Friday, August 14, 2009

Some Musings on Decline and Judgment

I am currently reading a book entitled Idols For Destruction written by Herbert Schlossberg. The book was written in 1983, but is remarkably prescient and instructive today. In the introduction Schlossberg writes:

"It is a curious fact that the Old Testament, which describes the beginning, course, and end of a number of societies, never assesses them as being on the rise or decline, as progressing or regressing, as growing to maturity or falling to senescence... Spatial and biological analogies are incompatible with biblical thinking because they are both quantitatively oriented and deterministic. To say that a society is young is to imply that on a scale between birth and the expected three-score-and-ten, this society is, say, thirty, and when its time has run out it will die. Spatial analogies lead us to expect that what goes up must come down; they imply a trajectory that can be plotted and an apex that is determined by such numerical factors as velocity, weight, and angle. In place of these analogies the biblical explanation of the end of societies uses the concept of judgment. It depicts them as either having submitted themselves to God or else having rebelled against him."

I have not yet concluded the book, but one can imagine where Schlossberg is going--namely to argue that America is not so much in decline, as it is under judgment. Frankly, this is not at all comforting, nor should it be. Schlossberg wants us to see that the course of history is not something that can be measured, or even predicted because God is Lord of the past, present, and future. What is before us is unknown to all but God.

For a civilization or nation to be "in decline" implies a natural order, or historicity, as Schlossberg argues against. To be "under judgment" implies something much grimmer, and maybe even hopeless. Yet it isn't that simple. The Bible is full of stories of judgment upon cities and nations--some turned out very badly, while others turned out remarkably well--at least temporarily. We do not know our future, but we are clearly a nation adrift, having lost our moral bearings. We have not submitted to God, nor do we intend to do so. But it is not we who seek God, but God that seeks us. Let us pray for revival.

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