Elijah’s doolittle

Continuing the theme of Elijah, I am intrigued by Barth’s comment that Ahab’s great sin was passivity (CD IV/1, 456), and I wrote up an Our Daily Journey post about it. I wonder about lumping heretics with Nazis under the broad heading of evil, but 1 Kings 21:25 does say that of all the evil acts that Ahab committed, his “worst outrage was worshiping idols.” So it seems that God is okay with it, but I’m wondering if you are. Any constructive comments are appreciated.

Evil doesn’t need numbers. History’s most horrific acts were committed by only a handful of perpetrators. These agents of evil didn’t persuade others to join in their sin, they only convinced them to go along. Most Germans didn’t hunt down and kill Jews, but they allowed their government to do it. Most Americans didn’t own slaves, but they permitted their neighbors to do so. Evil doesn’t have to win most people to its side. It only needs a silent majority who sees what is happening and does nothing.

Passivity was Ahab’s problem. He cowered before his wife, Jezebel, a foreign queen who pushed him to worship Baal (1 Kings 16:31). When Elijah slaughtered the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, Ahab ran home to Jezebel and told on him. It was Jezebel, not Ahab, who promised Elijah that she would get her revenge (1 Kings 19:1-2). Ahab merely went along.

When Naboth refused to sell his vineyard, “Ahab went home angry and sullen” and told on him. Jezebel replied, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll get you Naboth’s vineyard!” (1 Kings 21:4-7). And she did. Ahab merely went along.

Ahab was passive but he wasn’t innocent. God declared that he was the most wicked of all the wicked kings of Israel. He may not have pulled the trigger, but he allowed Naboth’s murder and Israel’s idolatry to occur.

This should give us pause:  what evil might we be silently tolerating? Do we sit on our hands when others are bullied or abused? Do we say nothing when professing Christians dismiss the foundational truths of our faith? We may feel bad for challenging them, but given that Ahab’s greatest sin was idolatry, how can we not speak up for God and his true Word?

Evil doesn’t need you to stand with it. It wins whenever you don’t take a stand.


Add yours →

  1. Mike,

    Stylistically, I’d amend the last line to “It wins whenever you don’t take a stand against it.”

    Personally, I think the examples of genocide, human trafficking, and idolatry all work together, but I’m sure some people will be offended. I think the point – that we are called to actively combat evil – is clear enough and a needed reminder that loving our neighbor takes involvement and commitment on our part. I don’t think we hear enough about the virtue of fortitude in our churches today.

    Good devotional. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Dan Jesse (@djesse50) February 15, 2012 — 12:05 pm

    The film (and poem) Night and Fog makes the point that the nazis were not solely responsible for the genocide, but our passivity in the face of evil was responsible. Hannah Arendt also speaks this way.

    Passivity is one of the cardinal sins of our day. We hate to be question or to be questioned, so we remain passive so those around us while remain passive.

  3. Your posting on passivity is timely in dealing with a senior pastor who recently shocked many in our congregation by preaching that Jesus is not the way. While a handful have spoken out, three associate pastors and most members remain passive.

    Last fall I co-led a Bible study based on R.C. Sproul’s Knowing Christ – The I AM Sayings of Jesus.

    Perhaps by no coincidence, four days after the session on the sixth of the “I AMs” – the way and the truth and the life – our senior pastor delivered a sermon on the very same text. The same text, but a very different interpretation.

    His sermon was virtually verbatim Chapter 19 of Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity, twisting John 14:6 into a pretzel.

    At issue is the ultimate question of Christianity: whether or not John 14:6 means what it says when Jesus declared, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

    He preached that Jesus’ statement in John 14:6 “has nothing – absolutely nothing” to do with people of other religions or ways. He preached “the ‘no one’ here refers [only] to Jesus’ own disciples.” He ends by denouncing anyone who says Jesus is the way as a “gunslinger.”

    In response to the sermon, I wrote a Point – Counterpoint (really a rebuttal to McLaren’s chapter 19). I challenged my senior pastor to an open debate but he has declined. I’ve also asked him to respond to my Counterpoint but he says no.

    Just one example from my Counterpoint to demonstrate how egregious the pastor’s statements are. He asserts: “far from coming with a story in which only a few can hope to receive the salvation he came to bring, [Jesus] brought a promise of grace to all people.” My Counterpoint is that Jesus did come with a story exactly the opposite of the one the pastor made up. Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” So we don’t have to go very “far” to find Jesus coming with the message the pastor disdains.

    Jesus himself was not passive on this subject. He set the precedent for debates on the very topic of his exclusivity. The Gospel of John records a series of debates Jesus stirred up over his many “I am” declarations, the debates taking place in the open air and in the synagogue.

    Peter, Stephen, Barnabas, Paul, Apollos and others followed Jesus’ example. Their proclamations are described as “debates” that were “vigorous” and “public” and “proving from the Scriptures” that Christ is who he claimed to be – the way, the truth and the life, even for people of other religions and ways (even those who thought the religion and way of Moses were good enough).

    The pastor misled the congregation in preaching that “well-trained Christians put aside a hundred other relevant verses and pull this one out.” This one, John 14:6, is clear enough. But other verses are not hard to find.

    For starters, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.” And we have the last words of Jesus before his ascension: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:15-16. Note that “all the world” includes the peoples and religions my senior specifically preached should be excluded from the good news of Jesus: he listed “Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, followers of indigenous religions in Africa and South America, … modern secular atheists [and] skeptics.” Why, my senior pastor explains, is because to say Jesus is the way is “insulting,” “offensive” and “leads to violence,” and, after all, they don’t need it to be saved. In his sermon he relishes this “New Kind of Christianity” as “liberating.”

    He’s thrown down the gauntlet to “well-trained Christians.” I don’t put myself in that elite category. I’m just a David responding to the age-old taunt of a giant Philistine: “This day I defy the ranks of [well-trained Christians]! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” I Samuel 17:10. He claims to have “one hundred relevant verses” while even “well-trained Christians” can pull out only John 14:6, and even that one he says doesn’t mean what it plainly says. .

    He goes further in preaching that those who proclaim the “insulting” words of Jesus that he is the way are responsible for “war, terrorism and genocide.“ He says that “millions of lives could be saved or lost depending on our response” to his sermon. After claiming so much is at stake, it’s ironic he will not debate the issue or respond to my Counterpoint. He owes it to the world, not just our church, if, as he says, “in terms of saving lives from war, genocide, and terrorism, this question may be the most important.”

    And it is important for saving lives, but in the opposite way he preaches. In Eric Metaxas’ recent biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, we read that courageous Christians challenged Hitler and the head of the German church on the issue of the exclusivity of Jesus as being the one way, not allegiance to Hitler and his Nazi way. These Christians hoped that a national debate on the exclusivity of Christ might turn the tide against Hitler in the upcoming election. Hitler, canny as he was, avoided turning much too attention to this issue until he had solidified his power. He won the election and the rest is history. And we are left to wonder if a public debate had taken place and the German people awakened to the Jesus of the Bible as the way, over the Aryan Jesus of Hitler as the way, whether millions of lives might have been saved. It is actually those who fail to proclaim Jesus as the way who are responsible for the loss of millions of lives, not those who do.

    But what’s infinitely more important, what’s ultimately at stake in our answer, is the saving of millions of lives not just in human history – but for eternity.

    Every era of Christianity has faced the need for a reformation (back to the Jesus he himself claimed to be), not a new interpretation (a Jesus make-over in the image of the Fuehrer or Brian McLaren).

    Passivity in the face of a senior pastor dismissing the foundational truths of the Christian faith presents a challenge for us to overcome.

  4. Steve:

    I should be numb to it by now, but stories like yours are still shocking. How do people allow this to go unchallenged? I will pray that you have wisdom to know how best to proceed.

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