“The Battle Hymn of the Republic”

July 17, 2013

So, do you know the word epistemology? It essentially means “the study of how we know things. Or the study of knowledge.” This rumination has little to do with epistemology… I just wanted you to be aware that I know some big words.

Well okay, it sort of has to do with knowledge. More accurately I wonder if you have ever thought about how you make decisions? I mean, how do you determine what is true and good? What criteria do you use and where did that criteria come from?

For example, in the last week our country has once again been split over the Trayvon Martin case. I’m not concerned here with where you come down on this very difficult issue. I’m simply asking why people who have strong views on this have made those decisions? Why do they think their position is true and good? Because folks on both sides would claim that they have thought this through and their position is correct; i.e., true and good.

One of the ironies of the Civil War is that both the North and the South thought “God was on their side.” Meanwhile 600,000 lives and innumerable amputations and scars later… I have shared with our church on a couple of occasions a question concerning The Battle Hymn of the Republic. You know the words right?

I have seen Him in the watchfires of a hundred circling camps;

They have building Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;

I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps;

His day is marching on.

CHORUS Glory, glory! Hallelujah! Glory, glory! Hallelujah! Glory, glory! Hallelujah! His day is marching on.

Of course when folks sang this they were referring to the camps on their side. And further more… Glory, glory, praise God… his day is marching on… with us. Both Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee were convinced that the South would win because they were doing God’s will.

So, how do we decide what is right and true and good? Let me suggest that most folks don’t think about it very much. They run on spiritual and moral auto-pilot. They simply live day after day and don’t think much about why they do what they do or think what they think or believe what they believe. I’m going to guess that many decide on truth and goodness based simply on the values with which they were raised. Or maybe they rebel against those same values and believe conversely. Or they believe what they do because someone they respect (whether they should or not) has told them something or convinced them of something. Cults are a classic example. I’m going to be somewhat cynical and guess that too many folks decide what is good and true simply based on what is best for them. Few of us would be willing to admit to that since it sounds so selfish, but I really believe at the core of our broken humanity is the desire to “serve self.”

And maybe the reason that bothers me the most is the “I believe what I do because my culture and society are moving in that direction” reason. Again we don’t like to admit that since we like to think we are “free thinkers” and immune to the impact of culture. NO ONE IS IMMUNE!! I thought I was being different and an “individual” in High School because of the way I dressed, only to realize I dressed like everyone else my age. Wanna be different today and express yourself? Get a tattoo. Oh wait… hmmmmm… Maybe pierce yourself. Oh wait…

Can I suggest that for those who claim Jesus as their Lord, there is only one way to know what is true and right… study scripture… pray. Some will say, “But scripture can be interpreted in so many ways.” Yeah, yeah, yeah… so says too many people who haven’t really studied. No doubt the Word of God is not always as agreed upon as we would like… but don’t use that “interpretation” argument until you have immersed yourself in the Bible. The next time someone says, “Well the Bible can be interpreted….” Ask them for the Biblical arguments on both sides for capital punishment along with the scripture. I suspect few will have well thought out and studied responses.

I guess I am a little frustrated. I’m frustrated that we in the church have succumbed to the values of the culture without so much as a whimper. And we see our surrender as a positive thing. After all, people won’t want to come to church if we say things that are unpopular! I guess that makes sense… if Jesus had believed that. You might remember that Jesus turned his world upside down by saying things that were unpopular!

Maybe I am just asking us to be honest with ourselves about where our “truth and sense of right and goodness” come from. No doubt there are issues in my life to which I have succumbed culturally. I am not proud of that nor am I advocating that. I grieve that I have missed the mark on so many occasions regarding the things of God. Jesus said “I am the way the truth and the life…” I want to know that truth!!!! How about you?


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