I noted in my post on Oct 18 “Before I proceed, I suppose that it might be of help if I make my landing spot clear. When it comes to political systems and the nations of the world . . . it is my conviction, which I believe derives from a careful study of the biblical text, that every nation/empire is corrupt—sure, I will concede that some are more corrupt than others.”
Then, in part #3 I noted that based on John’s depiction of the Beast in Rev 13:1-8 “the beast is empire.” I added, “there are, however, two caveats that need to be addressed over the course of this series of posts: First, the beast is more than empire. Second, what John meant by empire is not what empire has become in the last few generations.”
I will continue to expand on these thoughts in this and upcoming posts.
In my last post, I added that the Kingdom that Jesus inaugurated “was not what they were expecting and ultimately not what many of them wanted. As a result, those in power used their influence on the masses to convince the population to agree that He [Jesus] should be crucified: hence, many of the very people who loved Jesus, who had family members healed by Him, and who were invited to dine with Him, shouted, ‘crucify, crucify.’”
I intend to build on this foundation in today’s post. I would like to begin with a brief anecdote.
I have been privileged to work on the leadership team for the Network of Evangelicals for the Middle East (NEME) for the past 4 years. We recently held a 3-day retreat in Seattle.
One of our goals for the retreat was to equip and mobilize evangelicals to become courageous leaders for peace and justice in their local communities; especially with regard to the conflict in Israel-Palestine.
Two things stood out from the weekend.
- First, during the course of our time together we gave opportunities for the attendees to share their stories. A common refrain continued to surface. It turns out that many, myself included, had experienced a moment in which they cried out, “why have I never heard this before?” (this is very common when it comes to justice issues)
- Second, one of the speakers raised a provocative question, “why does contending for justice make people angry?”
I believe that the answers to these two questions are related.
Empire and the nature of power
I would like to expand our understanding of empires by noting that when it comes to the nature of power, those in power—regardless of how benevolent they may be—have as their first priority the need to retain their power.
Even a good politician/ruler recognizes that their ability to retain power is of utmost necessity. After all, their reasoning runs, if they are able to retain power, then they can rule for the well-being of others.
Of course, most rulers do not have such noble ambitions. As Jesus said,
“You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them” (Mark 10:42).
Most rulers are simply driven by their lust for power and their often insatiable desire to impose their own agenda.
Of course, some of those in power might actually believe that their agendas are for the good of others. Sadly what they mean by “others” is too often limited to those who are best positioned to help them retain their power.
NB: I am presently teaching a study of the book of Revelation that is largely based on my upcoming commentary Revelation: a Love Story. This week’s study (which you can watch on my Facebook feed either live at 6:00 pm PST on Wednesday evenings, or on my YouTube channel) is on the seven Seals of Rev 6:1-17, which too many people believe are the first in a series of God’s judgments on the nations. They are not! The Seals represent, as I will explain in our study, what happens when human rulers run the world. These rulers bring deception (Seal #1), war and bloodshed (Seal #2), and famine (Seal #3).
How those in power seek to retain their power
There are many means by which those in power attempt to retain power. One of them is to silence their critics.
We see this in the Gospels.
In John 9, Jesus heals a man born blind. This miracle becomes seriously problematic for those in power. After all, although the Laodiceans had already invented an eye salve to reverse the effects of deteriorating sight (Rev 3:18), no one in the ancient world had ever healed a person born blind.
Consequently, the religious leaders looked at the man who was healed by Jesus as a threat to their power.
They responded first by interrogating the man (John 9:10-17; 24-34) and, then, his parents (John 9:18-23).
Then they decided to “put him out” (John 9:34). This may not sound like much but the synagogue was the center of community life. Putting one “out” meant to effectively cut the person off from the larger community.
The result was not merely to silence the man and his family but to silence those who might also testify on behalf of Jesus.
What might this look like today?
Silencing one’s opponents may be accomplished through a variety of means.
Dictators often impose limitations on free speech. We see this in N Korea where virtually no one dares to speak against the regime.
Often silencing one’s opponents includes intimidation, fear, threats, imprisonment, and, when necessary, acts of violence (e.g., the Cross is a prime example of the use of power to silence one’s opponents).
This is precisely what happened to the apostles in the early chapters of Acts.
- First, they were arrested (Acts 4:1-3).
- Then they were warned (Acts 4:18).
- Then they were threatened (Acts 4:21).
- Then they were imprisoned again (Acts 5:17-18).
- When an angel released them, the authorities again arrested them: though, and this is critical, they were brought in “without violence (for they were afraid of the people)” (Acts 5:26). In other words, those in power perceived a threat to their power if they had the apostles beaten publicly.
- Of course, they eventually beat them (privately) anyways (Acts 5:40).
- When the disciples continued to defy those in power, they began to have them killed (Acts 11:2).
A contemporary example of this can be seen in the shooting of the US journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Shireen, a US citizen, had been reporting on the violence against the Palestinians for more than 20 years (see the Israeli newspaper report). As the US State Department report affirms, the overwhelming evidence is that she was killed by Israeli forces.
Her death, in other words, may not be just another tragic death that needlessly resulted from this prolonged struggle between Israel and Palestine. For, although the US State Dept denies that it was intentional, there are strong reasons to believe that her death was a deliberate attempt to silence the voice of those who oppose injustice (See this report by the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem).
In addition (I will expand on this in an upcoming post), in a democratic system one of the most powerful tools by which those in power attempt to silence their critics is by denying them the right to vote.
NB: I realize that I just opened a can of worms. And that there is much to say here. At this point, I would simply note that this has been a powerful tool for silencing one’s critics since democracies began.
I was recently on a conference call with leaders of another evangelical organization. We were setting forth our plans for the next several months. One of the leaders highlighted some recent experiences working in conflict zones and asked if she could give us a more comprehensive briefing in an upcoming meeting. She then remarked that she had seen enough oppression and couldn’t handle weeping anymore.
I thought about her comment and I replied to the rest of the group, “I don’t think the rest of us weep enough.”
Why not? Though there is certainly much to say here, I believe that we don’t weep enough because too often we don’t know. Insert the common refrain from my recent retreat mentioned above, “why have I never heard this before?”
Why haven’t I ever heard this before?
So why is it that so many come to learn of injustice and then exclaim, “why have I never heard this before?”
One reason, among many, is that those in power limit and sometimes outright suppress information.
Those in power simply control the sources of information within their empires. It is hard to promote justice when few know of the injustices.
Thus, the necessity of free speech (note the efforts to suppress free speech over the last few years in Hong Kong. Efforts that, from the perspective of those in power, have been hugely successful).
Additionally, those in power often impose a false narrative on their subjects. This weapon is used to cast doubt on the veracity of those who are crying out against injustice.
As a result, too often many respond to the cries of the prophetic voices, “surely this cannot be true, after all, I have never heard this before.” Or, even worse, “surely this cannot be because I know ‘x’ [insert false narrative perpetuate by those in power] to be true.”
Could it be that maybe we have never heard it before because those in power don’t want us to know?
Could it be that we have never heard it before because those in power have fed us a lie?
Election day 2022
Many Christians have seemingly resigned themselves to the belief that only Christ and His coming kingdom will bring true justice. Of course, this is true. But it misses a significant feature of the kingdom of God.
Namely, that the kingdom of God is made manifest in the present when we, the people of His kingdom, lovingly and sacrificially lay down our lives for others.
This does not deny that we should endeavor to use political means to ensure justice for the oppressed. In fact, I would argue that attempting to use political means to stand on the side of justice for the sake of the oppressed is a prime example of what it means to lovingly and sacrificially lay down our lives for others.
It is my conviction, however, that too many evangelicals are going about matters the wrong way.
We seem to have left behind the “lovingly and sacrificially lay down our lives for others” part.
In addition, I am convinced that too often we have failed to realize that the oppressed may not be the ones we think. After all, as I have argued here, it is quite likely that those in power do not want us to know who the oppressed really are. This is what the Beast in Rev 13:1-8 is all about!
What does all this mean?
So, why did I begin with the two questions that arose from my time in Seattle? Well:
Why is it that one of the most common refrains among those who come to learn about the oppression and suffering of others is, “why have I never heard this before?”
Maybe the answer is that those in power do not want us to know.
As my colleague, Jer Swigart recently said, “injustice feeds on ignorance.”
And “why does contending for justice make people angry?” Maybe an answer is that those in power are most often the cause of oppression and they will do everything they can to stay in power and suppress opposition.
Maybe their anger is an indication that they perceive the awareness of oppression as a threat to their power.
Next week I plan to continue this series by addressing the upcoming FIFA World Cup 2022.
Did you that the World Cup is the largest sporting event in the world?
Did know that FIFA—the international soccer, aka futbol, association that runs the World Cup—has a display at the Mob Museum in Las Vegas?
As I said in one of my opening posts, empire (anti-Christ) isn’t always what you think!
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 Much more should be said of the Pharisees and why they so strongly opposed Jesus, but space does not permit me to do it here. Simply put, they were the beneficiaries of, like it or not, Roman power.