I’m personally not quite ready to stick a fork in America. I’ve heard the “American decline” hue and cry before. I heard it when I was a kid and the Soviets were the first to put a man in space. We were falling hopelessly behind, the experts said. Soviet domination was right around the corner. A decade or so later America sent six separate missions to the moon and landed 12 Americans there, the only nation ever to manage that feat. In the final years of the 1970’s President Jimmy Carter told everyone in our nation that we needed to lower our expectations, essentially saying America’s decline meant we couldn’t keep up. The Reagan years proved he couldn’t have been more wrong. In the 1980’s it was Japan that was the powerhouse that would surpass us. Then came the boom of the 90’s and a disastrous decline in Japan. So I’ve heard this before, only to find that when the dust settled America was still standing.
They have no doubt that Christianity is the engine of the success of western civilization. This was not some Christian leader. The Academy of Social Science is an arm of the Chinese communist government. It is a curious twist that the Chinese government still oppresses Christians and is actively trying to destroy the Christian church in China, yet its experts are arriving at the conclusion that the power of the West, and particularly America, derives from its Christian heritage. There’s a possible buttress of this argument in China itself. The city of Wenzhou is regarded as the most entrepreneurial city in the country. Half a century after Chairman Mao declared it to be “religion free” Wenzhou is home to some 1400 churches. In his book Ferguson quotes a prominent Wenzhou business leader, a Mr. Hanping Zhang, who argues that “an absence of trust had been one of the main factors holding China back; but he feels he can trust his fellow Christians because he knows that they will be honest in their dealings with him.” Oh the irony.
Among the intelligentsia and the media elites in our nation, Christianity has for quite some time been seen as quaint and outmoded. That is no longer true. The spirit of our current 'pc' group-think is considerably more malignant when it comes to the Christian faith. It now views our faith almost as an evil to be eradicated. How ironic that they do not realize they are like people sitting in a tree, sawing off the very limb they are resting on. Some highly regarded and very intelligent people in China can see it, but so many “smart” people in our country are blind to that reality. Professing to be wise they became fools.
The book of Proverbs says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). It tells us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6). These are proverbs, statements about what is generally true in life. They tell us that when we trust God, do things his way not our way, the results will typically be good. I do not think that’s a promise that everyone who trusts in God will become fabulously successful and wealthy. But I do believe it says that the way to a truly successful life is to lean not on our own understanding, but on God’s. When that perspective forms the foundation of a culture it will “make the paths straight” for that culture. I believe that is what has occurred in the West and especially in our nation. Some at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences have come to that same conclusion.
Many in the USA would scoff at that assertion. But isn’t it interesting that some intelligent people in China have arrived at that conclusion after years of study? Too many Christians will rant and rave that we have to take back our country from the limb-sitters who are cutting off the branch they rest on. I don’t think that’s the right way to respond to this situation at all. This is not about power. We cannot force people to “fear God” nor can we legislate acknowledging him in all our ways. Those are things that must come from the heart. Our nation’s elites think the way they do because they start by refusing to acknowledge God or give thanks to him (see Romans 1:18-23). We certainly should tell people the truth, whether they want to listen or not. But what is more effective and more hopeful is that we must pray for a work of the Holy Spirit in our land. It is only through the power of the Spirit that people will have their eyes opened to the truth. Meanwhile we should continue to provide an example for others of what it means to acknowledge God in all one’s ways by doing that in our own lives. Perhaps if they see it they’ll believe it.
What this little nugget of information from China did for me was first to affirm the confidence that I have in God’s Word. I didn’t really need that affirmation, but it’s always nice to have that kind of confirmation from other sources and it provides a data point for me to pass on to others who do not believe. But second, as I said at the outset, it provided me with the enjoyment of some great irony. Perhaps I am a little perverse and a bit of my fallen nature is peeking through, but I find it kind of funny to watch people stubbornly insist on spitting into the wind after you have warned them that the result will be unpleasant. That is precisely what many in our culture are doing. I’m going to have the right at some point to say, “I told you so,” which we all know is a deeply satisfying experience. The only problem, I guess, is that I happen to be sitting next to those people on the branch they are so diligently seeking to saw off. Their foolishness will affect me. Hmm, that’s not quite so funny. However, at the end of the day we come back to God’s sovereignty once again. What makes me able to be at peace as I watch this comic irony play out is that I have the right to pray and ask God to work and as I do so I can be at peace with his eternal plan for this world. God is moving and bringing about his purpose for everyone and everything in this world, and our ability to be at peace is founded in that, not in our ability to keep powerful people from pursuing foolish paths that will have predictably unpleasant consequences.