FIRST-PERSON: Taking time to read the 'times'

by Rudy Gonzalez, posted Monday, July 09, 2018 (9 days ago)
Tags: theology

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) -- They say that hindsight is 20/20, but if that is so, why does the human race continue to commit the same mistakes history should have taught us to correct?

You would think we would be the best equipped to finally get it right. After all, we, more than any previous generation, move the learning needle forward daily and we pride ourselves for it. But, of course, all this knowledge comes at us so quickly we scarcely have time to assess whether the latest discovery is factual or a hoax, whether the news is reliable or fake.

Alas, in spite of our desire to know, and perhaps because of it, we binge on endless information and suffer a collective headache. Maybe the problem is that we have become blind to a filter God created to help us make sense of it all.

In the day-to-day world, not paying attention to its signs would prove disastrous. If a farmer didn't take the seasons into consideration, he might plant rather than let the land rest. Likewise, a builder will look to the weather before deciding whether to pour a concrete slab.

This reading of the "times," "seasons," "signs" (terms I take as synonymous) is an intuition, which kings used in deciding when to make war (2 Samuel 1:11). But the greatest endorsement of this comes from Christ. In Matthew 16:23–24, Jesus pointed to the clouds, but not because He was interested in meteorology. He chided people because they were experts in reading the clouds, but failed to see that everyday events were also couched in a "time," a specific milieu that provided the proper context for interpreting those same events.

In light of this fortunate aid witnessed in most fields of knowledge, we should ponder whether we are making the most of it. Without being mystical about it, I would suggest that like the telltale signs we see in nature, God has provided us with moral signs that must be read if we are to understand our world, our politics and our cultures with greater sensitivity.

But how or where to start? For myself, as one committed to the truthfulness of God's Word, the most obvious sign which commends itself to my thinking is the biblical revelation that the days are "evil" (Ephesians 5:16). If we acknowledge the pall of this truth over life as we know it, then at least two things follow.

On the one hand, we will not make the mistake of gauging the rightness or wrongness of things against the naive belief that earlier times were somehow immune from living in a world wracked by sin. Roe v. Wade truly exacerbated the abortion mill, but it didn't create it. It brought to light an awful practice which had lurked in the shadows. On the other hand since the days are evil, we should not forget the Evil One's schemes, even if things should seem to ring true.

The fact is the gamut of human virtue and vice has been on display throughout history, but don't fall into the trap of believing that what society has deemed good or evil, has remained fixed, not in this present evil age. The prophet Isaiah knew the ungodly were prone to tinker with the moral categories of their day and so he warns:

"Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness, who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter" (Isaiah 5:20).

For such social engineers, all is fair game: good, evil and everything in between. They not only "call" (rename), they "substitute," creating new "truth" on the fly. Most recently, we were given front row seats to see this strategy play out, redefining marriage from how it had always been understood, paving the way to legalize homosexual unions, and all in the span of a few short years.

In all this, we must come to grips with the fact that we do not live in a world that plays by the rules. The apostle Paul knew this when he said, "Let God be true and every man a liar" (Romans 3:4). And so, we must remember that everyone, journalists, pundits, researchers, the learned of this world and even preachers, myself included, are not immune to the subtle and brute agendas of "this present evil age" (Galatians 1:4).

Knowing the days are evil, we assume a two-fold strategy. From a defensive posture, we resist the naïve inclination to accept all we hear indiscriminately (1 John 4:1). Proactively, we evaluate everything by the standard of God's Word, subjecting our minds and the thoughts it entertains to the obedience of the faith (Hebrews 4:12–13; 2 Corinthians 10:1-6).

Today, we are barraged by news that threatens to tear us apart not just as a nation, but as a people of God. To even permit such a possibility would speak louder than any congressional report or POTUS tweet. At minimum, it might tell us we have been ignoring the signs God has provided to frame, to guide and to bring sanity to our understanding.

Rudy Gonzalez is professor of New Testament at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
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