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The least resolution for 2024

Perhaps the resolution we need for 2024 is more foundational than healthy habits and more straightforward than spiritual practices.

BIBLICAL PREACHING AUTOR 108/Peter_Mead 04 DE ENERO DE 2024 09:55 h
Photo: [link]Dawid Zawiła [/link], Unsplash CC0.

January does not just bring a new page on the calendar but a whole new calendar. 

And with the new year, we tend to generate renewed commitments.  Maybe you have already determined what 2024 will mean for you.  Perhaps your mind has already pondered daily step counts, gym visits, dietary changes, or other healthy habits. 

Or maybe you are thinking about Bible reading, daily prayer routines, or other spiritual goals.  May your resolutions last and bear good fruit! 

But perhaps the resolution we need for 2024 is more foundational than healthy habits and more straightforward than spiritual practices.

As I write this, I am in Budapest, where I have just visited a museum of the political terror of the twentieth century.  As you can imagine, it is a sobering experience to see the vast walls of victims, the displays focused on the political prisoners, a room commemorating the persecution of the religious leaders, the torture chambers, the prison cells, and the gallows. 

But perhaps the lingering memory for me will be the final room.  With red walls and hundreds of pictures, it felt like yet another presentation of victims. 

But it was not.  It was a room of “victimizers”, ordinary people who were merely doing their job, simply following orders, just playing along, and thereby facilitating the evil machine. 

We can remember the victims, and we must.  Yet we must also face the uncomfortable reality that most cogs in the cruel machine of death were ordinary people.

Fifty years ago, in February 1974, Alexander Solzhenitsyn was arrested in the Soviet Union and exiled to the West.  There, he was welcomed as a hero.  On the day of his arrest, he released a document entitled “Live Not by Lies.”  

He knew the power of an ideology that sought to reshape society.  He also knew the power of individuals who simply refuse to lie (and the even greater power of a crowd joining together in this conviction). 

He knew that the ideological system would totter and collapse when it ran up against the brick wall of reality, exemplified by many individuals refusing to play along with the evil fantasy.

Fifty years later, perhaps it is time for us to revisit this document.  Are we living in times where some, on behalf of all, have determined what society should look like? 

Do we see a mounting pressure to conform with what ‘they say’ is acceptable human thought and belief? Indeed, we should not be so naïve as to assume that the absence of marching military on our streets means we face no ideological threat. 

The pressure is growing for everyone quietly to conform.  More than that, the pressure is growing to affirm openly and celebrate what we know to be false.  

Surely, it would be better to speak the truth now instead of growing our tendency to fit in and play it safe as the stakes mount.


Truth and lies

Choosing not to lie was not an original idea for Solzhenitsyn.  Paul urged the Colossians not to lie to one another.  Not only had they put off their old self, but they had put on the new self to reflect their creator’s image (Colossians 3:9-10). 

He told the Ephesian believers to speak the truth to one another since they were no longer defined by the lie (Ephesians 4:25).

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addresses the anger underneath murder, the lust underneath adultery, and the daily consistency of speech beneath more flamboyant oaths (Matthew 5:21-37). 

There is plenty of Old Testament support for the expectation that God’s people should be consistent speakers of truth (Exodus 20:16; Leviticus 19:11; Proverbs 14:5).  God does not lie, and his people represent him.


Fear and lies

Solzhenitsyn knew the impact of fear on a population. He wrote of the great threat facing humanity in his day, which was “about to flare up and engulf us.” 

And he described the fear: “While we continue to smile sheepishly and babble; ‘But what can we do to stop it? We haven’t the strength.’”

God asked Isaiah’s listeners, “Whom did you dread and fear, so that you lied, and did not remember me, did not lay it to heart?” (Isaiah 57:11).  Their fear led to lies, as they forgot who was really in charge.

Our world seems to be changing at a frightening rate.  Trying to keep up with the latest adjustments to sense and morality can be tiring.  And it is increasingly revealing how much fear lies within most of us, who are so prone to play along with society’s expectations rather than speak what is true. 

It is concerning how easily we fear and perhaps lie while forgetting who is really in charge. 

[destacate]It is increasingly revealing how much fear lies within most of us, who are so prone to play along with society’s expectations rather than speak what is true[/destacate] Some will capitulate completely and speak what is false.  Others hide behind a cloak of not wanting to “sound political” and speak out about the reducing set of acceptable Christian declarations. 

Fear of being labelled and criticized leads many to hold back from speaking the simple truth.  After all, it is much easier to quote a Bible verse on social media or avoid the hot topics in conversation rather than offer the most minor form of resistance.

Solzhenitsyn wrote that the fear his people felt was not primarily a fear of nuclear death or a third world war.  The fear was of taking a “civic stance.”  

He wrote, “We hope only not to stray from the herd, not to set out on our own, and risk suddenly having to make do without the white bread, the hot water heater, a Moscow residency permit.”  The penalty for a civic stance may have changed, but the fear of the herd has not.

History has never smiled on the timid, and yet each fearful choice always makes sense at the time.  How often do I justify timidity when society needs me to show courage and speak the truth? 

We have almost constant opportunities to speak the truth about marriage, gender, sexuality, race, free speech, bodily autonomy, science, medical ethics, corruption, or whatever other prescribed view is being pushed at any given moment.

We cannot simply wait for an ideology to fall apart.  We must be part of the brick wall of reality into which it must crash.  And yet, it is always easier to “continue to acknowledge, glorify, and strengthen” that which we want to see collapse. 

At the very least, we must not “recoil from its most vulnerable point.  From lies.”


Violence and lies

Solzhenitsyn described how violence bursts into peaceful situations with great self-assurance.  “But violence ages swiftly, a few years pass—and it is no longer sure of itself. To prop itself up, to appear decent, it will without fail call forth its ally—Lies.  For violence has nothing to cover itself with but lies.”

[destacate] We cannot simply wait for an ideology to fall apart.  We must be part of the brick wall of reality into which it must crash  [/destacate] So, even under overt tyranny, people do not have to experience violence at all times.  The demand is only of a “daily participation in deceit” – the tribute paid to maintain one’s position under the power of the oppressive system.  Just play along, it is safer.

The connection between violence and lies is also not a discovery made under the rule of twentieth-century totalitarianism. 

Micah wrote to the city in his day, “Your rich men are full of violence, your inhabitants speak lies and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth” (Micah 6:12).

We may not have to stand and fight against violence.  We may not even have to step out publicly and boldly declare the truth. “But let us at least refuse to say what we do not think!”


The consequences of no lies

In the Soviet Union, there was a cost to this most simple of stands.  It could cost your job and complicate life.  It could cost your success in education and impoverish your future.  But Solzhenitsyn was clear:

“And as for him who lacks the courage to defend even his own soul: Let him not brag of his progressive views, boast of his status as an academician or a recognized artist, a distinguished citizen or general.  Let him say to himself plainly: I am cattle, I am a coward, I seek only warmth and to eat my fill.”

To choose not to lie was not an easy choice in his day.  It will increasingly not be an easy choice for social standing, or even for physical wellbeing, in our day.  But the choice not to lie is “the only one for the soul.”

The implication of no lies is worthy of note. “The more of us set out together, the thicker our ranks, the easier and shorter will this path be for us all!  If we become thousands—they will not cope, they will be unable to touch us.  If we will grow to tens of thousands—we will not recognize our country!”

As we head into a new year, may we not simply play along with the world.  Instead, let us graciously, prayerfully, and wisely determine that whatever else may happen, we will not participate in the lies expected of us in society. 

As representatives of God in this world, this is the least we must do!

(Source of AS quotes here )

Peter Mead is mentor at Cor Deo and author of several books. He blogs at Biblical Preaching






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