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Kids these days with their unholy justice

Kids these days with their unholy justice October 28, 2021

One of our neighbors at Patheos Evangelical channel has another one of those posts about another one of those articles about another one of those surveys about younger people leaving [white] churches. Kids these days, he frets, are obsessed with “personal freedom for licentious behaviors and ideals.” That’s a weird way to spell justice.

The oddest thing about this post is that our friend basically agrees with the complaints of these young people he condemns as “worldly.” They say the church has a notion of divine and personal “holiness” that is incompatible with justice and goodness, and he says, Yep, you’ve got to choose between the two.

The muddled banalities of posts like this help to clarify the disagreement here. Our friend seems sure that every concern about justice — or, redundantly, “social justice” — is “worldly,” some secular ideology of secular origin poisoning the thinking of our youth. That’s a familiar refrain in that it’s exactly the accusation that was hurled at, for example, William Lloyd Garrison and Benjamin Lay, but it would still be baffling to any of the biblical writers who spoke of a contrast between “the world” and the reign of God.

The lecture here about holiness vs. “worldly” justice can’t be directed at the apostate youth of today without also being applied to Isaiah and Amos and Philip the Evangelist and Paul, all of whom articulated their angry contempt for any idea of “holiness” that tolerated injustice. The very same rejection of unjust “holiness” our friend condemns as “modern moral interpretation” can be found in the Bronze Age sermons of the prophets and in the first-century Gospels, Acts, and epistles, in which this supposedly “modern morality” is attributed, at various points, to every member of the Trinity.

Consider this statement from our friend’s post: “The moment we determine that scripture is unreliable on any moral issue, we will abandon its credibility on all of them.” That’s almost a perfect summary of the losing side in the shouting match between Peter and Paul. White American Gentile Christians making that argument are literally sawing off the grafted branch on which they’re sitting. And Paul gets so angry at their nonsense that he invites them to saw something else off as well.

“Look, here is water!” the Black queer Gentile says to Philip the Evangelist, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” And modern, worldly Philip determines that scripture is unreliable on this moral issue. He determines that Deuteronomy 23 and its prohibition against eunuchs entering the assembly of the Lord are unreliable and irrelevant. He elevates his worldly standard of justice and love and unholy goodness and just baptizes the guy without a moment’s hesitation.

Philip and the eunuch had been reading together from the words of Isaiah — a particularly pernicious book for anyone like our friend who is offended by this modern morality of justice. So let’s turn to Isaiah here, to the very first chapter. Here it is in Eugene Peterson’s colloquial translation The Message. This is, Isaiah insists, the voice of God:

Listen to my Message,
you Sodom-schooled leaders.
Receive God’s revelation,
you Gomorrah-schooled people.
Why this frenzy of sacrifices?
God’s asking.
Don’t you think I’ve had my fill of burnt sacrifices,
rams and plump grain-fed calves?
Don’t you think I’ve had my fill
of blood from bulls, lambs, and goats?
When you come before me,
whoever gave you the idea of acting like this,
Running here and there, doing this and that—
all this sheer commotion in the place provided for worship?
Quit your worship charades.
I can’t stand your trivial religious games:
Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings—
meetings, meetings, meetings—I can’t stand one more!
Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them!
You’ve worn me out!
I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion,
while you go right on sinning.
When you put on your next prayer-performance,
I’ll be looking the other way.
No matter how long or loud or often you pray,
I’ll not be listening.
And do you know why? Because you’ve been tearing
people to pieces, and your hands are bloody.
Go home and wash up.
Clean up your act.
Sweep your lives clean of your evildoings
so I don’t have to look at them any longer.
Say no to wrong.
Learn to do good.
Work for justice.
Help the down-and-out.
Stand up for the homeless.
Go to bat for the defenseless.

That passage, Isaiah 1:10-17, is everything that needs to be said to any church or denomination worrying about the young people leaving “in droves,” or about “the rise of the nones,” or about “exvangelicals.”

Why are those young people leaving? Read Isaiah 1:10-17. What should we do about it? Read Isaiah 1:10-17.

I’m not suggesting that the admonition there from Isaiah/God — “Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” — will be an effective, practical strategy for attracting or retaining younger members. I’m just saying that heeding this call might make your church or denomination worthy of their respect in a way that it’s not worthy now.

And for people like our friend at the evangelical channel — people convinced that there is some standard of divine “holiness” that opposes justice, or some unjust standard that must be defended as “holiness” — I want to narrow in on one specific verse. “Who asked this from your hand?” God says in Isaiah 1:12.

Our various English translations offer several versions of this rhetorical question. “Who has asked this of you?” “Who has required this of you?” “Who has required these things?”

That’s a rhetorical question, and God’s on way too much of a roll here to pause to wait for an answer.

But the question does have an answer — an obvious, straightforward, chapter-and-verse answer that comes directly from the Bible itself. You did, God. You asked this of us. You required this of us, required and commanded all of these things You’re contemptuously dismissing here as nothing more than exasperating nonsense.

You taught us to do this and commanded us to do this. And now, God, you’ve got the nerve to turn around and dismiss it all as nothing but the babble of clanging gongs and tinkling cymbals? That’s worldly, God. It’s unbiblical. You’re flip-flopping the value system and thereby undermining every word and doctrine of the Bible. And once You do that, determining that scripture is unreliable on any moral issue, You abandon its credibility on all of them.

I personally wouldn’t recommend answering that question in that way, but if everything our friend says in his post is true — all that stuff about God’s holiness, and a “biblical worldview,” and all of the evils of a “modern morality” that rejects injustice — then we have to answer it this way. We have to lecture God in the same terms we lecture these worldly, modern, apostate youth.

And that means telling God that God’s problem is “that there is no fear of God” before God’s eyes. Yikes.

Somebody here has an insufficient fear of God, but I don’t think it’s Isaiah, or Amos, or Paul, or Philip. And I don’t think it’s the exvangelicals or the nones or the kids these days, either.

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