Chariots of Fire
Given recent days, with Boko Haram slitting the throats of Christians in Nigeria, Islamic jihadists murdering dozens of Britons as they sat with their children by the sea in Tunisia, and as the Humpty Dumpty logic of the US Supreme Court led to a decision legalizing same-sex ‘marriage’ in America – an act far more destructive of truth and liberty than a terrorist bomb – it would be easy to be utterly despondent as a Christian. However the truth of the gospel means we must not, indeed cannot, give in to fear, doubt or despair. Christ Jesus is Lord and King, and He was not surprised by egregious sins, declaring, “Woe to the world because of offenses. For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes” (Matt. 18:7). Neither the jihadist on the Tunisian beach, nor the five faithless judges on the American bench, with gown and gavel, will escape the woe pronounced by the Sovereign over all the earth.
The common thread uniting these assaults on life and freedom is man’s illegitimate claim to sovereignty. The word ‘sovereign’ comes from the Latin super (above), meaning that a sovereign is one who is above all, with an independent authority and jurisdiction. A sovereign is highest or supreme. Critically, the lord or sovereign is the source of law and lawmaker in any social order, for with sovereignty comes jurisdiction. In Scripture, the word for sovereign is translated as Lord – adonai in the Hebrew and kyrios in the Greek. We should not be surprised to find, then, that the most frequent designation for Jesus Christ in Scripture is that He is Lord! It carries with it the connotation of ownership, rule, authority and absolute sovereignty. In the Christian worldview the designation of sovereign can only be ultimately applied to Christ. All other rulers are subject to Him and His word (Ps. 2).
In Islam we have the antinomian and illegitimate assertion of sovereignty implicit in Mohammed’s claim to being a lawgiver (the sharia), or the vehicle of a new law, that contravenes the actual word of God as set forth by Moses and Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Not surprisingly Mohammed was a violent and bloodthirsty warlord who sought to extend his jurisdiction by force and impose sharia on all around him – conveniently receiving new laws as circumstances and his desires dictated. His claims to express a new sovereignty logically came with new law, and of necessity led to the notion of a caliphate (Islamic state sovereignty) and the dream of total power. Followers of this lawlessness therefore feel justified in slitting the throats of unarmed ‘infidels’ and murdering holiday makers by the sea, because sinful man has made himself sovereign and thereby the source of law with an independent authority and boundless jurisdiction. Slaying the infidel wherever you find him, as taught in Quranic law, is seen by many as simply obedience to sovereign law (Sura 2:216; 4:89; 9:29).
The US Supreme Court’s decision expresses in a different way, a like usurpation of sovereignty. The first edition of Encyclopedia Britannica 1771 defined law as “The command of the sovereign power, containing a common rule of life for the subjects.” When nine unelected lawyers take it upon themselves to redefine creation and God’s law in terms of their own will and desire, you have an implicit claim to sovereignty and lordship. They are playing at god and so defying the living God. It is inevitable that they too, as an arm of the humanistic state, will wage their ‘legal’ war against Christ, His church, and His realm. The beginning of all totalitarianism is the belief in human or state sovereignty, whereby men arrogate to themselves the power to define good and evil, right and wrong.
In both Islamic militancy and activist Western courts, we are witnessing war on the living God by means and application of illegitimate law and the usurpation of sovereignty. Such men and states (ISIS or USA) are not in fellowship with God in these actions. The Psalmist asks, “Can wicked rulers be allied with you, those who frame injustice by statute? They band together against the life of the righteous and condemn the innocent to death” (Ps. 94:20-21). Any individual, court or state that will not be ruled by the triune God is therefore a throne of iniquity that will band together against the righteous.
Yet whatever the machinations of wicked rulers, we must not fear nor be dismayed. Instead, we can say with the Psalmist, “the Lord has become my stronghold” (Ps. 94:22). When we are faced with enemies of the gospel from within and without, the temptation is fear, flight and retreat. But in Scripture we are reminded that, even if we feel defeated and alone, with the sovereign Lord, even one is a majority.
In 2 Kings 6 the king of Syria surrounds the city of Dothan seeking the life of Elisha. When Elisha’s servant gets up in the morning and sees the city surrounded by a sea of horse and chariot, he is terrified and cries, “Alas, my master, what shall we do?” Many Christians in the West today may utter a similar cry in the face of growing hostility. But Elisha says to him, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” This seemed like madness on the face of it – delusional thinking and ‘over-realized eschatology!’ How can Elisha say such a thing when a small and weak city is surrounded by so great a force? How can the church have confidence when evil seems to prevail and our numbers of faithful are diminished? Well, Elisha prays that the eyes of his servant would be opened to see a greater truth than is immediately visible, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” Scripture then says that the Lord opened his eyes to the unseen realm, “and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” God defeated the Syrians that day who had come to destroy the man of God. In like manner, St.Paul reminds us that “if God be for us, who can be against us” (Rom. 8:31).
In cultural moments like ours, it is easy to feel like we are surrounded by overwhelming force, as lonely as Elijah at Carmel upon the windswept mountainside, or Elisha in the besieged city of Dothan. But God is able to open our eyes to see that those who are with us are more than those who are with them! If we belong to Christ then the God of Elijah and Elisha is our God. The Lord of hosts is with us. Even one truly faithful man of God, by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, is enough to save a city.
Psalm 108 reminds us God has promised us with certainty that all the nations belong to Him and are under His sovereign sway. His law and gospel shall prevail whatever the appearance to the contrary. By our own strength we cannot defeat the spiritual darkness that is overwhelming our courts and corridors of power, for vain is the salvation of man. But we can say with David, “With God we shall do valiantly, it is He who will tread down our foes” (Ps. 108:13). Do not be afraid.
Christians must not give in to the temptation to despair in the face of loud, high-profile opposition to God and the Christian faith. The same is true for us as it was with Elisha, that the sovereign Lord is on the throne, and “those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (2 Kgs. 6:16).