I recently picked up a podcast at the recommendation of a “Christian” who lives in my community. I have been, like Stowe and MLK, at loggerheads trying to figure out why many of the “Christians” I encounter are far more like the man of Deuteronomy 29 than the man of Psalm 1. Listening to the “Plodcast” has helped me understand the thinking of the Harlot, i.e. the false church, not because it is good theology, but because it is very bad theology. The specific podcast I assess below is #270, American Milk and Honey, found here.
I would much rather sit at a crowded table sharing a meal and ingenuous conversation, but the bad fruit of those who seek a fattened calf with strife has reduced me to embracing a spartan table of vegetables with only the hope of just-loving-kindness, and not yet its reality. Like Ezekiel and John, I have come to realize the need to expose the harlot for who she really is: an underhanded imposter who uses God’s name as a mask for her greed and idolatry. With Solomon, I have realized that while I desire unfailing love, “it is better to be poor than a liar.”
Deuteronomical blessing is not “milk and honey” or “make America great again.” It is not that love of self and love of money which has produced, in its wake, the oppression and dissension of our sickly, tormented nation.
The core of Deuteronomical blessing is at the core of Deuteronomy (16:20): “you shall follow justice and justice alone.” Christ Himself underlined this with the statement, “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice.”
Biblical justice is THE Blessing. It is inherently face-to-face, the “rendering of good due to another” (Prov 3:27), the ardent quest to “thoroughly investigate” another’s life before making judgement (Deut 13, 17, 19), a judgement which upholds the cause of the wronged, not the perpetrator who had the warped will and worldly means to inflict harm. Biblical blessing is thus NOT Milton’s Mammon, always casting his eyes downward at the golden streets of heaven (like Faulkner’s tortured characters), but looking upward in expectation of seeing God’s face and the faces of those “excellent ones in whom is all my delight.” The Law is THE how-to guide to love one’s neighbor, prohibiting the defacement of both neighbor and self, thereby affirming human nature, not denigrating it as modernity, including its visible church, has wantonly done. Biblical justice fills full the law as a “cup running over.” It’s fullness contrasts with the perforated, empty cisterns of the lawless Pharisees, who efface themselves by despising “the rabble” and embracing the dead idols of money, i.e. “milk and honey.”
Thus Jesus’ words in Matthew 23:23 affirm humanity by exposing the pharisees as lawless men who neglect the core of the Law: “justice, mercy (unfailing love), and faithfullness.” His rebuke starkly contrasts with the cold, institutionally faceless “rule of law” exercised by positions clothed with the robes, collars, suits, and uniforms, and the dominating men and women who wear them: clergy, elders, magistrates, and police. None of these positions nor their transient occupants HAVE authority; they are only IN authority insofar as they “follow justice and justice alone” by face-to-face interaction and thorough investigation. Of course, this works in all directions between any two human agents, and even apply to man’s interaction with animals and the rest of creation.
We will not resolve the injustice and pain of our wayward society by categorical imperatives or irresolveable dialectical struggles which base themselves on a notion of identity by contrast rather than communion. These faceless paradigms of Continental Rationalism only further the effacing of those who bear God’s image, doing so under the same tired, old rubric of “building the nation” by reducing men and women to a mere factor of labor, headcount in a church or political party, or demographic. Such dead philosophies bow and stoop like Nebo and Bel before the truth revealed in Christ’s parable of Lazarus and the rich man. The conversation between the rich man in torment and Abraham in communion contains none of the disparaging categoricals with which our society has been rife for centuries. Vessels for common use and vessels for noble use still share humanity through conversation, even in the disparity of heaven and hell. Dante, in his Inferno, clearly displays better understanding in the 14th century than citizens of “advanced” countries do in the 21st. The occupants of hell and paradise are better at face-to-face conversation than many moderns.
Til we have faces, and are able to behold the face of the plaintiff and the face of the defendent and see in them something of ourselves, we cannot resolve our injustice. Only when we see the face of the perpetrator (and not skin color or gender as categorical), can we, as Boethius instructed, see fitly to use the scalpel to perform the necessary surgery.
In contrast to the value of face-to-face, let us consider the relative value of what modernity’s “great” leaders tell us to strive for. This “great” nation is, in truth, only temporal dust (Isa 40). In contrast, each man or woman is a creature of endless time who is worth far more than many sparrows. Even the common sparrow is worth far more than any work (any idol) that human hands can produce–a majestic creation in itself and as the work of God. The God whose eye is on the sparrow is not impressed with our great national achievements. He values justice and mercy so much that He disdains not only sacrifice, but the temples and church buiildings men and women erect to impress themselves, others, and–most laughably–the God who will see to it that “not one brick is left on another.”
In the blessing of hungering and thirsting for justice, let us embrace yet another blessing: mourning. As Nehemiah 9 and Deuteronomy 29 indicate, investigating and repenting of the sins of the past is as important as repenting of the sins of the present. Let us then seize also this cup which runs over…
“Come and See,” say both Christ and Lady Wisdom.
See those widows and orphans created by the auction block of lawless slavery in Stowe’s, Douglass’s, and B.T. Washington’s writings. See the faces of the widows and orphans made by the Civil War, the bloody conflict which was God’s face-to-face repayment for making widows and orphans out of already oppressed slaves, and opressing them to the point of despair and death (Ex 22:21-23). See the tortured face of “white trash” in Faulkner’s writings, those ‘priveleged’ whites who were despised by the same Aristocrats who trampled ‘chattel’ slaves. Those same aristocrats are still at work despising and stirring up dissension between these two tortured groups. See the face of the California migrant workers in Steinbeck’s writings: Chinese, Mexicans, and displaced Oklahoma sharecroppers. See the face of our children, who are now so tortured by shallow categories made by “judges with evil thoughts,” that they wish to escape their own skin and gender, being convinced that the body God gave them is not only inherently evil because of their race or gender, but because it is infested with an inescapable “sinful nature” which brands them as ever filthy creatures who “surely deserve punishment because they’ve done something wrong.” How the blasphemous assertion of Porphyry that the body is evil has returned with vengeance in the dualism of “sinful nature!” See the faces of those who sit in pews, having been raised and trained to hopeless despair by the harlot’s religion of defacing deceit, now convinced that even those Christ has bought and made just are not just at all, and so cannot live by faith, but only by the management of “shepherds” who know what is best for them. How like to those harassed men and women of the first century and Ezekiel’s time–ruled by Pharisaical shepherds who despise and plunder the sheep!
One wonders how Christ could ever have a spotless bride dressed in garments woven by the “just acts of the saints” when saints, according to the harlot who projects her own warped ways on others, are so tainted with sin that pastors and elders must rule over them like so many “stupid and wayward sheep.”
Just as the guilt of the harlot was greater than the beast in the crucifixion of the Christ, so the guilt of the harlot today is greater than the beast which she has spurred over the backs of men, women, and children created in the image of God. That harlot’s dualistic “sin nature’ and suspicionism have merely served as means for unscrupulous and covetous men to gain a dominion that God has forbidden mankind: the domination of men and women (Gen 1, Ps 8, Matt 20 & 23).
Like her predecessor, whose Pharisaical men and women loved money and platform enough to trample widows, orphans, and the afflicted, the harlot of today is fixated on venial desires and sacrificial achievements vainly aimed at impressing man and God. With a heart as feeling as fat, she ignores the tragedies in her wake, fattening herself for the day of slaughter.
She does this despite God’s testimony of judgement clearly demonstrated in the Civil War. Lincoln himself warned us with his more than significant reference to judgement on Babylon in his second inaugaral address: “Just and true are the judgements of God.” For all the widows and orphans made by that bloody judgement, the harlot still insists that she is not a widow, and refuses the blessings of hungering and thirsting for justice, and mourning over injustice. How wretched she and her children are, who hunger for “milk and honey.”
Let her house be left to her desolate. Let her children, like that man of Deuteronomy 29, never be forgiven, but flee down “a dark and slippery path, with the angel of the LORD pursuing them.” Let the beast turn upon her who wantonly spurred it with raging lust for torture and trampling. Let it trample her. Let those two tired, tattered, and abject titans lock in their prophetic death match like the Midianites in the time of Gideon.
But let those who hunger and thirst for justice and mourn over injustice see the faces of the trampled. Let them shed tears and rend garments. Let them see their own faces in the faces of the trampled, for many of them are those weak and despised whom Christ has chosen for His own.
Let the just embrace the history of the Church, raised in the melting pot of Northern Africa, that place trampled by the feet of so many Cushite, Egyptian, Carthaginian, and Roman armies, and stained with the blood of those who not only represented various shades and colors of skin, but who had faces and names. The African Church, where Augustine, Tertullian, and so many others thoroughly investigated the Scriptures to overcome the dualists and gnostics, ought to hold sway in our hearts as that first glint light which announces the breaking of dawn–when those of every tongue, tribe, and nation will seek God’s face and acknowledge their Creator as the only source of light and life, as the “creator of all natures.”
Those who were brothers and sisters by faith, who sang their coded Spirituals to call upon the Judge of all the earth to arise and vindicate them, have fallen before the “milk and honey” covetousness of the harlot and the beast. Many of them descended from those who belonged to that early African Church. All are descendents of that one man in whom was all the seed of mankind. They are thus ours by a triple bond, an unseverable bond.
Let not the just one fret. Her redeption is drawing nigh. But let the just one live by faith, a faith which not only seeks God’s face, but the face of his neighbor. For God’s word does good for the just, even as it works destruction to the harlot, the beast and that city of Man constructed by and for the nothingness of Sin. The fruit of patient repentance and seeking justice is a treasure far greater than milk and honey: it is an exodus from this prison of unjust effacement, not primarily to a land of milk and honey, but to a crowded table of face-to-face communion. This was the hope of the ancients, and is still our hope: “Bring me out of this prison, that I may praise your name. The just will gather about me, for you will deal bountifully with your servant.”