Monday, July 28, 2014

Politics of Jesus - Monday 28 July 2014

This week a different voice, that of Jacques Ellul: I have emboldened the words which challenge all politically interested Christians ...

"The first truth which must be remembered is that for Christians there is no dissociation between the end and the means. It is a Greek ethical idea which has caused this division. The point from which we ought to start is that in the work of God the end and the means are identical. Thus when Jesus Christ is present the Kingdom has “come upon” us. This formula expresses very precisely the relation between the end and the means. Jesus Christ in his incarnation appears as God’s means, for the salvation of man and for the establishment of the Kingdom of God, but where Jesus Christ is, there also is this salvation and this Kingdom.

Only this situation is the exact opposite of that which we have described as being ours today: while our civilization absorbs the end into the means, in the action of God, the means only appear as the realized presence of the end. The end, this Kingdom, which will “come” at the end of time, is already present when the divine means (the only, unique, Mediator) is present. The whole action of God consists in realizing through his means the end, which is his work. Whether this be the Covenant, or the Law, or the Prophets, or the history or the wisdom of Israel, it is always the same act of God which manifests this unity of end and means. 

But it should be the same in all Christian life; for the Christian also the end and the means are united in the same way; thus he is irrevocably committed to fight with all his might against our present enslavement to means. Above all he must have a different attitude. It is not his primary task to think out plans, programs, methods of action and achievement. When Christians do this (and there is an epidemic of this behavior at the present time in the church) it is simply an imitation of the world, which is doomed to defeat. What we can do is of no importance unless we can offer it with a “good conscience toward God.”

In this situation it is not our instruments and our institutions which count, but ourselves, for it is ourselves who are God’s instruments; so far as the church and all its members are God’s “means” they ought to constitute that presence of the “end” which is characteristic of the Kingdom. Thus we never have to look for an objective outside ourselves, which we try to attain by very great effort (all efforts are accomplished in Jesus Christ), but we, within ourselves, have to carry the objective for which the world has been created by God. Whether we will or not, whether this be regarded as pride or not, Christians are not in the same situation as others with regard to the end: they have received this end in themselves by the grace of God. They have to represent before the world this unity between ends and means, authorized by Jesus Christ. For it is not man who establishes this end, as such, and achieves it; it is God who orders and arranges it and then brings it to pass. This completely reverses the attitude (so usual when one has finished a piece of work) of those who add, as a sort of precaution, that “of course it is for God to make it fruitful,” or “do what you ought to do and let what will happen,” or “man proposes and God disposes,” etc.: all this is merely popular human wisdom, which tries to bring God in somewhere. In this attitude as a whole there is, in reality, a dissociation between the work of man and the work of God, between the means and the end. Such a view of life is radically anti-Christian, when it incites men to carry on his affairs, and then adds “God” out of a sense of “decency” belonging to another age. In reality, the opposite is true: we see that God establishes his end and that it is this which is represented by our means. The direction is reversed, and this is a fact of extraordinary practical importance – it is not an intellectual game.

It means, for instance, that we do not have to strive and struggle in order that righteousness may reign upon the earth. We have to be “just” or “righteous” ourselves, bearers of righteousness. The Bible tells us that where there is a just man justice prevails. It is, of course, understood that here the word “just” means being “justified” by Christ, and that is why justice prevails where there is a just man. This is because the just man lives by the justice of Christ. This justice is present, for it is this which makes him just. Thus justice is not a goal to attain, or a balance to be acquired, but it is the gift of God, free and inexplicable, which exists in our life so that our means are not intended to “bring in” justice, but to “manifest” it. Likewise we have not to force ourselves, with great effort and intelligence, to bring peace upon the earth – we have ourselves to be peaceful, for where there are peacemakers, peace reigns. And it is always the same idea which prevails: this creation by God of good aims, like peace – a living creation in Jesus Christ – which can openly by translated through our means.

Thus the principle of the Christian ethic begins here. We must search the Scriptures for the way in which we ought to live, in order that the end, willed by God, should be present among men. The whole object of ethics is not to attain an end (and we know very well that for a genuine Christian ethic there is no such thing as a striving for holiness), but to manifest the gift which has been given us, the gift of grace and peace, of love and the Holy Spirit: that is, the very end pursued by God and miraculously present within us. Henceforth our human idea of means is absolutely overturned; its root of pride and of power has been cut away. The means is no longer called to “achieve” anything. It is delivered from its uncertainty about the way to follow, and the success to be expected. We can easily give up the obsession with means, from which our time is suffering, and, in the church, we must learn that it is not our possibilities which control our action, but it is God’s end, present within us.
-Jacques Ellul in The Presence of the Kingdom, p. 64-67."


Father Ron Smith said...

"It means, for instance, that we do not have to strive and struggle in order that righteousness may reign upon the earth. We have to be “just” or “righteous” ourselves, bearers of righteousness." - Quoted Source -

This contrasts very well with Paul's declaration, when he said that his rightousness was as 'filhty rags'.

However, I do understand the call to act justly - a biblical concept. 'Righteousness', however,
belongs to God. Jesus said there is one alone who is 'Good'. We humans cannot claim that merit.
The moment we do, we're in trouble

Anonymous said...

“Thus justice is not a goal to attain, or a balance to be acquired, but it is the gift of God, free and inexplicable, which exists in our life so that our means are not intended to “bring in” justice, but to “manifest” it.” …

I’m wondering how you think this squares with the efforts of Wilberforce and the other great Christian social activists of his day. How far would they have got if they had just quietly gone about their individual lives ‘manifesting’ justice and peace – I would suggest not very far at all.

I’m not at all convinced that any of the great evils we face today will be defeated without herculean efforts on the part of Christians individually and corporately. We seem to have lost the drive to stride against the current for peace and justice; we will advocate for change when we can flow with the current (e.g. same sex marriage) but where is the voice of the Western church to be heard when justice or peace asks us to stride against the current – e.g. there has been no outcry from the churches against the Green’s proposed changes to the abortion law (that I’m aware of).
Lucy Eban

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Lucy
I consider Jacques Ellul to be on the greatest Christian thinkers of the 20th century so I hesitate to offer a "well, I think this is what he would say" comments ... but here goes:

Wilberforce achieved what he achieved not so much because he strove but because he embraced the gift which God gave at that time (his gifts, great supporters, a mood in the nation for change, etc) - the comment above acknowledges the possibility of a just person 'prevailing' (cf Wilberforce) while warning against striving for justice in a manner which either shuts God out (because we see the cause as all about our work) or invokes God as a label ('See, God has prevailed via our mighty efforts.')

But your question is a good one because at least in part I think Ellul, writing this against a background of a France which tried both socialism and Naziism in his lifetime and failed to radically change itself, recommends Christians live out Christian lives and not get sucked into the "isms" of the age with their great but ultimately fraudulent claims re change to human nature.

Nevertheless Ellul was a man of action himself - he fought with the Resistance - and I imagine he would be working on some matters of this age were he still alive, while also warning us of the folly of thinking that by our own efforts we can change the world!

Caleb said...

Interesting thoughts. I have been greatly influenced by Ellul's understanding of Christian anarchism. I'm not entirely sure of how to live it out when we vote this year, but I tentatively think it has something to do with prophetic challenge and Kingdom alternative.

Unknown said...

Hi Ron,
Try Isaiah 64/6:"But we are all
as an unclean thing,and all righteousnesses are as filthy rags;and we all do fade as a leaf;
and our iniquities,like the wind have taken us away".

Father Ron Smith said...

Glen, at last, I can see some area of convergence with you - in this acknowledgement of our human incapacity to live up to the loving mercy and forgiveness of God.

Even Jesus is quoted as saying: "There is One Alone who is Good". In the face of that, how can even one of us claim to be 'righteous'?

However, we can all strive to do justice!