Psalm 74 from the Daily Office reading for today really speaks to my heart right now, particularly verses 3-7: “The enemy has laid waste to your sanctuary. Your adversaries roared within your holy place; they set up their banners as tokens of victory. At the upper entrance they hacked the wooden trellis with axes. And then, with hatchets and hammers, they smashed all its carved work. They set your sanctuary on fire; they desecrated the dwelling-place of your name, bringing it to the ground.” We all have a different understanding of who the enemy is, but is there any doubt that the enemy has laid waste to our sanctuary?
I imagine these verses were written about the sacking of the Jerusalem temple by the Babylonians, but they really speak to me metaphorically in our present context, especially “They set up their banners as tokens of victory.” I hate the triumphalism of the evangelical church today. If I were to try to defend my views theologically, I would say it’s because Jesus’ cross looked nothing like a worship stadium filled with infectious energy, soaring amplifiers, and incredible light shows or a Chick-Fil-A parking lot on Wednesday, August 1st. Jesus’ cross was a lonely place. He was abandoned by His disciples. I want it to be true that the way of Christ really is a narrow gate that you walk through completely unsure of yourself and that somehow fear and trembling is what real discipleship looks like rather than confident Bible-verse quoting in an environment where your team is clearly winning.
I grew up as a moderate Southern Baptist. The 34 years that I’ve been alive have felt like one long victory lap for the fundamentalists. I’m not sure that I will ever be able to see my world through a different lens, though I ask God regularly to deliver me from the labels I learned since I was old enough to talk. “Fundamentalist” was probably one of the first 100 words I knew how to say. I imagine that other people with different backgrounds have different bogeymen than I do. For a lot of people, the enemy is probably the secular PC culture that seems to triumph over everything and crush every traditional value in its path. I realize that most of the people who went to Chick-Fil-A on Wednesday were not doing so in order to dis gay people specifically so much as take a stand against what seems to them to be an impending tidal wave of liberal elitism, moral relativism, etc, destroying our culture.
In a past life, when I was an inner city youth pastor who thought he could rap, I made a song called “Satan Flows” that seems to apply to the situation that we find ourselves in. It starts off: “Satan flows / like COINTELPRO / between people who know / that the other one is evil.” COINTELPRO was an FBI program in the 1970’s that sabotaged the Black Power and antiwar movements by using agent-provocateurs to spread rumors and instigate conflict between activists. I really think that this is the basic model for how Satan lays waste to the church. I realize it’s unfashionable in the 21st century to believe in a literal Satan, but the culture wars have made it impossible for me not to believe that there is an evil being in the universe who is strategically trying to destroy the church.
Satan gets us to see each other as either “bigots” or “heretics” and focus all our energy on our all-encompassing meme war/argument. We’re not interested in understanding the other side’s perspective, because that would mean condoning “sin” or “injustice.” Our dismissive dehumanization of each other is the contemporary version of the Babylonian razing of the Jerusalem temple. We are the enemy that has laid waste to God’s sanctuary. Most of the psalms end with a resolution and divine victory, but Psalm 74 concludes with one last plea to God: “Rise up, O God, and defend your cause; remember how fools mock you all day long.Do not ignore the clamor of your adversaries, the uproar of your enemies, which rises continually.” Somehow, I have to trust that God will rise up and defend His cause and that the triumphalists (whoever they are) will be humbled. I hope that when God does this, He will have the mercy to reveal His wisdom to me if I have not been faithful to it.