims are now beginning to peep rather loudly. They are making the skewed distribution of wealth a major issue in the current presidential election campaign. They now protest attempts to popularize privatization of social security and Medicare. They rally against trade agreements like the not-yet-come-to-a-vote public disaster known as Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) that threatens to further abuse labor and the environment. And they are more and more loudly screaming that almost everything we do economically is unsustainable and unacceptable.

Evangelicals, don’t give up! Personal salvation is included in this deliverance, but it isn’t the whole game. I think it pretty obvious that the world today is not evidencing deliverance, justice, or righteousness. We’re sliding down a slippery slope toward ecological failure, economic oppression, social instability, political paralysis, military irresponsibility, cultural debasement, and other potential disasters almost too numerous to mention.

So, where is God in all this? He’s where he has always been---presiding in the kingdoms of men. He is attempting to get our attention, but we are so totally engaged in attempting to do things our way that we often can’t see his way. But we will! As economist Milton Friedman and social commentator Naomi Klein have said: “Only a crisis (or shock) brings needed change.” It seems that we can’t hear the voice of God except as it speaks through adversity. We could prevent much suffering if we would simply accept God’s way as revealed through his servants and prophets.