God does not conform to culture. Culture does not conform itself to God. Stated thus, the situation almost seems symmetrical, but obviously it is not. In the beginning the world was not created by the culture, and in the end culture will not own it. The earth is the Lord's, and its fullness, including culture.
In the times in which we live, though, human culture seeks to define it the opposite way around. There is no Lord (or so it is claimed), so culture owns the definitions of what is true and good. So a clash is inevitable. It is Christians' task to be “conformed to the image of God's son” (Romans 8:29) meaning that we cannot take culture's side in this clash.
Endorsing, Not Creating
The U.S. Supreme Court did not create culture with its marriage decisions Wednesday: rather it endorsed existing culture. It endorsed a particular culture, that is: that of the rhetorically powerful. There are many who oppose gay “marriage,” but they are not generally the ones holding the strong positions in media, education, and the arts. The rhetorically weak were left behind; something the U.S. Constitution was designed to prevent, but then it's unclear how much the Constitution had to do with the Court's reasoning. I have read disparate thoughts on that, and I will read the Court's opinions later to form my own view. (It has been an incredibly busy last several days.)
The Court's decisions did not create anything new last week, but they cut deeper channels and wider banks for the culture of the rhetorically powerful to flood over and drown dissent. Thus on one highly significant battlefield, America's culture war has been fought and seems for now to have been lost.
“The Culture Wars”
Christians have been blamed for these culture wars, as if we had burst in upon a calm and socially liberal scene, and cried out, “Hey! We're sick and tired of your so-called gay 'marriages' you've been practicing all these centuries, and we're starting a war to get you to stop it!” No, it was quite the opposite. Our defense of marriage has always been just that: a defense; and if we can be faulted for going to “war” over it, then the Royal Air Force could likewise be faulted for shotting at Luftwaffe bombers over London. There's a difference between defending and aggressing.
But I've lately come to realize — since a very insightful conversation with Josh McDowell Ministry leaders in Dallas in April — that these culture wars have different facets and purposes. There are those for whom the most important thing has always been to protect the unborn from violent, untimely murder. There are those for whom the main thing concerning marriage has always political/judicial: to keep marriage properly defined in the courts and legislatures.
That day in April I realized that, although I have stood with those efforts and still support them, I am motivated by different purposes. The original statement goes back to an almost unknown leader in a far-off country centuries ago, through whom the Lord said, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14). I live to advance the knowledge of the glory of the Lord: his reality and his goodness.
The rhetorically powerful disbelieve in the goodness of God. They have judged him and found him at fault. Not that they believe in him, of course; their judgment is by proxy, by way of his people and his word. God is evil, they say, for denying “marriage equality” and a host of other modern liberal freedoms. God's ways are hateful, and to speak his ways is to be a hater.
This has become the ascendant message, resoundingly affirmed this week.
To Miss the Glory of God
There will be much harm from court's decision Wednesday — or rather, rhetorically powerful culture's decision. For families, for children, for marriage itself, and for religious freedom, I can foresee damage beyond words. And yet that is not, in my mind, the most important story. The greater damage is for God's name not to be associated with good but with evil. The Court and the culture have judged God's ways and found them unloving, unjust, and wrong.
Yet God is good, and they have in fact turned love, justice, and righteousness upside down.This is what concerns me most among the many highly concerning directions we are taking together. We see God's goodness as bad, his wisdom as farce, his ways as wrong. We are settling for the weak and wasted counterfeit glory of running matters our own way, an altogether missing the much greater goodness and glory of God.
Have you ever been to Rocky Mountain National Park? I met my wife there, on a long hike from Bear Lake up toward Dream Lake and Emerald Lake (I forget which one comes first). I've even walked on Bear Lake — in snowshoes, deep in the middle of winter. Or perhaps you've been to Yellowstone, or the Grand Tetons, or the Grand Canyon, or Finland's Karelian Peninsula, or a Norwegian fjord. If not, I hope you can imagine the scene from pictures. These are places of great majesty, of glory.
Now imagine touring through these places with me, and that the whole way through I kept my eyes glued to a game on an iPod. Imagine I never even noticed there was a vista there to behold. Imagine urging me to look up and take it in: and hearing me respond with annoyance, insisting nothing could be better than my iPod. “Mountains? I don't care about any mountains! Let me be! Let me have my own fun!”
That's only a taste of what it is to miss the glory of God.
God is very good. Our culture has judged him and found him lacking, but what is lacking is our own willingness to open our eyes and see his goodness for what it is.
If you haven't noticed, for me this is about God. The “culture wars” are about proclaiming the goodness of God in the face of disagreement. I'm not sure I could have said it that way before now, but this is what it's all about: making God's reality, his greatness, and his goodness known among a culture that's stuck with its nose in a metaphorical iPod. I will take the risk of annoying some people by pointing out there is something — Someone — far better and greater out there to be known. I think that's a risk worth taking. It's what I'd want others to do for me.