The Obvious Needs to Be Explained

Jordan Peterson does not identify as a Christian, but he has some insightful perspectives on the Bible, spirituality, morality and human psychology (I do not reference him much because his language is often “colorful” and his Biblical perspectives are mixed with evolutionary and humanistic psychology.).  In a recent interview Peterson said something that seems obvious, but he phrased it so simply and succinctly that it jumped out at me:  “We are at a point where the obvious needs to be explained.”  What a sad commentary on the cultural and academic atmosphere in which we live.

But he is absolutely right.  For a long time American/Western culture coasted on the momentum of Biblical beginnings.  The “Judeo-Christian” foundations of our own country are well documented.  Regardless of whether the founders were true Christians, Biblical principles are so potent that even a partial or inconsistent application of them can strengthen the moral fabric of society.  We need not identify a “golden age” of American morality; the fact is that general Bible teachings undergirded the culture, imbuing the masses with good old “horse sense” and resulting in such common concepts as honesty, truth, justice, respect for one’s fellow man, the veneration of marriage and family, benevolence, compassion and protection for the vulnerable and infirm, and other bedrock principles. 

Not so today.  As knowledge of God and His word have slowly faded from our moral consciousness, our society is mired in ignorance, relativism, confusion and the conflation of right and wrong.  But we should not be surprised at this.  In a passage very familiar to most parents, Moses directed:  “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart; you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Dt 6:6-9).  This exhortation is repeated in Dt 11 with this addendum:  “that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land of which the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, like the days of the heavens above the earth” (11:21). 

Many generations make the mistake of assuming that the values, habits and traditions that are so clear to them will just naturally percolate down to their children and grandchildren.  Thus they lack the urgency of actually teaching those foundational principles to the next generation.  Moses counsels that the most important thing to be inculcated into the minds of the young is the word of God – in his case the particulars of the covenant God had made with them forty years prior at Mt. Sinai.  He says that constant conversation, reminder and application of these things is necessary to mold and shape future generations of believers.  If this does not happen, clueless and arrogant novices will cast off the “old” as antiquated and irrelevant and seek out the intriguing, unproven and unwise. 

Did Israel take Moses’ words to heart?  Joshua had the best OJT (“on the job training”) one can imagine:  being Moses’ protégé and chief assistant during the exodus, the sojourn at Sinai and in the wilderness wandering.  Joshua observed Moses up close, fought battles, saw God’s miraculous manifestations, etc.  He also witnessed firsthand a generation of faithless, ungrateful, complaining brethren who were doomed to death in a barren wasteland because of unbelief.  Joshua well-epitomized the life of strenuous and stressful servitude that faith in God sometimes brings, and he was just as resolute at the end of it as he was at the beginning:  “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve … But as for me and my house, we  will serve the Lord (Jsh 24:15).

In response to his challenge, the people insisted that they would serve the Lord as well and they renewed their covenant with God, saying, “‘The Lord our God we will serve, and His voice we will obey.’  So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made for them a statue and an ordinance in Shechem.  Then Joshua wrote these words in the book of the Law of God …” (Jsh 24:24-26). 

But history bears out that they did not follow either Moses’ or Joshua’s exhortations and train the next generation in the way of faith.  The record says, “When all [Joshua’s] generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the Lord nor the work which He had done for Israel.  Then [they] did evil in the sight of the Lord God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; and they followed other gods from among the gods of the people who were all around them, and they bowed down to them; and they provoked the Lord to anger” (Jsh 2:10-12).  Thus the successive generations of this period are unflatteringly summarized:  “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Jsh 17:6; 21:25). 

Sadly, this pattern is repeated throughout Israel’s history.  Reformation comes periodically (cf. David, Hezekiah, Josiah, et. al.), but the renewal is not sustained via constant teaching and modeling.  Isaiah summarized many a generation:  “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (5:20).  Malachi echoes this same sentiment:  “You have wearied the Lord with your words; Yet you say, ‘In what way have we wearied Him?’  In that you say, ‘Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord.  And He delights in them,’ or, ‘Where is the God of justice?’” (2:27).  This constant regression into self-centeredness vindicates God’s eons of preparation before Jesus entered the world.

It has been said, “Apostasy is just one generation away,” and we tell ourselves that won’t happen to our children.  But it has happened to many of them, even some who have been part of the Centreville congregation.  And it gave rise to Peterson’s lament, “The obvious needs to be explained.”  To wit:  men and women are distinct sexes; men cannot birth children; a child in-utero is a living human being; failure to punish crime encourages it; lack of meaningful employment leads to dereliction; subsidizing sinful lifestyles breeds more of it; undermining stable families erodes societal stability; mob action is always chaotic and destructive; racism in any form is ruinous; sexual exploitation of children is pedophilic abuse; etc.  How quickly the “obvious” becomes hazy and even plausible when we stop teaching our children about God and His values, morals and expectations.