This week I wrote of “Life in the Administrative State” and about “true believers” at the EPA (which is, of course about true believers in the administrative state.) In the latter post I analogized true believers at the EPA to theocratic rule, and the more I think about the analogy, the more interesting things get. What do people fear from theocracy? They fear the loss of freedom that accompanies it – that someone with a specific set of principles will tell everybody precisely what to do and how to behave. In other words theocracy, it seems, cannot help but be despotic.
Then I wonder, do people set out in their lives to be despotic? Of course not, and that negative answer is particularly true in the case of theocracies – they set out to make the world a better place because they think they know what will make it better. The problem is despotism is by definition bad so whatever improvements may be made are negated by the despotism. Despotism, it seems, is born of a desire to save the world. Everybody wants to save the world because if there is anything everybody can agree about it is that the world needs saving.
Well, everybody wants to save the world, save perhaps the one man that actually did – Jesus. Seriously, think about Jesus’ prayer at Gethsemane, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me….” Jesus asked to be spared the job of saving the world. What an amazing contrast to the rest of us – all driven by despotic desires born of a desire precisely to save the world. Why would the one man positioned to and capable of actually saving the world, not want to do so?
The answer is very straightforward – because of what was involved in saving the world. Jesus did not save the world through telling everybody else how to behave, or through spreading good news, or any other means that would result in people viewing him heroically. Jesus actually saved the world by dying. And it was not an ordinary death. I have written of my experiences at Gethsemane before. Jesus’ world-saving death was agonizing beyond human understanding, painful beyond anything else in human experience, virtually unbearable even for one that had the power of God at His command.
You see, none of us full of our despotic urges really wants to save the world – we just want to be responsible for saving the world and then obtaining the glory that comes with it. We are not interested in the world all that much; we are interested in ourselves. That, my friends is called “sin.” And now we get to the heart of why Christianity is unique among world religions and systems of thought.
Most religions and systems of thought either try to fix individuals (again an overwhelming self-interest) and let the world’s chips fall where they may, or they try to fix the world ignoring the despotic impulse that always presents itself when one tries to fix the world. Only Christianity sets out to save the world but understands that the first step in that process is to fix the individual. Hence the Christian means of saving the world is born of sacrifice and self-denial – agonizing, horrific self-sacrifice.
Too many of us, way too many of us, become Christians because of what we think Jesus can do for us, or because we think it’ll help us save the world. Jesus can do more for us than we can imagine, and His entire intent is to save the world. But for us to receive those gifts or to participate in the world’s salvation we have to sacrifice. Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”
To save ourselves and to save the world we have to take up the instrument of Jesus’ death. There is no heroism, no glory; there is only sacrifice. After Jesus asked to be spared saving the world, He told God this, “yet not as I will, but as You will.” That is my prayer this Sunday morning – for God’s will, not mine. I hope you will join me.