The Wrong Side of History
A lot of people are very concerned about being on “the wrong side of history” these days. They’re terribly worried about being “stuck in the past” and spend a lot of time thinking about how they can be assured that they will be remembered by historians as being on the “right side” when it’s all said and done.
It’s easy to sympathize with this. Historians are fond of quoting the phrase “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”, and they’re right. It is wise to learn from the past and do what we can to not replicate our mistakes.
- Boat builders and sailors should look at the Titanic tragedy and try to figure out ways to build better ships and avoid hitting icebergs.
- Architects should look at the Tower of Pisa and learn the importance of building a proper foundation.
- Canada’s Lockheed Martin and US’s NASA should remember the time they built a $125 million dollar Mars Orbiter together but got their inches and centimetres mixed up and losing it in space.
- Engineers should look at Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima and learn how to make better Nuclear plants.
- Governments should remember the Exxon-Valdez and Deepwater Horizon and figure out ways to keep oil companies from spilling millions of gallons of oil.
Those are pretty universally accepted errors that we all agree shouldn’t be repeated, but it gets sort of dangerous when people start to do this with more nuanced and complicated things like geopolitics, human relationships, and religion. People look back at evils that have occurred in the past by people like Hitler and Josef Mengele, groups like ISIS or the KKK, or times like the Slave Trade, the Inquisition or the Salem Witch Trials, and try to figure out where to draw the lines so that never happens again.
The problem is that it’s one thing to figure out how to build a better cruise-ship or power-plant, but it’s completely another thing to try to figure out how to stop people from committing acts of evil because of their prejudice, fear, hate or pride. But that doesn’t stop people from trying.
I went to Google News and typed in the phrase “wrong side of history” and came up with thousands of hits. Commentators, politicians and social justice warriors are particularly fond of telling those they disagree with that they are on “the wrong side of history”. Obama does it all the time, Trudeau uses it, university professors use it, and sports commentators use it. It came up during Brexit and during the discussions of the missing aboriginal women and Black Lives Matter. It was used to push for LGBT rights and to explain the rise of Donald Trump. It’s even seen as a reasonable reason for senate reform in Canada. (This video helped a lot.)
It seems there’s almost no situation in which that argument doesn’t work because it’s an easy way to look at whoever you disagree with and say, “Listen, you’re going to lose eventually, so why don’t you just give up now and agree with me. It’ll save you a lot of time. You don’t want to be remembered as someone who was on the other side of this issue when we finally win, do you?”
It reminded me of all the scenes in Star Wars when one character argues with another and drops a line about “their destiny”.
- Ben tells Luke that even though he doesn’t want to, he has to confront and kill Vader because it’s his destiny.
- Darth Vader uses it when trying to convince Luke to come to the Dark Side. “It is your destiny. Join me, and together we can rule the galaxy as father and son.”
- The Emperor tells Luke that turning to the Dark Side is unavoidable. It’s his “destiny”.
Now, Star Wars is a fictional movie, but saying “You’re on the wrong side of history”, sure sounds to me a lot like “Join me, it’s your destiny.”
But it goes even deeper. When most people use this to defend their favourite cause, they’re not just trying to predict the future, but in fact making a judgement call on the present. Anyone who disagrees with them is not only morally wrong but foolish and anti-intellectual. Most of the time these people will use words like “science” and “logic” and “democracy” and “feelings” and “common sense” to support their side, and anyone who disagrees with them is anti-science, anti-logic, anti-democracy, uncaring and idiotic. And why would anyone want to be on that side? It’s the losing side. As I heard one person say this week, Using the “wrong side of history” argument is a way to “steamroll the future with the wheel of history.”It’s the way to call for the pre-emptive surrender of anyone who disagrees with you – and it is working. A lot of Christians, unfortunately, believe this argument.
- They look at the past and don’t want to be labeled a hater or a bigot, so they don’t challenge anyone on anything.
- They see wrong happening, but don’t want to be labelled a religious zealot or a fundamentalist, so they turn away.
- Some Christians look at parts of scripture that make strong moral claims about family structure, human sexuality, the afterlife, or the exclusivity of Jesus – but have been told about all the times that the church has been wrong throughout history, and decide that this must be one of those times, and therefore decide to go along with whatever popular culture is saying instead, because they don’t want to be on the “wrong side of history”.
Ironically, as much as people like to use not wanting to be on the “wrong side of history” as a way to vindicate their action or inaction towards whatever situation they like, I actually don’t disagree with the whole concept. Yes, I think it’s often misapplied, and that it’s wrong to use science and democracy and feelings to try to decide any number of issues, but the concept of there being different “sides” when all is said and done is actually true. The Bible is quite clear that history does have an inevitable trajectory. We really are going somewhere and there really will be a definitive end in which people will find out if they were on the “right side” and the “wrong side”.
Open to 1 Corinthians 2:6-9 and let’s read it together:
“Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’…”
If you recall, Paul has just spent a bunch of time explaining why he doesn’t rely on human strength and worldly arguments when he preached the gospel to them, but he wants to make something perfectly clear: it’s not because wisdom is either unimportant or unattainable. In the next verse he says that there are times that he does spend time “imparting a secret and hidden wisdom from God”, but it is only to a certain group of people – the “mature”. The implication is that the Corinthians aren’t.
Remember the context. The Corinthians fancy themselves to be super-spiritual, cosmopolitan, open-minded, modern, wise and knowledgeable people. They loved nothing more than being thought to be intellectual elites and wanted nothing more than the secret knowledge that led to unique spiritual experiences that few people have.
They loved to listen to the “wisdom of this age” and “the rulers of this age” and add it to all the things they’d learned about Jesus. They were treating the gospel as one of many teachings and felt they could improve it by connecting it to other teachings that sounded good. We’ve talked about this before.
- “Salvation through Jesus is great, but what if we add obedience to the Law of Moses, or the teachings of Plato, or a few of the gods of the pantheon.”
- “Christian worship services are nice, but what if we added some of the drunkenness, gluttony and ritual sex from the other temples – then it’d be even better!
- “We don’t understand what it means that Jesus is fully God and fully man, and everyone else believes that flesh is evil and gods can’t die, so let’s just say that Jesus’ physical body and crucifixion was an illusion and then everyone is happy! (Gnosticism/Docetism).”
This way of thinking led them into all kinds of trouble! Instead of growing more mature in their faith, they actually went backwards. They ended up encouraging sin, dividing the church, forgetting the gospel, denying the authority of the apostles, and falling into drunkenness and sexual perversion – among other things.
They went from Christians who loved Jesus and followed His word, to idiotic children who were only living for what they thought and felt was right. Their thoughts and feelings were of paramount importance. Regardless of what Paul had said, Jesus had said, God had said, if it didn’t agree with their thoughts and feelings, they would forget about it or change it. They would assume that their thinking and feelings were a passage to “secret wisdom” that would lead them to a new and better relationship with God, a deeper worship, a stronger salvation, a better experience of grace, a more profound level of love and hope – but it didn’t. It just made them selfish and immature.
Acting Like Children
They weren’t acting like mature adults but like children. They hadn’t grown in the faith but had regressed into infantile, selfish, foolish way of thinking. Consider the contrast between babies and adults.
- Babies live in the moment. Adults learn from history and plan for the future.
- If a baby feels hungry or dirty or uncomfortable, they cry until it’s fixed. An adult, like a parent or soldier for example, has learned to put aside their own desires for the sake of greater good.
- A baby will put everything they can get their hands on in their mouth, even if it will hurt them. An adult has learned to question their environment, that some things are best left alone, and to be careful.
- A baby requires someone to feed them and a toddler would eat treats for every meal because they taste good. An adult has learned that they have to eat more than just the things they like, but seek out the things they need.
- A baby cannot withstand much sickness or danger, and must be protected. An adult will actually seek out places of sickness and danger so they can do some good there.
It’s the same with personal and spiritual maturity, isn’t it?
- An immature person, needs constant attention, and so they post pictures and videos so they can get validation. Women and girls exploit themselves and men and boys do all manner of idiotic things in the name of getting “likes” and “having an experience”.
- An immature person will look at a complex problem – human sexuality, terrorism, religious differences – and come up with a simple answer. “Just get rid of gendered bathrooms – then everyone will be safe and happy.” “Just teach terrorists to be friendlier.” “Just get rid of religion or have everyone agree on one religious belief and then no one will hate each other.” They’ll think it’s terribly wise, but they are actually just fools.
- An immature person will be presented with a problem – poverty, inequality, racism – and instead of being mature enough to start dealing with the problem, will either lash out like a toddler having a tantrum at the grocery store or simply cry until someone fixes it. Sure, they do it through social media or protests, but it’s often merely tantrums that do nothing to address the problem and merely brings attention to the individuals staging the protest.
Paul says, “…among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away”
Calling out the immature and challenge people to maturity is a common theme in Paul’s writing, especially to the Corinthians. Skip forward to chapter 3:1 and we read, “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?” In 14:20, “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.”
“But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?”
In 14:20, “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.”
After writing some incredible theology explaining some things about Jesus, the writer of Hebrews says this, “About this we have much to say, and it is hard to
“About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:11–14)
These Christian teachers wish they could address the followers of Jesus like mature adults, but they can’t because they won’t understand. They’re not just immature in the faith, but are acting out their immaturity to the point where they aren’t even acting like “spiritual people”. They ought to be mature enough to be teaching others, but instead are acting like unrighteous, non-Christian, immature, children.
Doomed to Pass Away
Paul is careful to remind them that the “wisdom” he wants to teach them, and which he does teach the mature, isn’t the “wisdom of the age” that they are so fond of. He doesn’t get his content from the “rulers” or “authorities” around him because that wisdom is “doomed to pass away”. In other words, it changes. In other, other words – Paul doesn’t want to depend on human wisdom, no matter how good it sounds because then he would be — (wait for it) – on the wrong side of history.
If he was to glean his opinions about morality, salvation, God, worship and eternity from the “rulers of this age”, meaning the teachers and leaders around him, then he would be teaching something that is “doomed”. It’s doomed because human teaching is inconsistent.
Why? Because the “rulers of this age” are spiritually immature people coming up with things for immature reasons. They make policy, write articles, pen books, author blogs, choose leaders, the way a baby would – by how they feel, by what brings them pleasure, by what takes the pain away fastest, by what hurts the bad buy most, by that which seems simplest and easiest.
But their conclusions are based on changeable things like culture and societal norms. They do the science, take the vote, and analyze the past, but end up drawing wrong conclusions, and then project those errors into the future.
I read an article a while back that talked about two fictional men living in two different contexts, both experiencing the same “urges”. One man was from our modern context, while the other was a Scandinavian Viking from 1000 years ago. Both men have deeply violent hearts, love the site of blood, and can’t wait to run someone through with their sword – especially monks. At the same time, they both experienced same-sex attraction.
The Viking society affirms his violent tendencies, allows him to express his feelings, calls him a “berserker”, and sends him off to kill monks, celebrating him as a great man and warrior. But that same society tells him to suppress his homosexual urges and refuse to act on them, ostracising anyone who says otherwise. And the man agrees. “This is who I am, I will do that. This is not who I am. I will suppress that.”
The modern Canadian man has the opposite situation. When he declares himself to be attracted to other men, he is encouraged to explore those feelings and celebrated in his community. However, when it comes to his desire to commit violence, spill blood, and kill monks, his society calls him sick, urges him to suppress those feelings, tells him not to act on them, and to get into counselling to change his feelings. And the man agrees. “This is who I am, I will do that. This is not who I am. I will suppress that.”
Which society is right and why? Are we right because we’re 1000 years in the future? Because we’re not Scandinavian? A while back Justin Trudeau was asked why it was so important for his cabinet to have gender equality. His simple answer was “Because it’s 2015.” So what? There are a thousand better answers than stating the date as though it was conclusive evidence for why men and women are both eligible for positions in government.
But people around the globe ate it up! Stating the year was a perfectly good reason for doing his decision. Why? Because they believe his position is on “the right side of history”, and therefore that’s enough. However, it was also 2015 in Afghanistan, and Iraq and Pakistan and Sudan – and women are treated terribly there. His reasoning, though popular, actually made no sense.
The point is this: trusting our culture, times, democracy, scientific research, public opinion, feelings and opinions are a terrible way to gain maturity and godly wisdom. Times change, culture changes, feelings change.
How Wrong They Got It
The experts, the “rulers of this age”, who all want to be on the “right side of history” get it wrong – a lot. How wrong?
Paul says, they get it so wrong that when the perfect, sinless Son of God came to them, they killed Him.
“None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’…”
It was the politicians and religious and legal experts – those who should have known best by their great worldly wisdom and learning – that rejected and condemned Jesus to the cross. Why? Because they weren’t listening to God’s Spirit or His Word. They were acting like immature children, driven by their feelings of jealousy, pettiness, and fear. They refused to subordinate their own ideas and listen to God’s wisdom, and ended up committing the greatest sin humanity has ever committed. And they did it with huge crowds cheering them on, backed by the most powerful government on earth.
- The Pharisees hated that Jesus was more popular than them and that He had greater power.
- Judas was annoyed that his prize was taking too long.
- Pilate just wanted the annoyance to end and the quickest way was to kill the innocent man. It was all immature “wisdom of this age”.
Sure, they had great reasons in their minds for why they were doing it – but they were on “the wrong side of history” when they killed Jesus.
Conclusion: Pursue Maturity
And so, I conclude this morning with this. Oftentimes, God’s will and wisdom is “secret and hidden” from us. It can only be discerned and heard by people who are mature. In fact, for the immature, the “secret and hidden wisdom of God”, and all the things that “God has prepared”, are impossible to hear. They can’t hear it. They won’t understand.
And so, God tells us that if we want to understand what He is doing, what He’s done, and what He will do, then we need to pursue maturity. This passage marks something of a turn in the letter to the Corinthians where Paul is going to start confronting them with things they need to understand and change in order to become mature people who will embrace wisdom so they can understand what God is doing.
And so, my simple encouragement to you is this: pursue maturity. Put down childish things and grow up. Walk with God, listen to Him, read His word, practice discipline, get on His page. Do the hard things that Christianity asks you to do. Why? So we can have His heart and be in step with Him.
I see it this way. If there is one Being we don’t want to be on the “wrong side” of, it’s God, so I’d better do all I can to find out what He thinks about things. I don’t care what people say about us being on the wrong side of history. I don’t care about how they will think of me in 10, 50, or 1000 years. There is only one Judge that I care about – Jesus Christ, the author of history and the final throne by which we will all stand. And I want to make sure I’m on the “right side” of Him.