Servants of God,
“Because your good girl’s gonna go bad…”
--Tammy Wynette (Country singer)
“For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder,
adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”
-Jesus (Matthew 15)
If you had known Joe as a boy, you likely would have thought he was a “good kid.” Smart and energetic, he had the potential to be quite a success. Ironically, good boy Joe grew into one of the most brutal and ruthless men in history. In just months, he went from promising student to a politician with the goal of absolute power. It took him years, but eventually he completed what came to be known as the “Great Purge” (also known as the “Great Terror”).
He was a creative liar. He made up stories about coups, insurrections—whatever served his purpose. His rivals did not stand a chance. Sergei Kirov was mysteriously shot dead at the Communist Headquarters in Leningrad. Though he fled to Mexico, a Spanish Communist assassin found and finished off long-time rival Leon Trotsky with an ice pick. With Trotsky gone, he was firmly in control. In his bloody wake he left millions either dead or imprisoned in the forced labor camps known as the Gulags. Along the way he had eliminated every known rival. He went so far as to decapitate the leadership of the Red Army killing 90 percent of the senior leaders. He dropped his last name and became known simply as “Stalin” (the man of steel). His other nickname was “the Priest.” Why?
It is not well-known that Joseph Stalin was a brilliant theological student who left seminary just as he was ready to sit for the final exams that would have qualified him for a life as a priest in the Russian Orthodox church. In fact, he spent ten years in theological training and was an outstanding student. He had studied the Scriptures, Greek and Latin, church history, church music and practical pastoral work. The only time his grades suffered (temporarily) was in his later studies when he became intrigued with the socialist movement that was bubbling up in Georgia. Good boy Joe fell for the myth of a socialist utopia. He spent the rest of his life trying to make that myth a reality.
I am not sure which myth is more damning. Is it the myth of the “good kid.”? Or is it the myth that “education is the key to making better people”? These myths both run strong in the stream of American culture. Of course, for a myth to work, it must seem plausible. It must have enough truth so that it “seems right”. This is why we are often aghast when some person we watched grow up turns into a monster. We too (unless we have a truly Christian worldview) can fall prey to myths and scratch our heads when we ought to have known better. Unless the human heart is made new by the power of God’s Holy Spirit, it is never truly changed. We would do well to consider the tale of a boy named Joe.
Now, let us turn our attention to the current situation in our nation. As in the days of the Russian revolution, there is a general undercurrent of anger and dissatisfaction on the streets of the United States. It can be rightly argued that the circumstances are quite different. We have no Czar, but there are some sobering parallels that merit our attention. Many of the current American rioters are kids from decent backgrounds. Many of them are college educated. They are “good kids” with bad beliefs. Just like Joe Stalin.
Since the time of Karl Marx, socialism in its various forms has promised utopia. In the Soviet Union we have an example of a “workers’ paradise” that proved to be paradise only for the likes of Lenin and Joseph Stalin—the good boy gone bad. The idea of a utopian society grounded in socialism has been proven unworkable and dangerous wherever it has been tried. It appeals to the carnal heart. Self-centered do-gooders long for it to work, but the USSR, China, Cuba, Venezuela and everywhere else it has been tried stand as testaments against its claims. Still, in 2021 groups like “Black Lives Matter” insist that “racist” America must be destroyed so a more just and equitable socialist state can take its place.
The United States of America arose when its founders put into place a form of government that banished myths. The myth that kings had the divine right to rule was banished. The myth that humans were basically good and needed no checks and balances was banished. And the myth that some men were inherently more entitled to the protection of the law was banished. This gave us a government shaped by Christian truths such as: 1) God is the supreme ruler of the universe and the grantor of inalienable rights 2) Men are created beings who deserve equal protection under the law and 3) Governments composed of fallen humans must always be constrained by checks and balances to keep any one person or any one group from gaining too much power.
A Christian world view will keep us from buying the myth of a socialist utopia. But it will also keep us from believing that injustice and oppression are to be tolerated. Americans have been fighting for and working toward racial reconciliation in a big way since the 1960s. The dream of men like Martin Luther King, Jr. and others have not been fully realized but daily, millions of Americans of all colors are working at making the dream a reality. I, for one, am tired of America receiving no credit for the massive strides our nation has made to form a “more perfect union.” There is much work to do, but the truth is that much good has been accomplished. Millions of black Americans have risen (through difficulty) to the heights of accomplishments in every field of endeavor imaginable. It is a shame to not recognize them.
America is in danger of perishing because we have believed myths and because people educated in our schools and colleges are actively trying to pull down the institutions that hold our society together.
The story of America is the story of hope. That hope is grounded in the belief that living under the authority of God is mandatory. God’s way is best. The way that seems right to humans always leads to death. The first right enumerated in the first amendment to our constitution is about religion, not speech or press.
It is not enough to produce good boys and girls. America can only be rescued by God graciously renewing the hearts of boys and girls who grow into responsible men and women. If God saves America it will come through the church once again proclaiming truth about a holy God, a sinful and fallen race of humans and a God-in-the-flesh savior who died as a substitute for the sins of fallen humans. The new birth Jesus spoke of in John 3 is the only way to truly changed hearts and minds. When you pray for America, pray that we will repent of our sins, and turn in faith to Jesus. We must learn to live as people with changed hearts, not merely as “good” boys and girls with “good” educations.