Reforming the Culture a Temporary Thing
“What is crooked cannot be straightened; what is receding cannot be ordered.”
When my wife and I first got married, our first house was what people call a “fixer-upper.” It was a home originally built in 1905 and while being structurally sound, it needed a lot of repairs and renovations. And, in many ways, it was a great learning experience for me as a “handyman” and my wife and I made it our home. One of the projects was to address the sagging joists on the east side of the house between the main floor and the upper floor. These were old, heavy oak joists that had bowed under the weight of time and years of life in the upstairs of the home. Overall, they weren’t too bad, but it created a noticeable sag and bounce in the upstairs of the house. So, I proceeded to acquire “floor jacks” and jacked the joists straight while also “sistering” new joists beside the old joists to add additional support.
There were two problems with the picture. First, in my lack of patience, I jacked up the old joists a little faster than I ought to have done…that was my error. The other problem is that the old oak joists had gained their sag slowly over a period of nearly 100 years and had conformed to a given shape (which included the bow). Further, the material that I used to sister the joists together was new pine, which is not nearly as strong as the oak. So, after all was done and the jacks were removed, it wasn’t long before the oak beams started sagging again and they pulled the pine beams along with them. Now, do understand, it was not as pronounced as before, but I imagine that in time, they settled back into their characteristic bow. That is just the nature of things.
And here is the point…in this fallen world that we live it, there is a tendency for things to fall apart, decay, rust, mold, and otherwise deteriorate. Entropy surrounds us in the cosmos and we grow frail and die. We may be able to do some things to mitigate the effects of deterioration — we renovate old homes, we take medicines to strengthen our old bodies, and we add preservatives to our foods so that we can store them for longer periods…but in the end, decay and deterioration wins. That is just the way it is in this fallen world. And to some people, that is depressing.
Yet, to the believer, who understands that the righteous live by faith, not our works, not our creations, and not by the orderliness of the natural world, there is hope. For while the creation is fallen due to Adam and Eve’s sin, God is not. And God sent his Son into this world to redeem a people for himself through faith, a faith that is divinely worked within us. And there is also in this found the promise of a new creation where the crooked will be made straight and things will no longer recede from order to disorder — entropy will be a thing of the past.
So, does that mean that we shouldn’t bother with trying to straighten that which is bet or to try and order that which is in decline — let it fall apart and then Jesus will fix it when he remakes the cosmos? No, absolutely not, that would be a most depressing response to the wisdom espoused here by Solomon. No, the church is called to be about the work of straightening in this world. We are to do justice as God teaches through Micah (Micah 6:8) and thus make laws that honor God and care for the poor and “bent” around us. Yet, we are to recognize two things. First, the unbending is ultimately a work that God is doing through us. The wrongs happen naturally, the “righting” of the wrongs is divinely worked through His agents. And second, we are to recognize that any reformations we make will not be eternal ones…they will be temporal and one day they will fall away…just like improvements and renovations done to old buildings (eventually the renovations will need renovating!). Thus, if we recognize that, perhaps we won’t take so much pride in that which we perceive ourselves to have done (remember, it is God working through us anyway!).
And so the bent cannot be unbent and the things falling away cannot be numbered. And, though we may, for a season, see some “unbending” of the society around us, it will only be for a season and that which we have buttressed will begin deteriorating again. Yet, that means we have our work cut out for us here on this earth (we wouldn’t want to grow complacent!) and we recognize that in time, to suit the glory of God, Jesus will return once again and make all things new (Isaiah 65:17; Revelation 21:5).