Thursday, February 4, 2016

“The Kings of the Earth”: Mao versus Cathy

The Bible gives us an interesting story line regarding the future of government on earth. On the one hand, we have government-led rebellion against God:

The kings of the earth prepare for battle; the rulers plot together against the LORD and against his anointed one. (Ps 2:2)

My loyal readers will recognize this as my default view of all government. But those whose default view is Romans 13 like to come back with another, equally biblical, assertion, that the future holds the prospect of government-led submission to Jesus:

The [new Jerusalem, the eternal city of God ruled by Jesus, the Lamb of God] has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. The nations of the earth will walk in its light, and the rulers of the world will come and bring their glory to it. (Rev 21:24)

So how do we get from the former to the latter? Some folks say the only hope is for Jesus to come back bodily and blow those baddies to hell:

“You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery” (Ps 2:9)

Those who hold any hope for human agency to play a part in the transformation would say that we pray that God will give us godly rulers who will lead our society in righteous ways that allow the church to carry out its mandate to disciple the nations. Such folks don’t seem to find “Um, how’s it working for you?” a question worth answering.

The Quill Pig model is to withdraw – ever so respectfully and politely, but firmly – our tangible and intangible loyalty from rulers who plot against the Lord and give it to those who bring their glory into Jesus’ kingdom. One reason for this is that it’s the only way for the kings of the earth to bring into Jesus’ kingdom glory that is worth having.

To look at what this means, let’s begin with the prototypical king of the earth, Mao Zedong. If anyone has ever prepared for battle against Jesus, it is Mao. He began as a local guerrilla, which is to say, a the run-of-the-mill thieving, murdering, lying, hypocritical politician on steroids.

For those of you who don’t understand guerrilla war, this is how it works: in the name of empowering the little guy with health, education, and welfare, guerrillas show up in a village and tell the little guys there, “Give us food [or whatever] or die.” Now the little guys may or may not believe that the guerrillas can bring them a better life, but they do want to see at least one more sunset, so they give the guerrillas what they ask for. Then, after the guerrillas leave, the government shows up and punishes the little guys for “aiding and abetting the enemy.”

There is every reason to believe that this, in addition to raids on government supply depots and outright aid from the Soviet Union, is how Mao got his start. He eventually killed off most of his opponents and drove the rest out of the country. Once he had established himself as “the powers that be … ordained of God,” he headed a regime that killed more innocent people than any on record and enforced atheism at gunpoint.

Even ISIS is probably more humane than Mao was. Today everyone who is not ISIS considers ISIS’s policy of “convert, leave, or die” (with “leave” and sometimes even “convert” not always an option) as the epitome of barbarity, but if Mao took his predecessor Stalin as a role model, he preferred the even greater barbarism of torturing his victims into forced confessions to killing them outright. (See the account of Stalin’s treatment of Kamenev near the bottom of this.)

Whether we like it or not, he did provide every child in China with a school, a hospital, and future job security, so he can justly claim to have delivered on his promises, thus fulfilling the definition of government given in Romans 13 at least as well as did the government Paul had in mind when he wrote the epistle. If we take the Romans 13 view of government as the default, it is kings like Mao who will bring their glory into the new Jerusalem.

One wonders, however, what would cause a man who hates God as much as Mao did to turn his hard-won booty over to his, shall we say, behated. Will he do it because Jesus comes with legions of angels who can’t be machine gunned or blown up and waterboards him until he hands over the goods? Is this what is meant by the knowledge of the glory of the Lord filling the earth like the waters cover the seas? Or will he chicken out before it gets that far the way we do at tax time, sending in the tax forms before the IRS sends out its SWAT teams to roust us at two in the morning and haul us off to the Big House?

Or is God less interested in physical treasures than in true appreciation of his goodness, an appreciation that will manifest itself in voluntary, heartfelt giving before the threat of heavenly retribution comes over the horizon?

If so, I think he can get it from another king, one unlike Mao: C. Truett Cathy, head of Chick Fil-A.

Before I continue, I may need to head off a couple of objections. One might be that he underpays his employees. I actually don’t know what he pays compared to Walmart or McDonald’s – I suspect he pays less than Goldman Sachs – but I do know that I have been to Chick Fil-A a dozen or so times, and the employees all seem to personify the old Boy Scout Law: trustworthy, loyal, honest, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. They look to me like they enjoy coming to work and consider making us customers glad we chose to spend our money there. I would expect them to be working to move on to more lucrative pursuits as soon as possible, of course, but my guess is that any HR person who sees a long tenure at a Chick Fil-A on a résumé expects the applicant to know how to make both the customers and his employer happy.

Another objection might be that fast food is a blight on the world’s landscape, the haunt of second-class people. That may be, but it is also true that fast food places provide a place for people of modest means to be served – “For once I get to tell someone else what I want and expect to get what I ask for” – and to get out from under the labor of preparing meals. They can turn their toddlers loose on a playground where there are no friendly strangers in black sedans and eat food designed to make them want to come back for more some other time. Places like Chick Fil-A are meeting the needs, if only the felt needs, of the little guy.

And finally, I don’t know how happy their chickens are. I would like all chicken to be free range and organic, but I can’t afford it at home, let alone at a fast food place. If you’re a Vegan or from PETA, give yourself a point.

For all his faults, perceived or otherwise, C. Truett Cathy is a king bringing his treasure into the new Jerusalem. His most overt attempt to do so is the well-known policy of not opening on Sunday. This is an attempt to honor God’s words: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work” (Ex 20:9-10a).

(I emphasize “attempt” because the degree of success is open to question. Sunday is the first day of the week, not the seventh, and unless he uses neither electricity nor items made with steel or other materials produced by factories open on the Sabbath, he violates a strict interpretation of Ex 20:10b: “neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.” But that the attempt is sincere is not open to question.)

I think Truett Cathy is trying to show the world what it means to be a Christian, and I would argue that it is the glory of the Truett Cathys of the world that God is after. It is that kind of glory that will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea. If Jesus values the few coppers contributed by a poor widow more than the many shekels contributed by the rich, even if that money was earned honestly, how much more is he interested in treasures voluntarily given in exchange for high-quality service than in booty extorted by revenue agents?

Imagine a Truett Cathy paying his bills – and, infinitely more importantly, earning a hearing for the gospel – by educating disadvantaged children or providing health care or caring for the unemployed or the superannuated. Compare that with how Mao educated children and provided health care and cared for the unemployed and superannuated. Imagine how – and why – a Truett Cathy would protect homes from burglars and catch murderers and repair roads and deal with wannabe invaders. Compare that with our local police and highway departments and the diplomats who so arrogantly claim that they “serve and protect” us.

My prediction is that the fulfillment of the prophecy that the kings of the earth will bring their glory into the new Jerusalem will be preceded by the withering away of the state as we know it and the emergence of “kings” who act more like Truett Cathy than like Mao or any US president.

Why would anyone want it to be otherwise?

And if it’s not otherwise, how is the best way to get from here to there? Is it by joining or even encouraging the armed forces of the Mao wannabes or the cadres of the Truett Cathys?

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