Not So Minor Prophets
After living in California all my life, I’m still astounded whenever I see a tanning salon; they seem out of place. It’s not like we have a shortage of sunshine to give us the “appearance” of a healthy active lifestyle. Still, many things in our society seem out of kilter. Take morals, for instance. A recent Gallup poll indicates: “7 in 10 Americans (69%) now say moral values in the country as a whole are getting worse.” This figure is slightly down from the previous year. I know what you’re thinking: Grady, you’ve just become that ornery old guy who yells at kids for roughhousing in your yard (if only you knew my nephews . . . just kidding guys, you’re welcome at my house any time I’m not home). In reality, it’s difficult to find objective hard numbers on declining moral values. If you look at the Department of Justice statistics on crime, many of the serious crimes have been declining since 1973. Some crimes seem to go up and down like a roller coaster. In Christian culture, the experts often look at marriage and divorce, fornication, pornography, rock ‘n’ roll music (yes, I’m being facetious on that one!), and changing attitudes about gay marriage as their go-to evidence on declining morality. I’m not so sure. Why? Well, don’t get me wrong, I think those are issues with serious spiritual and sociological implications. But I’m beginning to think many of these issues are just symptoms of some deeper depravity. For answers I went to the Minor Prophets in the Bible. Who? Guys like Hosea, Joel, and Amos; men who tried to warn their national cultures about the community consequences of sin. Here’s where I must insert a modern observation: I’ve encountered a disquieting number of Christians oblivious to the connection between national immorality and the nuances of political ideologies. Or if they are politically engaged, they are so zealously committed to their political ideology they are blind to areas of immorality within their chosen politics. Many Christians have opted out of national civic responsibilities. They choose, rather, to focus on themselves and their immediate tribe of family and friends. Yes, I get that Christians can be most influential in their local inner circles. The local community movement is great, but after reading Hosea, Joel, and Amos I believe the Lord’s perspective of community is bigger than we think.
The Minor Prophets mention several sins: trampling the rights of the helpless, dishonesty, declining civility, rampant promiscuity, violence, and robbery to name a few. But one sin in particular is mentioned repeatedly by the Prophets—building altars and worshipping lifeless gods, hoping that those gods would bring abundant crops and wealth. Let’s dig a little deeper. The real sin of the people was a refusal to give God credit for taking care of their physical needs. After all, it was more fun to cavort with shrine prostitutes, both male and female, to satisfy some fertility god who was then supposed to bless their crops. And yes, I know Americans are probably not cavorting with shrine prostitutes to appease the gods of success, wealth, and higher standards of living. No, our problem is worse—we rely too much on ourselves. Night after night, for years, I’ve listened to talking heads on the “news” channels and rarely heard anybody, who’s taken seriously, mention America’s growing segment of citizens who live without any regard to God. And then there’s the folk who like to say they are spiritual but not religious; though they rarely articulate what that means.
The Barna Group examined religious trends over the last twenty years. Here are a few of their findings:
Weekly Bible reading declined 5 percentage points.
Adult church attendance declined 9 percentage points.
The unchurched increased from 24% to 37%.
Those who strongly affirmed the Bible is totally accurate declined from 46% to 38%.
If you ask me, we are relying more and more on human laws and political ideologies to fix our problems. Human laws are necessary, but we already have thousands on the books and problems abound. America’s economic problems and malaise are not just about liberal, conservative, Libertarian, Tea Party, or moderate political ideologies. America’s problem—the problem that could bring us low—is the trend by an increasing number of citizens to live as if God were not. Many don’t hate God; they just don’t love or acknowledge him, or they think if God exists he is so big humans can’t comprehend him. Oh, oh, here’s a good one: many live without God because they don’t want to be told what to do; a dangerous approach to life.
I’m not a prognosticator (I’m more of a procrastinator), but based on what I see in the Bible along with the history of empires, it doesn’t forebode well for America. We’ve bought into the prideful political belief that America is immune from the fate of every major empire that’s gone before us. We are not! Do I think God will destroy us violently? Probably not! But that doesn’t mean he won’t turn away from us as we turn away from him. In other words, there’s a good chance we might fade into obscurity among the nations; that is, if we are lucky.
Is there any hope? Well, I’m encouraged by the story of Jonah (not one of the Jonas Brothers). God told Jonah to go tell the people of Nineveh they would be destroyed because of their wickedness. Jonah goes into Nineveh and begins to tell the people their culture will be destroyed. Then an amazing thing happened—the people of Nineveh believed God. From the average citizen to the king, they fasted and prayed intently for God to spare them. And God spared them. I have always been blown away by the Bible’s lack of context regarding the people of Nineveh. In other words, why didn’t the people of Nineveh think Jonah was just another religious kook and ignore him? Why their sudden about face? Maybe history has some answers.
Nineveh was a wealthy place. It sat at the crossroads of trade routes. Goods and people from distant countries flowed in and out of Nineveh. With so much trade and wealth, I think it safe to assume Nineveh experienced the influence of many cultures, both good and bad. Eventually, Nineveh was touched by civil wars. It’s just my opinion, but I suspect the people of Nineveh had enough wealth to indulge all their physical appetites and desires; and it eventually brought no fulfillment or peace. I believe they were mentally and spiritually broken and desperate when Jonah came along and confirmed their deepest suspicions: God cares how we live.
What can you do about our culture? Well, these days I rarely hear anybody in home groups or church programs utter a prayer for our nation’s citizens and leaders. It’s time to start. Christian leaders could also begin to work the message that God cares how we live back into public discourse. With all the technology and social media platforms it’s easier than ever to share ideas with the masses; which must be done with intelligence and respect. Unfortunately, many Christians are purposely remaining ignorant of politics and current events; I believe this is a grave mistake. I know politics and current events can be distasteful, difficult to comprehend, aggravating, and discouraging. But I wonder how else God’s people will know when the time is right to share the message that God loves people and cares how we live.
In Jonah 4:11 (ESV) God tells Jonah: “And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left . . .?”
I believe this verse tells us the people of Nineveh did not know the difference between right and wrong. We are heading the same way. Be ready!