Like a coating of silver dross on earthenware are fervent lips with an evil heart. Proverbs 26:23
I was listening to the 2015 year in review (entitled “A Look Back and Ahead”) podcast of BreakPoint This Week and John Stonestreet, Host of BreakPoint and President of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, made a really interesting comment in regard to ISIS and the Western response to it. The guest on the show, WORLD’s Mindy Belz, was talking about her recent trip to the Syrian Desert and how, while within eyesight of the ISIS black flags flying over an ISIS-conquered city, she could tell from the infrequency of jet noise and explosions of dropped bombs that the West – and the United States in particular – is just not serious about waging this war. She said that some military experts have claimed that we would need to increase airstrikes three-fold and put troops on the ground in order to get any traction against ISIS. But neither the United States, nor the rest of the Western nations, seem able to conjure up the will to do anything more than make a feeble show of force. Meanwhile, once again according to Ms. Belz, ISIS fighters are simply hunkering down in the desert or in their strongholds waiting for the ineffective bombing to stop.
I’ll get to John Stonestreet’s interesting statement in a moment, but I have to make a point about waging war against an enemy that does not share our understanding, or value, of time. Think for a moment about how much of our lives revolve around the ticking of seconds, minutes and hours. We set an alarm to wake up at precisely 5:30am, roll out of bed, get ready for the day and leave our house at 6:15am in order to walk through the doors at work before 7:00am. We then go to an 8:00am meeting, followed by a strategy session at 9:15am. The boss then wants to see us at 10:10am. We then check email for the few minutes we have free before meeting a potential client for a luncheon at 11:45am. Next, we jet back to the office to be a part of a 1:30pm meeting that lasts until 3:00pm when we have to go to the airport to meet our 4:35pm flight to Phoenix for a conference which will start at 6:30-sharp the next morning. But, if you’ve ever been in another country – even another Western one – you’ll have noticed that time seems to flow a little slower there. You notice it a little in France, a tad more in Italy, even more so in Greece, and you’re forced to notice it – because time is comparatively non-existent – in Central and South America.
But what must it be like in the sands of Iraq and Syria where time has seemed to stand still for 13 and a half centuries? The ISIS warriors are incapable of providing for themselves – they’re either Western brats who defected after being provided everything they needed by a nanny state, or they’re Middle-Eastern, Muslim perverts who treat their teenage brides with the contemptuousness of a slaveholder while nevertheless relying on them to take care of all of the daily needs of which they are incapable on their own. If they’re unmarried that’s no matter, the ISIS fighters are provided food, clothing, weapons, and a place to live from their Caliphate’s stockpiles of cash provided by in-bred Saudi princes and the hordes of pillaged goods from the towns and cities which they’ve debauched. And so the days melt into one another as their hatred for the infidel reaches fever pitch. What is there to do other than plan new attacks and think of unique and interesting ways to “kill [the infidel] wherever [he is found]” (Quran 2:191)?
Meanwhile, the West continues to give a half-hearted attempt to fight back. As if either the battle is already won, or ISIS is just a “JV team” which will overstretch any day now and begin withering. Sure, this particular ‘JV team’ has guns and rockets and mobile personnel carriers … sure, this ‘JV team’ has territory and a population to support it … sure, this ‘JV team’ is being supported under the table by the almost limitless wealth of countless Arab Sheikhs … sure, this ‘JV team’ has the ability to inspire losers living in their mom’s basements to carry out their murderous agenda in Paris or San Bernardino … sure, this ‘JV team’ is slaughtering Christians, Yazidis, Kurds and every other ‘affront to allah’ they can imagine as they rampage across the Syrian desert … sure, this ‘JV team’ has the endorsement of thousands of Muslim clerics and Imams – and therefore, the implicit validation of millions of normal, everyday Muslims … but they really aren’t THAT dangerous, are they? You wouldn’t think so by the way our “leaders” are conducting this campaign. Instead we fight it like our weapons will win the war for us. As if saying, “They can’t handle our F-16s, so they should just give up.” So we go on waging our impotent, stop-start war which serves only to make our enemies dig in when the bombs fall, waiting for the inevitable time when Western resolve falters. They understand that the Western mindset is fickle and our attention span is fleeting … and they understand the impact of time on beliefs better than we do. They know that time doesn’t change a person’s values. Their values may be repugnant and evil, but their values have given them something that most Western people can’t understand: that truly important things in life are bigger and longer-lasting than a single man’s life.
All of this explains why John Stonestreet’s comment was so important. After Ms. Belz gave her assessment of the situation, Stonestreet said (I’m paraphrasing here) that “the secular people of the United States are incapable of understanding the depths of religious fervor.” Stonestreet did not expand much on the idea, but it is extremely worthwhile to consider. Essentially, he was saying that secularism decreases not just fervor for something beyond oneself, but also the very understanding of fervor itself.
This may not seem quite correct when you look at the frothing mouth of a screaming abortion supporter, or the high seas terrorism of a boat full of Greenpeace “protestors” accosting an innocent fisherman, or the high-priestly status of “climate scientists” within the secularized Gaia-worship that is environmentalism today. They seem to have fervor, right? But I’m not sure that what they have should be classified as “fervor”, to be honest. Sure, the definition of “fervor” is just “ardent or extremely passionate enthusiasm.” But when you put the word “religious” in front of “fervor”, “ardent or extremely passionate enthusiasm” becomes something more like “moral and life-affirming imperative.” In other words, there are very few secular people who will die for the climate (even though they’re all exhaling that horrible, unnatural gas carbon-dioxide and would do our earth a lot of good by shutting up permanently), or for a fish (even if it is on its way to extinction), or even for their “right” to murder an “inconvenient” child (ironic that they’ll sentence someone else to death, but wouldn’t die themselves for what they believe).
For those secularized people out there who seem, upon first glance, to be fervent … life gets real very quickly when elevated beyond the “safe spaces” of college campuses and internet chat rooms.
What secularized people don’t understand is that there are ideas and beliefs which transcend the basest needs or wants of man. “Grand” ideas of self-actualization matured only by bestial Freudian psychology merely serve to lower not only our standards for behavior and normality, but also our very understanding of how low we’ve brought them. For example, if a man treasures the assortment of rap songs he’s been able to collect on his iPhone more than anything beyond himself, how would he be able to understand the motivations of a person who treasures the calling he or she has received from God? The collection of rap songs is simply an extension of himself – his lusts, his selfishness, his arrogance – and reveals the depth of inhumanity to which he has committed himself. No, I don’t mean “inhumanity” as in cruelty or viciousness; I mean it in reference to the amount of us which is or isn’t a reflection of the God who created us in His image (we become more inhumane as we become less like God).
The same goes for a woman who defines herself more on the fact that her 23rd chromosome is X than on her ability to love others (a gift from God). The same goes for a man who defines himself more on the pigment of his skin than on his ability to forgive others (an attribute of God). The same goes for a person who defines themselves more on being on the “right side of history” than on the right side of truth (a glory of God).
It’s an infallible certainty: if you aim lower than God in what you glorify, you will inevitably find yourself in the muck and mire of base instinct – unable even to lift your eyes to see the glory for which you were created … a glory worth fighting for.
Now, I don’t want to make it seem like I’m trying to equate the fervor of ISIS with the fervor of Christian love, mercy and grace (what a horrible thought)! Nor am I trying to equate the power of Islam with the beauty of Christ (may it never be)! No, Christ calls us to something much higher than Muhammad; His grace to something much higher than the sword. I am simply trying to point out that a navel-gazing secularist is not going to have the capacity to effectively combat an ideology that calls people to something more than the elemental or the temporal. The promise of the eternal easily out-performs the momentary in motivating the soul.
The problem with ISIS specifically, and Islam generally, is that the eternal nature of the soul – created in the image of an incorruptible God – has been improperly co-opted for the purpose of driving all to submission (that is what “Islam” means, after all) to an earthly ideology and goal (world domination). There is immense power in the use of the eternal to drive people to do more with their lives than simply stare at whatever screen is in front of them at the moment (the secularist’s bane). The person motivated by making enough money to buy a big house overlooking the beach in Malibu is going to lose every time to a man who fervently believes that he’ll end up with 70 virgins in paradise if he only can find a way to slay infidels.
This is a scary thought when we get right down to it. Firstly – and most importantly – because there are so many people out there who have become so secularized that they don’t realize just how much vibrancy in life they’re missing by their dedication to momentary pleasure. But secondly, because we are now electing people whose definition of a fervent belief is nothing more than whatever gets them higher in the polls. The populist then is inevitably going to reflect the worst aspects of the culture which he “leads.” Furthermore, these “leaders” have a requisite misunderstanding of the seriousness of lives more fervent and deep; something which gets people killed when dealing with terrorists and barbarians … and, more seriously, something which reinforces the ridiculousness of a culture built on self-gratification and self-actualization.
If you want vibrancy, seek fervency, if you want fervency, seek the eternal, if you want eternal life … then there’s only one place to go: Jesus Christ.
This is also a hugely important lesson for those of us who are Christians. It’s a call to seriousness about our faith. Life must be lived with fervency. Be fervent in prayer, fervent in love, fervent in forgiveness, fervent in mercy, fervent in grace, fervent in the study of God’s word, fervent in praise, fervent in encouragement, fervent in joy, fervent in peace, fervent in patience, and fervent in focus. When we slack off from these things – letting the fervency wane – we run the risk of dulling our spiritual senses. The things of this world – the lusts and pride of life – cloud our vision very quickly. So we must remain vigilant. We must focus on our task: the glory and praise of our Lord. In doing that, we will find that all of our “light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor 4:17).
Here’s how Paul put it in Romans 12:9-21, NIV:
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.