By secular standards, Herod the Great is one of the greatest kings Judea ever had. He produced public works from aqueducts to arenas, kept most people working, and had enough foreign policy savvy to keep Roman occupiers at arms’ length. Of course, prophets reject Herod as an enemy of God because he kills any who cross him and puts himself in the place of God for all practical purposes. Jesus tells His disciples to reject the influence of both Herod and the Pharisees in Mark 8:14-21. He rejects these influences because they are idolatry, which is nothing but the elevation of our creations onto a throne reserved for the real Creator.
The Pharisees – dominant religious authorities – were no better. Their idolatry was to elevate their law, inspired by Ten Commandments but bloated to nearly seven hundred commandments of their own invention, to obsessively cross every T and dot every I they could imagine. When Jesus heals on the Sabbath – in fulfillment of God’s Old Testament admonition to show mercy at all times – the Pharisees demand an accounting. He violates their law – which they worship – mistaking it for the God they reject.
In the Garden of Eden, the first people disobey God by eating forbidden fruit despite His admonition to leave it alone. But their sin is to place their will to know and understand on the throne of the One who already does. Idolatry goes back a long way, and it keeps on returning to the prominence it demands for itself in California.
During California’s Gold Rush, we placed our will to strike it rich ahead of God’s commands to love one another, treat one another honestly, and steward the environment of the most wonderful place on the planet. We slaughtered Native inhabitants – and any Euros we considered to be rivals – while we stole claims and goods from one another and raped the environment to get at the gold. We enslaved Natives, blacks, and Asians, even after California was admitted to the Union as a free state because we decided our legal rights (the 13th Amendment had not yet become law in 1850) trumped God’s word that His Son sets all free. Today, the state government – through taxpayers – funds thirty thousand annual abortions; we place our love of self-determination in all things above the overwhelming witness of science that every pregnancy is against all odds. California leads the nation in abortion and suicide disproportionately to our share of the population; this is the fruit of militant self-determination. That’s right – abortion AND suicide.
Today, we adopt laws denying young people seeking to escape same-sex attractions the right to counseling and – in the same spirit – adults the right to work if advocates of small fish or opponents of fossil fuels are offended. We mandate the end of privacy for school-aged young people in misguided efforts to help the gender dysphoric feel better about themselves, despite the fact these measures help none. And we preside over an economy so dysfunctional through overregulation that five of the ten most difficult US cities for young people seeking work are in California. This is the fruit of idolizing the human will to make things and people better. This is sin of which we in the Rain and Reign Coalition repent on behalf of ourselves and the state we love. But what do we need to do? What is the practical outflow of repentance after prayer?
That outflow should re-focus our attention on God Himself and His vision for our state – any state – as a place that maximizes opportunity for all and places a premium on permitting each of its citizens to “work out your own salvation in fear and trembling,” as Paul writes in Philippians. The outflow of that is to stop honoring the expressions of our idolatries from the Gold Rush to politically correct thought, and from the slaughter of the unborn to the excesses of the environmentalist movement. Our laws should reflect stewardship of the human and physical environment without the manipulation of it. Thus ends the influence of Herod.
Those churches and leaders who absent themselves from public affairs because their concern is otherworldly need to get a clue: this is the influence of the Pharisees – don’t look and don’t touch because you might make a mistake. Jesus calls us to walk on water; Peter is repenting when he begins to sink and calls on His Lord to save him.
What is required of us is both difficult and risky. But it is not complex, and it is our participation in the Kingdom of God in California if we choose to believe.
Photo credit: Nick Thompson (Flickr)