Glencairn Methodist Church
November is traditionally the month for remembering - remembering all the saints who have gone before on All Saints' Day, and remembering all those killed in war, particularly the two world wars of the 20th century and the lesser wars that have raged since, on Remembrance Sunday.
If we consider the history of humankind, our activities and achievements, we soon realise that war plays a dominant part in that history. Even the so called "Good Book", the Bible, is a catalogue of disputes and wars from Genesis right through to Revelation. We read of the spat between Cain and Abel that led to murder, the power struggles between Sarah and Hagar the women in Abraham's life, and Esau and Jacob the sons of Isaac. The children of Israel took the land of Canaan by force of arms; Kings David and Solomon expanded the kingdom by aggression; civil dispute caused this kingdom to split in two; the northern kingdom was wiped out and the southern kingdom was ruined by foreign invaders. Even when the Jews returned from exile and started to rebuild their nation and religion, they (and indeed much of the ancient world) were subjugated first by the Greeks and then by the Romans.
There is a telling verse in the Bible! In 2 Samuel 11: 1 we read, "In the spring, at the time when kings went off to war,..." War was commonplace; war was expected. We have had wars ever since, and the nations of the world are engaged in wars at this present time.
Why do nations act aggressively towards others? Why do leaders seek to lead their people into war? In many cases the answer can be given in one word - Idolatry - the giving to a counterfeit god or idol the place in our lives that should be given to God. The first of the Ten Commandments is, "You shall have no other gods before me." And what does God have in mind? The second commandment gives the explanation, "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below." In other words anything can be an idol.
With regard to the Second World War, Timothy Keller, in his 2009 book Counterfeit Gods, writes, "The Nazis claimed to promote deep love of country and people. But somehow as they pursued this thing, "love of country", their patriotism became demonic and destructive. In the end, Nazism accomplished the very opposite of what it sought - endless shame rather than national honour." (p97). Adolf Hitler was undoubtedly a charismatic leader who could have done great things for Germany and for the world had he not allowed his ideology to be all obsessive and twisted and to so dominate his life and the lives of many others. It led to the need to subjugate and eliminate all who stood in the way of a pure German nation and a strong Germany. Things other than God were given the place due to God and so led many people into sin and misery and death.
Idols are insidious things. They creep into everyone's life in one way or another and at some time or another. They are hard to recognise in ourselves. They may not necessarily be bad things to start with, but they have the potential to take over our lives, to become absolutes and to lead us to destruction. We need constantly to be on our guard and to give God the place of honour in all that we think and do.
There are references to war even in the New Testament. In Revelation 12; 7 we read, "And there was war in heaven." But here and elsewhere in the New Testament the emphasis is on spiritual warfare, the constant struggle against the temptation to sin. St Paul exhorts us to "Put on the full armour of God", and using a Roman soldier's armour as a model, he continues, "Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God". (Ephesians 6: 10-18). Truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and the Holy Spirit - these are our weapons in this war against idolatry. Be sure to use them!
Counterfeit Gods is published in the UK by Hodder and Stoughton.
1 November 2010
NOTE - Previous "Monthly Messages" are archived at http://glencairn.connor.anglican.org/previousmessages.htm