"I can do it myself!"
Those of us with children most likely have a hodge podge of toddler songs, videos, and books permanently etched in the back of our minds. Potty training in particular was a time when my husband and I turned to these various aids for both of our children. I still recall a Potty Time DVD that contained songs like, "I Can Do It Myself." There are many books to the same effect.
While this may be a helpful strategy for helping toddlers, this particular phrasing ("I can do it myself") is so very American. We start at such an early age to instill independence in our children. As an American, I find this to be so core to what I think and believe, and a hallmark of my parenting practices. It's times when I see my now-teenage and pre-teen children acting with (hopefully wise) independence that I feel the most successful as a parent. And, I do think there is much good that comes of this.
However, there is definitely a dark side to American independence, particularly when it comes to relationships--including a relationship with the Creator. American independence may be such a core value that we can't even see how it may be harming aspects of our lives, including our spiritual lives.
One serious downside of independence--and not even the American variety--is described in Isaiah 22.
This chapter centers on a prophesy about Jerusalem, and we again have a window on what really upsets God. We're 22 chapters into Isaiah now and we've hardly had a mention of the types of sins that our modern Christian world seems obsessed with. As the theology of work website describes in its commentary on Isaiah (https://www.theologyofwork.org/old-testament/isaiah), arrogant pride and self-sufficiency is the main beef that God has with Judah's behavior. Specifically, pride in wealth, military strength, and idolatry. I've reflected on each of these in prior blog entries as well:
Wealth and idolatry: https://www.isaiahfortoday.com/post/the-women-of-judah-really-like-their-bling and https://www.isaiahfortoday.com/post/the-way-of-the-future
Worship of military might: https://www.isaiahfortoday.com/post/_fear and https://www.isaiahfortoday.com/post/so-you-wanna-go-back-to-egypt
What's really interesting in Isaiah 22, though, is that the self-reliance depicted here isn't of the immoral sort, and some of the activities undertaken through self-reliance were done by some pretty godly kings. Here's what God has to say:
The Lord stripped away the defenses of Judah, and you looked in that day to the weapons in the Palace of the Forest. You saw that the walls of the City of David were broken through in many places; you stored up water in the Lower Pool. You counted the buildings in Jerusalem and tore down houses to strengthen the wall. You built a reservoir between the two walls for the water of the Old Pool, but you did not look to the One who made it, or have regard for the One who planned it long ago. (verses 8-11)
So, a terrible army is coming, and the civil authorities gear up their defenses, provide reservoirs for their people in case of a siege, and shored up the defensive walls. Seems like pretty wise leadership there. The kind that any of us would be very happy to have in times of crisis. What's the problem?
"You did not look to the One who made it, or have regard for the One who planned it long ago."
For all the talk among conservative Christians that they live in a Christian nation, they seem pretty content with our leaders giving only passing acknowledgement of God, such as through national prayer days and prayer breakfasts with pastors. Is there ever any mention of consulting God (not just asking His blessing upon) initiating military engagement, setting forth a new bill, or writing policy?
Consultation, and not just asking for blessing, requires patience. It requires time. It potentially puts people in the position where it looks like disaster is going to come upon them without them being prepared. King Saul was in this very situation, and it was the reason why he was rebuked by Samuel and rejected as king.
He had a full army gathered in warfare against their main enemy at the time, the Philistines. The Bible itself says the situation was "critical" (I Samuel: 6). He waited seven days for Samuel to come offer burnt offerings and seek the Lord. The army began to scatter, and Saul did what he thought he had to--he acted without priestly consultation and blessing.
And, no sooner had he done this than the prophet Samuel shows up and asks, "What have you done?"
That's a great question, for our leaders and for ourselves when we act out of self-sufficiency and claim that we follow the Creator of the universe. What does it mean to follow if we are the ones going ahead first and, as an afterthought, sometimes ask for blessings on what we've already decided to do?
Somewhere along the line, Christians decided to take up "secular" practices for heavenly purposes. Churches largely use business and marketing principles for church growth. The Pro-Life movement uses the tactics of civil disobedience and protest, and some fringe members employ violence as well. In our everyday lives, we let our education, our training, our friends' advice, and our "gut" instincts guide us in the small and large decisions that make up our life paths.
There may be a certain wisdom to knowing what you're doing and to be in position to act in an informed and skilled way. Judah, in Isaiah 22, used scientific and military wisdom to protect the city against an oncoming army.
The irony, however, is that the war we are ultimately fighting is within us--not outside of us. Judah's leaders did all this work, without consulting God. Many of them were pretty good people, such as King Hezekiah and his reservoirs. But Isaiah 22 predicts what does ultimately happen--when push came to shove, the sitting king and his leaders end up fleeing the city and leaving the populace on their own to be destroyed. The issue was always their hearts in the first place, not the Babylonian army.
We see this tragedy played out today. Yesterday, March 17, 2021, Robert Aaron Long, who is being called a "Christian mass shooter" due to his connection to the Southern Baptist Church, walked into three massage parlors in Atlanta and began shooting. Eight people were killed, including six Asian women. As the Christian Post reports (https://www.christianpost.com/news/robert-aaron-long-was-tired-of-temptation-posed-by-parlors.html), early interviews with the suspect revealed that he had struggled with sexual addiction and wanted to remove the temptation.
This is an individual with excellent church attendance (a member rather than an attender), and former participator in his church's youth group, where he likely heard a lot about "purity culture" and the importance of curbing one's sexual appetites. His Instagram account describes what he's about: "Pizza, guns, drums, music, family, and God. This pretty much sums up my life. It’s a pretty good life."
And yet, killing people who run massage parlors does nothing to address the sin in one's own life.
Why this message is not being understood by people who sit in pews every week shows that the American church is failing its parishioners. We have emphasized the sins of "other people." We have over-emphasized sexual sins and raised generations of Generation X, Millenial, and Gen Z kids with certain level of self-shame plus a corresponding fear of anonymous sinners "out there" in the world. And yet, the sins that God repeatedly emphasizes in His Word, that Isaiah over and over again focuses on, are largely ignored. Self-sufficiency, pride, arrogance. We need to fall on our knees and ask for forgiveness, not for our country's increasing immoral practices, but for the church's complicity in raising generations of people who are following a different Gospel than what Christ preached and what the Old Testament prophets clearly taught. What have we done?