Getting to the Root of the Matter

I want to head off the pervasive problem of mudding in the drywall in a house full of termites. What more could a friend do? If we want a decent house to live in, we must not fool ourselves about the nature and extent of the damage.

The Pesky Termite

The particular pest that weakens the structure of our wellbeing is paganism. Ross Douthat, in a New York Times article called “The Return of Paganism,” identified paganism as the belief that divinity is fundamentally inside the world rather than outside it, that God or the gods or Being are ultimately a part of nature rather than and external creator, and that meaning and morality and metaphysical experience are to be sought in a fuller communion with the immanent world rather than a leap toward the transcendent.”

Peter Jones has signaled the same warning, “The rising generation is the first generation of our modern era to receive a fully developed neo-pagan cosmology masquerading as the correct view of history and demanding to be inscribed in public policy. It is indeed a well-worked out cosmology about the nature of existence. And it is thoroughly pagan.” 

Such a termite really chaws the bark, and in quite a different way than your run-of-the-mill Rationalist or Postmodernist. If you find these creepy-crawlies around, you want to tent the house, posthaste. Consider the following parable.

Trouble at the Cozy Coffee Corner

Once there lived a Christian and a Rationalist who carried on a cordial conversation downtown at their favorite coffee shop. They had found a way to get along in spite of their differences and regularly visited the particular spot. Not one brick had been thrown in the place; all the windows were still intact. Their conversation centered on why the blue chair at the entrance to the shop was indeed blue. The Christian insisted that it was so because God made it so. God sustained it as such, the Christian explained, and he and his friend could grasp said blueness because God revealed it to them. The Rationalist, thoroughly convinced of the blueness and chairness, claimed that his Christian acquaintance need not hang the matter on any deity, or shimmy up a revelational ladder to anchor the point. “It is self-evidently blue,” the Rationalist explained, “leave it at that.”

About that time, the Postmodernist came in off the street. Overhearing the conversation, he went to telling his narrow-minded coffee companions that the chair might be blue to them. Still, it was red to another, and to the lady in the corner it might even be a yellow table. Needless to say, things were getting a bit warm in the shop; the barista went to biting her fingernails, seeing the gathering storm. She was not prepared for the entrance of the Pagan. 

The Pagan entered. Planting himself in their midst, he said with a will, “Men, you are all wrong.That is a pink elephant, and you will all acknowledge it to be a pink elephant or off to the gulag with you!” The barista, ascertaining the threat had some teeth, quietly went about making a caramel latte. The Rationalist, a good deal troubled, inched his way toward the Chrisitan. The Postmodernist responded, “Hey man, take it easy. You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. . .” at which point he was swiftly backhanded by the Pagan, remaining silent thereafter as an elephantine transformation of the furniture began to take shape before his very eyes. 

Sitting by the window was a seminary student visiting with the president of his institution. He was quite confident the object in question was a blue chair. But, he got all turned around in his head thinking, “Who am I to say that God could not reveal the blue chair to this Pagan as a pink elephant. And if indeed God has, then would not love necessitate carrying along as if it were while knowing it is not?” The seminary president across the table knew the absurdity of the situation full well. But he also knew the Pagan had access to his tax-exempt status, so he simply went on nibbling his orange scone without comment.

The development illustrated in the story above is an important one to get a handle on. There is quite a progression there. And understanding where we are will help us not paper over our problem.

Idol Factories

Evangelicals know John Calvin’s phrase about idols quite well, “man’s nature is a perpetual factory of idols.” But, we have forgotten that once people have crafted their idols, they will start sacrificing to them, and not only in their hearts and minds. They will require you to sacrifice to them, and not only in your heart and mind. It is not whether but which. It is not whether you will have a god of the system, but which god you will have. It is not whether you will have all of Christ for all of life, but which christ you will have for all of life

So many Americans did not see it coming, but a good number of them now know it is here. They have a strong distaste for the bowl of soup they’re being served and exclaim as if they were sons of the prophets, “O thou man of God, there is death in the pot” (2 Kings 4:40)! Now that we are coming to our senses, we must remember that one does not cleanse the poisoned pottage by removing a few unsavory pieces. You do not destroy the factory of idols by throwing some of the figurines into the river. Things are bad all the way down to the root. And if we would have peace, then we need to deal with the root. Here is where the good news comes in.

The Root of Jesse

In the context of the Assyrian judgment, the prophet Isaiah speaks of a forest destroyed. He prophesies that God’s Holy One, “shall consume the glory of his forest, and of his fruitful field” (Isaiah 10:18). Later in the chapter, we hear, “Behold, the Lord, the LORD of hosts, shall lop the bough with terror: and the high ones of stature shall be hewn down, and the haughty shall be humbled. And he shall cut down the thickets of the forest with iron” (Isaiah 10:33-34). 

But, there among the ashes of charred forest, Isaiah immediately adds, “There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots” (Isaiah 11:1). Christ is that root—”And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious” (Isaiah 11:10). Christ is the good news. He is the tent for the termite-infested house, the peace for the coffee shop, and healing for the scorched woodland. So double underline it and mark it with highlighter: There will be no reformation without Him.

It is not for nothing that Isaiah hangs everything upon this Root of Jesse, “the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD” (Isaiah 11:2). It is because of Him that “the wolf also shall dwell with the lamb. . . the nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole, [and] the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:6, 8-9).

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