By S. G. Smith
Paradise and Utopia
At some point in my childhood, I was introduced to the notion of paradise. This was no doubt from the Bible where a man and women, with all their pets, resided in a beautiful garden. Additionally, I was made aware of longed for concepts like Heaven and the earthly equivalent called Utopia. Eventually, however, we are simply left with dealing with the practical concerns of civilization.
Heaven, Utopia, and civilization have their antitheses of Hell, dystopia, and barbarianism. With respect to any eternal destiny beyond our control, Heaven is generally perceived as being preferable to Hell. Yet, in this life, we are left with shaping our everyday culture. What are the principles, precepts, and guideposts which serve as the gauge for civilized societies?
Humans are different than beasts. Although some might suggest the difference is merely one of degree, I am confident that we are different in kind. Tragically, however, we do seem to have the capacity to degenerate and behave as beasts. So, let us examine a few of these similarities and differences.
Men and animals manifest group behaviors in varying ways. Whether one refers to the herd, the flock, the family, or the community, every characterization represents a collective operation requiring a particular set of priorities and protocols to achieve productive results. However, humanity is distinguished in its overwhelming complexity; a complexity that begins with language and extends into our actions in reshaping or transforming our environments. I am confident that this is due to our being created in (or after) the image of God.
It is often suggested that this allusion to man being made in God’s image is a very arrogant notion. However, it carries the corresponding idea that we are accountable, legally culpable, before this God in whose image we are created. That is, of course, unless one might wish to change or imagine a God very different from an infinite, personal Creator. How we think about divinity will significantly impact how we operate within humanity… within our homes, neighborhoods, communities, and every level of civilization.
In 2020, what started with a health crisis soon contributed to an economic crisis. If these were not bad enough, the George Floyd incident sparked a revolutionary racial crisis. The biggest surprise for me, personally, has been how global these issues became virtually overnight. People everywhere were discussing these events. We have all been deeply affected by these current problems.
Now, apart from using email, I do not really participate in any social media platform. Also, since the digital TV mandate some time ago, I stopped watching broadcast television and heard most of the news from the radio. However, since March 2020, I started watching broadcast television once again with regularity to keep up with any new social or medical mandates from my city, state, or nation regarding the COVID pandemic. Indeed, these seemed to change almost every week, adversely affecting our economy. Then, the death of George Floyd abruptly occurred in Minneapolis. The nation had already been punched twice in the gut, and now we were stunned with a blow to the heart.
I’m not entirely sure just exactly what is happening in our country. It seems that a lot of different people have a lot of different opinions, coupled with a lot of different attitudes. Yet, interestingly enough, it appears that virtually everyone is actually hoping for resolution in some kind of unity. I just wonder: Is there any rational basis for such a unity in the midst of immense irrational diversity?
Well, I believe that the book we call the Bible represents the documented Word of God. As I ponder the destiny of nations and the decline I have witnessed in America during my 70 years, I wonder if there is a deeper problem at the heart of our difficulties. America has been a great nation, but it suffers, along with all the others past and present, with the same human frailties which afflict mankind individually and corporately.
What are these problems? What are the irreducible principles, precepts, or social conditions which must be present for a nation (or an individual) to prosper? Maybe, just maybe, the Bible has something to say.
A Lesson from Romans
In the last half of the first chapter of the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul briefly summarizes the spiritual decline of people in Gentile nations, resulting in the death of a stable culture. The three characteristics that become lost in this deterioration process are: a) humility, b) morality, and c) civility.
First, he mentions that there are those who do not wish to humbly honor their Creator and fabricate some idolatrous replacement to satisfy their creature fantasies. Failing to appreciate a Creator of pure holiness, God gives them over to their impurity or uncleanness, which manifests in their vain imaginations.
Secondly, when men continue in this direction, they will begin to dishonor themselves and others by intruding into immoral practices, progressively advancing civil deterioration. God, consequently, gives them over to the vile affections they are seeking.
Finally, when they arrive at the point where they don’t even want to hear or think about God, He gives them over to irrational, reprobate minds from which proceeds every form of uncivil behavior and debauchery. This loss of civility is the final stage, which, if unchecked, will ultimately destroy society. Therefore, from beginning to end, Paul is telling us that the loss of social harmony and civility begins with the loss of true humility before our Creator.
Although this was penned around two millennia ago, it should sound familiar. It seems that America itself is experiencing forms of this progressive decline, as discussed by the Apostle Paul.
The United States seems to have lost a significant degree of cultural unity over the past several decades. We are currently reacting in various ways toward quarantine efforts, protests, riots, demanding our rights, and our voices to be heard. Will all this reacting be providing real solutions for social unity?
Is the ultimate problem of mankind really one of sociology, economics, political affiliation, environment, status, class, wealth, gender, culture, or ethnicity? One of our national songs is as follows:
God shed His grace on Thee
and Crown thy good with brotherhood
from sea to shining sea.
I have heard people decry America in derogatory terms in recent years, while others wax eloquently about American exceptionalism. However, the lines in this song do not allude to our national excellence, genius, or prosperity. Instead, it refers to blessings from above while inferring our personal responsibility. I believe the exceptional thing about America was the clear intent of our early ancestors in seeking freedom to worship and serve God.
Perhaps, once we acknowledge our individual or corporate depravity, we should cry out for God’s mercy and grace to regain those blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.
Submitted by S. G. Smith, Lubbock, TX