The More Things Change The More They Stay The Same
On Friday, June 26th, the internet went a buzz with the announcement that the Supreme Court had made a 5-4 ruling in favor of Jim Obergefell in this national headline case which resulted in the national legalization of gay marriage.
The gay rights lobby loudly exclaimed the win just in time for a weekend of “gay pride” parades. FACEBOOK profile pictures turned the color of the rainbow. And some Christians joined the banter with statements about it all being about “loving like Jesus”.
Other Christians interpreted the situation much differently. It was as if “Chicken Little” had been set free to once again lament, “The sky is falling. This is the end of civilization as we know it. Expect the Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone at any moment.”
Yes, the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling is a tremendously significant decision. It seeks to redefine the most basic of structural institutions within society. At the same time it raises the specter of other cases and rulings this opens up in the future: multiple spouses, young love, etc. The ripples of this decision will be felt for generations upon generations.
However, as I have had time to contemplate the decision, I have come to assess the entire event in light of this old axiom: “The more things change the more they stay the same.”
Yes, the Obergefell ruling is huge. It is a head spinning societal shift. But much more of significance has stayed the same, unaffected by the celebration or the laments.
Here are some examples of things that have not been altered by this monstrous cultural shift:
1) Governments often make decisions that are repulsive to people of faith and the God they serve.
Upon reading 1 & 2 Kings, and 1 & 2 Chronicles over the last week, I feel like I can relate to the Israelites. Our contemporary political leaders, like the kings of Israel and Judah of old, have been unfaithful in the discharge of their responsibilities and have played a significant role in supporting or leading the turning of the heart of a nation away from God.
As we flip through the pages of history, we see Antiochus Ephiphanes IV who slaughtered an unholy pig on the Jerusalem altar and raised a pagan statue in the Temple to humiliate the Jews. We see Herod calling for the mass execution of Bethlehem infants for fear that a challenge to the throne had been born. We see the Caesars raising a society on gratuitous violence and sex in order to keep them settled and supportive of the empire. We see the flipping back and forth between Protestant and Catholic kings in Britain, along with the massacre of adherents to the competing faith with each swing of the pendulum. We’ve heard of Marie Antoinette’s blithe retort that the poor who were complaining about food shortages could eat cake (or sweet rolls). We still have in our recent cultural memory, a dictator that sought the eradication of an entire ethnic group – Hitler (while, the “confessing church” church sought ways to remove Hitler from power). And another that sent millions of his own subjects to the Gulag – Stalin. We remember the news reports of Saddam Hussein committing genocide on his own people. But we don’t have to limit our talk to the actions of those foreigners.
We can bring the conversation home to our own backyards. If we limit our consideration to decisions handed down by the Supreme Court we would have to begin by wrestling with Dred Scott, a slave who was transported by his owners from the slave states of the south to the non-slave north. When he sued for his freedom, the Supreme Court, in 1857, denied him the right because as a black man, whether slave or free, he could not be an American citizen thus had no right. That decision is near universally condemned today.
We could next turn our attention to the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson ruling which resulted in deepening segregation, as it entrenched the legal doctrine of “separate, but equal.” Indeed, it did result in separate, yet it was far from equal.
We could turn the pages to 1961 when the Supreme Court banned the practice of teacher led prayer in schools. That ban has been gradually broadened, either by uniformed school administrators, ignorant teachers, or irreligious politicians who pushed that decision far beyond the principles therein.
Finally, we can attempt to find the right to discard life through abortion which the Roe v. Wade court told us could be found within the Constitution.
No wonder Peter emphasizes that we are strangers and aliens in the world. We, as believers, will often feel as if we are outsiders because we are.
Government will never save us, but they can do indeterminate societal damage through the legitimization of evil.
2) God still sits on His throne.
To hear some Christians, you would think that the Supreme Court decision effectively dethroned God. As they presented a ruling that was contrary to God’s will, they accomplished a divine coup and have ascended to His throne.
However, God has not been removed from his seat of authority. Throughout the Old Testament poets and prophets, the message is that God is still on His throne. The Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks and Romans were unable to dethrone God.
In the book of Revelation as the world authorities aligning themselves against God … as they promote a wide assortment of immoral and unsacred religious practices, God is unmoved from His throne.
“At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was the throne in heaven with someone sitting on it” (4:2) And as the book comes to an end, “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making all things new.'” (21:5).
For centuries, the Roman emperors tried to unseat God. They declared their glory. They nurtured the support and love of their people. Some willfully executed those who would not submit to their authority and proclaimed “divinity”. But in the end the emperor’s died, as did the emperor cult. And as the centuries passed, we could see into the portals of heaven … God was still on his throne.
No matter how hard we may attempt to remove God from His throne so that we can erect our own thrones that enshrine our own brilliance and wisdom, there will come a time when everyone will recognize that Christ alone is Lord:
“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:9-11)
No government whatever the decision will be able to unseat God. A ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States does not threaten His position.
3) Marriage is still a covenant relationship between a man and a woman.
At fifteen, my son said that he was going out with a girl, so I asked him where he was going. His response was, “Nowhere,” to which I replied, “Then you aren’t going out.” He might have called her a girlfriend. He might have said that they were going steady. But given that they never had a date with one another, you can hardly say they were “going out.”
Our culture may want to define the relationship of two gay partners as marriage, but it completely misses out on the “two becoming one flesh” intimacy that is described in Genesis 2 when Adam and Eve came together as two differents combined into a complete.
What was really accomplished by the Supreme Court ruling? What was accomplished is not what we might think. The court ruling made “gay marriage” legal, but it didn’t make it legitimate. It may have granted the gays a civil “right’, but it didn’t make it righteous.
The ruling simply changed what is considered legal in the United States, but because God is still on His throne, I don’t think God is at all impressed.
God is the one who formed the covenant of the marriage relationship. Try as we might to redefine marriage, all of our efforts amount to nothing more than doodling a mustache on the Mona Lisa. God’s design is not changed because five people in robes said that two people of the same sex have a legal right to call their relationship a marriage.
Changing our chosen designation of a relationship doesn’t change what it is.
4) People still attempt to redeem themselves in their sin by making it culturally acceptable.
God, throughout history, has had to deal with others who attempt to rewrite the narrative he has penned, and redefine the right which he designed. From the introduction of sin into the world, people have attempted to misdirect or rationalize their sin. Adam said his eating of the fruit was God’s fault because He gave him “that woman”. Eve said it was the serpents fault.
Saul tried to explain his way out his error by saying Samuel hadn’t arrived so he took care of it himself.
Paul anticipates a time when people will be more concerned about fitting into societal pursuits than into the kingdom of God: “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). As I read this text, I can’t help but think Paul was talking about a time such as ours.
But when all is said and done, we will find ourselves at best draped in soiled diapers (Isaiah 64:6), or at worse “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17). Like the emperor we proudly display our new wardrobe to a people set aghast by our nakedness. An interesting connection of that story to our time is that the emperor had been convinced that the commoner would not be able to view the exquisite design of the emperors wardrobe because of their unrefined taste. Could it be that we are culturally parading around in our nakedness?
It seems to me that the Bible teaches that believers will not nicely fit into the world because they are citizens of another kingdom. “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your souls. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:11-12).
5) People still need a saving relationship with God through Christ to truly redeem them from their sin.
Because people outside of relationship with Christ are dead in their sins, cut off from a life-giving relationship with God … because apart from Christ we are “gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature, and following its desires and thoughts” … we are objects of God’s wrath (Ephesians 2:3), “for we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). As objects of wrath, they are unable to do anything to redeem their broken relationship with God. This is where all of our lives meet. All of us are subjects of this sad state apart from Christ’s redeeming work. That is not a happy place in which to find oneself.
In the story of the Tower of Babel, we see the inept and ineffective efforts that we make to attempt to fix our relationship with God. The people understood that their relationship with God was broken, so they built a tower in an effort to allow God to come down to be with them. However, God made clear by the confusing of their languages that He will not function by man’s agenda. He is not answerable to our plans.
However, what we were unable to do ourselves, God does for us as we come into relationship with Him. He makes us alive in Christ by His grace. Into our spiritually dead corpses God breathed new life into us, as He did with Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones.
Jesus’ sacrifice has made full payment for the sins of those who would receive him. Redemption will only be found in the saving sacrifice that he offered once and for all (Hebrews 10:1-18).
Further, the wrong will not be made right until we meet God on His terms, which means that we repent and turn away from our sins (Acts 2:38) calling on His name.
6) The mission of the church is still to reach lost people and bring them into a transforming relationship with Christ.
When Jesus was preparing to leave this earth, he set the agenda for his followers. They were instructed to “make disciples” by converting them to faith in baptism, and continued instruction in the life that Jesus taught to his followers (Matthew 28:19). He later says for them to be his witnesses around the world through the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8).
Paul shares his commission with the Corinthians to be Christ’s ambassadors of reconciliation. And through history we as believers have received that call to partner with God in accomplishing his mission of bringing the whole world under the covenant blessing.
The Supreme Court’s decision has not done anything to change the agenda of the church to serve as ambassadors and witnesses of God’s work of reconciliation. It has not altered that God desires for people to be transformed into the likeness of His Son (Ephesians 4:13).
One things that we may learn is that attempting to legislate morality is not the best use of our time. Rather, we should spend time engaging in knee-to-knee conversations. We need to mix with the sinners as Jesus did in order to gain the relational capital to speak to them in a manner that demonstrates both the grace and truth of Christianity. We need to really learn how to graciously expend God’s love toward the sinner, while not giving them the impression that their sin is acceptable in God’s eyes. We need to be willing to walk with them through the long-haul of life transformation, never being satisfied with bringing someone to conversion, but aiming for a new creation, a transformed life.
So let the nations rage. Let people lift their fists in defiance toward God.
Very little has changed.
— Pastor Steve