For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5 New International Version)
We’ve all heard the expression, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” I’m sure many have thought the phrase was just a polite aphorism. Some might even argue that it’s a relatively silly idea in the light of our increasingly violent culture. “After all,” they might say, “if there is an active shooter at the mall, (like there was just yesterday at our own local mall), I want a handgun to defend myself; not a Mont Blanc.”
Setting aside the challenges we face in our society with public shootings, the pen truly is mightier than the sword, and the expression captures more than the idea of choosing a peaceful solution over a violent one. What is really meant is that, in the long-term, ideas will claim more victories over a nation, a society, or a people than war ever will. Why? Because ideas are powerful – far more powerful than political leaders or even the armies they control. In fact, it has been ideas that have captured the imagination of various subjugated peoples throughout history, causing the tide to turn against the tyrants that controlled them. Ideas brought down the Iron Curtain with relatively little bloodshed. Ideas have consequences – either for good or evil.
Having spent much time now studying worldviews, I have come to realize that possibly the most powerful people in any society are its philosophers. I don’t necessarily mean ivory tower intellectuals. Philosophers can be anyone with a platform who has influence: entertainers, talk show hosts, sports personalities, etc. In fact, now, with social media leveling the playing field in the free marketplace of ideas, nearly anyone with a clever approach and a message can influence the culture. This can be frightening since seldom do those listening to these voices of influence stop to check the accuracy or the viability of the ideas they are hearing. Uninformed opinions can get a quick following and exert pressure on leaders overnight. We’ve seen public policies altered and cultural pressure exerted over issues like gender identity which fly in the face of everything we know about genetics. This is because we’ve entered a time when feelings dominate facts and the cultural mood can seemingly turn on a dime with the rapid spread of information through social media and internet newsgroups. In this hypersensitive climate, feelings become the sail caught by the wind of ideas carrying us whithersoever they will. All one needs today is a cause, a little outrage, a claim of injustice, and a new movement is begun that may very well gain momentum, regardless of its connection with truth.
Andrew Fletcher once famously said, “Let me make the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws.” He was saying then what we are now, that the one who traffics in ideas will ultimately control the direction of a nation. It also demonstrates that politics is downstream of culture. Once an idea, or set of ideas, has been embraced by society, or even a very vocal and vociferous minority, politicians will play to the crowd and pass legislation which reflects the current cultural mood. They will do this to stay in office, but also because they too are a part of that culture being influenced by its most strongly promoted ideas. However, because these ideas come and go according to what is trendy at the moment, the mores of the nation are constantly in a state of flux as newer ideas and values supplant the old at an alarming rate. This is well illustrated by the rules of political correctness which change so quickly and so frequently that even the most socially sensitive safe-space seeker can’t keep up with the latest list of trigger words and culturally inappropriate phrases and expressions. Everything is changing so fast that it reminds one of a time-lapsed outdoor video clip where the hues vary every second or so with the changing positions of sun and clouds. What else can explain how things that were taboo even a few years ago are being promoted as socially acceptable today?
Interestingly, in the fight to protect everyone’s interests, our society has created even more division as they stumble over themselves to keep from offending anyone. Now, male athletes who are competing as women have overturned a century or more of work by women fighting for equal rights. By constantly moving the reference point of what is “morally right,” we create absurdity after absurdity, redefining everything from marriage to gender to fairness, and it may very well get worse before it gets better. Attempts to normalize aberrant and abhorrent behavior like pedophilia are more frequent as more and more progressive social warriors feel the need to justify all lifestyles to keep their own choices acceptable. These changes are all happening so quickly that we forget that the 5 to 4 Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage occurred only four years ago. That small hole in the dam of our nation’s moral conscience gave way to a flood of social and cultural redefinition, and the waters have not settled yet. I have to believe by now that even the strongest promoters of this societal change must be exhausted from trying to keep up with it all. In fact, I think that this hand may have been so over-played that a backlash is likely to occur.
We live in an ordered universe. In fact, I believe the Bible teaches us that the God whose immutable physical laws govern the moving of the planets has hardwired His moral law into the universe as well. Paul tells us that the awareness of both of these realities are in our makeup: the innate realization of a God who created the physical universe (Romans 1:20) and the awareness of his moral order (Romans 2:14-15). We instinctively seek to justify ourselves when we do what we know is not right, despite our society’s best efforts to declare that all morality is subjective. No matter how long and loud modern philosophers and social architects try to push this idea of moral relativism, our society cannot get over the sense of guilt and shame. The reason for this is that neither guilt nor shame are mere social constructs. They are a reality of our fallenness. We’ll get back to that in just a moment.
First, I think it’s important to talk about the subtle way in which ideas take root. It can be almost imperceptible. We know to guard ourselves against the armed intruder, but ideas come at us in a different way. They stealthily slip in through our environment, our upbringing, education, peers, and, of course, media and entertainment. In fact, we could almost say that an idea is like a virus that is often caught. We never consciously bought into it. It just became a part of the way we think due to constant exposure. Suddenly, the Christian student raised all his life in church comes home to announce he’s now an atheist. Why? He was bombarded with ideas from which he had no immunity.
Insufficiently grounded in the truth, he became exposed and succumbed without so much as a fight. “Besides, NO ONE believes in those old, antiquated ideas anymore,” as if truth soured with age, like nonperishable goods that have passed their sell-by date.
Like the strongholds Paul addressed in our text at the top of this article, our society has been taken captive behind walls of deceit authored by the father of lies. These belief systems go deep, but they are not impregnable. Built on a faulty a foundation, these ideas will never fully answer the need of the human heart for reality. They will never be able to supply the answers for our deepest questions related to meaning, purpose, or worth. They will never relieve us of the guilt we feel, despite the promised absolution moral relativism pretends to offer. Only the gospel can do these things. It was at the cross that the very embodiment of truth and goodness became the object of God’s wrath to provide our pardon, conveying on us a worth and value no worldly ideology can offer. The unity we seek through our failed attempts at social reconstruction can only truly be met in the new identity we find in Christ, as we are reconciled with God and with one another though a union that transcends our natural distinctions while preserving our uniqueness as creatures made in God’s image.
Truth is eternal; not necessarily trendy. Truth does not care which political party one belongs to or which celebrity takes issue with it. Truth does not pander, swinging to the right or the left or back and forth with the cultural winds. It falls like a plumb line, exposing ideas as right or wrong, using God’s immutable nature as the standard of measure. In time, the ideologies of this present age will be exposed as ephemeral falsehoods while the foundation of God will stand forever. Thus, truth is supernatural in the literal sense of the word. It transcends the natural world and establishes its roots in the eternal verities of its Author. This Author of truth is also the architect of man’s salvation. Thus, through Christ we are brought into harmony with truth and founded upon the solid rock of reality. The lie has no defense against the truth any more than the darkness has against the coming of the dawn. May that light so shine in your heart that you cast away all pretense of defense and fall at the feet of the One who will show you the depths of a love that cannot be earned and set your feet upon the rock which will never be moved.