America is Becoming Increasingly "Weightless"
Sometime ago, Dr. Christopher Wright wrote an article about a tragedy that happened in Britain: “‘All our gods have failed’.These poignant words come at the end of an editorial in a British newspaper, The Sunday Independent, commenting on the mood of acute moral self-examination and despair that has gripped the nation in the wake of the abduction and murder of a two-year old boy in Liverpool. Children have been murdered before. What makes this case so horrifying is that the child was led away almost from his mother’s side in a busy shopping center in broad daylight, the event was captured on a security video, and those arrested and charged with the crime are two ten-year old children.
Dr. Wright continues commenting: “I trust our international readers will forgive this focusing on a British issue, but I think it illustrates a much wider problem in modern culture. The expression ‘moral vacuum’ has been tossed around in the media as an attempt to describe the apparent refusal of some sections of society to recognize, let alone live by, basic moral standards, and the apparent inability of the rest of society to inculcate or enforce them. The phrase is apt but means more than the absence of morality. The whole point about a vacuum is that it does not just happen, for nature, as we all know, ‘abhors a vacuum’. Vacuums have to be created. You get a vacuum when you deliberately suck out the air inside an object. It has to be pumped out and sealed out.
“Western culture for the past 200 years has been systematically and deliberately sucking out the transcendent from its public heart and core. Os Guinness has pointed out that ‘glory’ in Hebrew literally means weight, substance, reality. So a society which excludes the glory of the living God becomes increasingly ‘weightless’. It becomes hollowed out, empty, drained of reality and meaning, first spiritually, then morally, and finally in every area of social and personal life (cf. Rom. 1:21–32). That’s the kind of vacuum Britain is discovering. Moral revulsion and national conscience send us to the larder of values, but when we get there the cupboard is bare.”
Increasing weightlessness, purposelessness, and hopelessness is the result of pumping out the presence and place of the One True God, whether in an individual’s life or when a number of those individuals who share the same worldview comprise a nation.
When we as creatures attempt to push out our Creator from his creation by our unwillingness to glorify Him and to give him the centrality which is his due. (Romans 1:21, "for though they knew God, they neither glorified Him nor gave thanks to Him"), into the spiritual vacuum other "gods which are no gods” rush in. The biblical name for this is “idolatry”, which basically means treating as of ultimate worth anything which is not God, and looking to it for solutions, salvation or security.
What is an idol? Idols involve a combination of self-concepts, self-conceit, self-deception, self-centeredness, and demonic cooperation. Idols can be mental or metal, a piece of plastic on a shelf or a personal philosophy in my heart. An idol is anything that controls you other than the true Lord God in Heaven. An idol is anything that gets the most of my attention, my time, devotion, money, etc. It is any person, program, pleasure, possession, or philosophy that comes before God and assumes some of the attributes of God. An idol is anything that you have to check with before obeying God. An idol is that which exercises the most control over me and exacts the most commitment from me.
“At the most basic level, idols are what we make out of the evidence for God within ourselves and in the world - if we do not want to face the fact of God Himself in his majesty and holiness. Rather than look to the Creator and have to deal with his lordship, we orient our lives toward the creation, where we can be freer to control and shape our lives in our desired directions.... Since we were made to relate to God, but do not want to face Him [and let him control and shape us], thus we forever inflate things in the world to religious proportions to fill the vacuum left by God's exclusion.... We do not just eliminate God, but we erect God-substitutes in his place." -Richard Keyes, "The Idol Factory" in No God but God.
Again to quote Chris Wright, “The worst thing about idols, as the Hebrew scriptures so tirelessly point out, is that they are utterly useless when you need them most (Jer. 2:28). On the contrary, they become a burden to their very worshippers who have to pay the cost of carrying them (Isa. 46:1–2). What a price Britain and other western nations are now paying for the accumulated idolatries of generations.
“The prophetic voice must be heard that puts the claims of the gospel back into the public arena. The prophetic sign must be seen that makes visible in the life of Christian communities and families an alternative bread, the offer of the only saving God. ‘If we feel utter despair, it is because we see no new promise’, concludes the Independent article. Israel in exile thought the same, until Ezekiel stood in a valley full of dry bones and witnessed the resurrecting power of the spirit of Yahweh. ‘All our gods have failed’. Of course they have.”
But it’s not too late if we will jettison the dominant view of evangelicals, which I call the “I’ll fly away in just a few more weary days” outlook and begin to “do business for King Jesus until he comes again”.
Early in the eighteenth century, a high-society lady once joked that English Parliament was “preparing a bill to have ‘not’ taken out of the Commandments and inserted in the Creed of the church.” It was not far from the truth. By all descriptions of the period, it was characterized by rampant ungodliness and almost complete disregard for biblical standards in every area of life. J. C. Ryle wrote: "Christianity seemed to lie as one dead …There was darkness in high places and darkness in low places - darkness in the court, the camp, the Parliament, and the bar - darkness in country, and darkness in town - darkness among rich and darkness among poor - a gross, thick, religious and moral darkness - a darkness that might be felt.”
The government and the courts were corrupt: open bribery was a continual practice, and the poor were flagrantly oppressed - which is not to say that the poor were any better. Crime was abundant, and the attempt of the authorities to suppress it (by making 160 offenses punishable by death) was to no avail. Whole districts were sunk in abject heathenism, ignorant of the most basic principles of the gospel. And what were the churches doing? Says Ryle: “They existed, but they could hardly be said to have lived. They did nothing; they were sound asleep.”’ In short, England was well down the road which, for a nation just across - the Channel, climaxed in the orgy of horror known as the French Revolution.
Yet, within a few years, the situation changed entirely. Thousands were converted to vital Christianity; the slave trade was abolished (in a manner vastly different from the Unitarian inspired abolitionist movement in America); widows, orphans and the poor were cared for; hospitals were established; missionary and tract societies flourished. What made the difference? Primarily the recovery of the biblical gospel and it’s Spirit-empowered preaching by George Whitefield, John and Charles Wesley and their companions, who spearheaded one of the most far-reaching evangelistic, culture changing movements in history. England heard and believed the gospel of Jesus Christ and began to obey the truth of God’s Word. This flowed out into every aspect of culture including economics and politics.
Do it again, Lord, for the fame of your great name! Our “weightless” living can become really “heavy” in the good sense when the glory – the weightiness of God presence - is desperately wanted and welcomed into our lives and land!