The Law of the Jungle
Recently, I read of the following account:
Elephants and rhinos normally get along quite peacefully, though the elephant defends her calf against any hint of aggression. Once a baby elephant at a water hole near Tree Tops Lodge, in Kenya’s Abedare National Park, playfully approached a rhino. The rhino charged, sending the calf squealing back to its mother, and then the rhino sauntered off. The mother elephant was so enraged that she turned and attacked another rhino drinking nearby, sending a tusk into its chest. While tourists watched from the lodge’s terrace, the elephant then held the innocent rhino underwater with her forefeet until it drowned.
The Law of the Jungle is brutal. It is a law that essentially says, you can do whatever you can get away with. It is a law that says that you, the individual, and perhaps (but not always) your family is the only thing that is important. It is a law that permits one not only to hate his enemy, but also to turn on his friend if such is expedient. Power and survival are the sole virtues of the Law of the Jungle and one’s purpose in life is simply the gaining and preservation of power and the propagation of one’s own line. Sacrifice is meaningless unless it brings about that end. The strong survive; all others are merely in the way.
What struck me about this little account of the elephant and the rhinoceros was not only the brutality of the event where the mother enacts her revenge on an uninvolved bystander, but sadly, how often Christians act in much the same way when dealing with one another. True, we typically don’t drown people in watering holes, but how often we drown others with criticism, exclusion, or outright hostility. How often we follow the example of the Jungle and not the example of Christ in our personal dealings.
In the jungle, when one is offended, revenge is the response. There is no such thing as humility or grace, these things belong only to those who bear God’s image. And in the jungle, when revenge is handed out, there is always an escalation of aggression—even a minor offense yielding capital punishment as in this case. There, of course, are many who would point to the brutality of many of the Old Testament Biblical laws, but the concept of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is a principle that states that the punishment must suit the crime. One could not demand execution in response to a personal injury—in the jungle, as the account of the elephant and the rhino illustrates, death is common even for small crimes. It is not a matter of justice, but of severe vengeance served cold and bloody.
It should not be too surprising when non-Christians choose to follow the Law of the Jungle for philosophically they simply see humanity as a highly developed animal living under the same rule as our “cousins” in the animal kingdom. In addition, to really give grace to others, it requires that one have experienced it in a transforming way. And free grace is one of those things that really is unique to Christianity and to the way our God deals with us.
What grieves me is when I see professing Christians choosing to follow the Law of the Jungle instead of another law—the law modeled to us by Christ—is that they demonstrate that they don’t really understand what it is that Christ did on the cross. When Jesus hung upon the cross of Calvary, the man without sin, being judged as a sinner, his words were not that of vengeance, but he said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” The word we translate as “forgive” is the Greek word ajfi/hmi (aphiami), which means to pardon, forgive, or to release from legal obligation.
We owe a debt to God because we have broken his law. In addition, we owe a debt to God because we have inherited the unpaid debt of our fathers that have gone before us (Exodus 20:5, 34:7). This debt goes back to Adam (1 Corinthians 15:20-22). God is righteous and righteous justice is demanded for sin—we have inherited death and earned wrath. Yet, God chose to do something unheard of; he took the punishment for a group of people upon himself by sending his Son, Jesus Christ to die and bear his wrath in their place—a substitutionary work of atonement. To Christ’s work, we contribute nothing. Jesus has fulfilled the righteous demands of the law on our behalf and we vicariously benefit.
Who is the “we” that benefit? It is those who have been given new life by the Holy Spirit (John 3:3) and are thus drawn to Christ in faith. This is a work totally dependent on God and on his Grace, not upon who we are or what we might be capable of doing. Were it earned in any way or reliant on our works in any way, Grace would no longer be Grace (Romans 11:6). In theological terms, we refer to this as God’s act of election, an act which God chose before the foundation of the earth (Ephesians 1:4,11). We are spiritually dead in our trespasses against God (Ephesians 2:5) before this new life and thus, can do nothing to help ourselves, but are totally and absolutely reliant upon God’s Grace for this salvation. Grace is not favoritism, for favoritism demands that there is a reason one places his affections more so on one person than another; Grace is given where it is not deserved so that the giver of Grace is upheld. Who then is this body of grace-receivers? It is those who are born again believers in Jesus Christ—those who believe in their heart and profess with their lips that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior (Romans 10:9).
The sad thing is that so many who profess this betray their hearts when they refuse to show grace to others around them. If you are a professing Christian, you must understand that the bar has been set very high. Christ has shown infinite grace to you; you have an obligation to show grace to others around you. No, it is true that you and I are not capable of the intense level of grace modeled by Christ Jesus; we have been shown a grace that transcends all worldly experience. At the same time, as ones who have received grace that is transcendent we can yet strive for a grace that gives others a taste of the grace that can be found in Christ.
God is not asking you to show others something that he has not first shown to you in super-abundance; he is asking you to show grace to those around you that do not deserve it, who have offended you, and who have rejected the things that you stand for. He has also promised that he will not leave you on your own as you seek to do this, but that he will be with you in the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. The next time you are tempted to gossip, complain, slander, undermine, or get angry at another around you, make the decision to show them grace and shed love upon them instead of wrath (even where that wrath is deserved). If you want to see a change in the culture around us, take the lead not from elephants in the wild, but from Jesus Christ. Then step back and watch what God does through your witness.
 Cited from: Shreeve, James. Nature: The Other Earthlings. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1987. Pg 166.
Does Your Location Affect Your Religion?
Recently, I heard a challenge to Christianity that was worded like this: “The only reason you identify yourself as Christian is because you were born in America; if you had been born in Iraq, you would be Muslim and if you had been born in northern India, you would be Hindu—religion is nothing more than a cultural expression of morality.” The person making the challenge was Richard Dawkins, a popular atheist in our culture today. Though I had not heard that objection worded in the same basic way, I have heard this objection of Christianity before, and thought that I would like to pose a response from two perspectives.
The first perspective is purely a practical one, for I know that there are many nominal Christian parents that are essentially banking on this principle, hoping that their children will remain Christian (at least in name), while never truly training their children up in the faith. They think that of course, America is a Christian nation, so of course, my children will remain Christians all of their life. This not only exposes a faulty understanding of Christianity (as I will mention below), but it is a dangerous assumption, for America is becoming more and more of a secular, atheistic nation, and not a Christian one. Thus, some are estimating that as many as 80% of teenagers leave the church when they hit their college years, often without returning. Don’t get me wrong, many of them still think of themselves as Christian, but their Christianity has no bearing on the way they live their lives and for all practical purposes, they are secular humanists in practice and thought.
Furthermore, many of these children will openly reject Christianity because they see how self-serving, jaded, lazy, and corrupt so many churches have become. Many embrace the atheism of their college professors, but others are embracing false religions like Islam because they are attracted to the self-discipline and rigid lifestyle that such religions offer. We should not need to be reminded that one of the reasons that the Byzantine empire fell so easily to the Muslim expansion was due to the corruption and self-seeking nature of the church—people saw its weaknesses and rejected it as diseased and dying. Such an observation has been made of much of the church in America. Thus, it is not enough that we are actively pursuing the Christian faith, it is essential for us to recognize that our children must be actively pursuing the Christian faith as well.
That is the purely practical perspective, now for the theological one… While many religions may very well be simply cultural expressions of morality, Christianity, by definition, is different. For in Christ, we are called “new creations” (2 Corinthians 5:17)—in other words, we are changed from the outside in. Christianity is not a mere self-help program, it is a total change of lifestyle that can only be accomplished if one is supernaturally changed by God—we refer to this as being “born again” (John 3:3). This change is impossible to do for oneself, but God must effectively draw us to Christ as well (John 6:44). God draws us from the world, God gives us new life, and God makes us a new creation. This is more than mere morality, it is transformation. And, it is a transformation that takes place all over the world, even in countries where you can be put to death for claiming Christ as Lord and Savior.
The sad thing is that too many Christians simply treat Christianity as a self-help program, and when that happens, they do not live like new creations and Christianity becomes nothing more than a social norm—a norm that is quickly being redefined in America.