This Christmas as we look back on 2016 I believe we can reflect on some monumentally foolish electoral decisions. There might be better things to reflect on (more on that later), but these are my own foolishness ratings out of 10 for three of those decisions:
- · The Brexit vote- 9;
- · The re-election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader- 7;
- The election of Vladimir Putin's friend Donald as US President -10.
These were decisions in which I believe the majority (in Donald's case technically a minority) were deceived by big lies into voting in a way that will ultimately be seriously harmful to both themselves and the wider world. As a bible believing Christian sadly I'm not surprised when people are taken in by such big lies. What saddens me most of all is that so many of my fellow bible believing Christians have been deceived by such lies in these vote, especially the election of Donald Trump, who captured the votes of three quarters of white evangelical Christians. “Thank you Lord Jesus for President Trump” read the placards. Why thank Jesus, I thought, for something gifted by Satan? But then most white American evangelicals (in my view) have been deceived in their politics for decades now.
They voted in their droves for Donald Trump mainly because of his supposedly Christian stance on two “moral” issues; abortion and gay marriage. And sadly for too many evangelicals these are the only moral issues that really seem to concern them when it comes to their politics. Yet the bible says nothing at all directly about abortion and makes few direct references to homosexual relationships. And both are subjects upon which Jesus himself said nothing. But the bible and Jesus himself have plenty to say on another moral issue- poverty and helping the poor. Therefore, as far as the bible is concerned, these are much greater priorities to God than abortion or gay marriage, whatever view we may take on those issues. So how come supposedly bible-believing Christians failed to exercise their votes according to biblical priorities, i.e. God’s priorities- to help the poor? How come they end up voting as a President a man whose policies threaten to do the very opposite?- to destroy the lives of many thousands of the world’s poor by tearing up climate change agreements, to oppose any refuge to the persecuted from Muslim countries and to destroy “Obamacare” with its offer of wider affordable healthcare for those who could otherwise not afford it? It is these things and not Donald's newly-adopted belief in tighter abortion laws or opposing gay marriage that should have dictated how evangelicals voted. So why were they so deceived? Ultimately they weren’t deceived by Donald Trump or by right wing preacher or even by Vladimir Putin's hacking of Democratic Party emails. Those people were just instruments of a much greater deceiver: the Father of Lies himself, Satan. It’s been his mission to deceive the whole of mankind right from the start, a mission recent events show he continues to this day, with great success. But happily it is a mission that will ultimately fail.
Let’s take it back to the beginning of human history. The bible teaches that from the very start humans were always susceptible to the big lie. Back in the Garden of Eden we had it so good. God had provided us with a beautiful place, supplying our every need.
But then along came Satan, the fallen angel, the Father of Lies. He twisted the truth about what God had offered them and the great liar told them it was God who was lying- deceiving them that they'd die if they eat from the tree of knowledge of good and bad. No eat from it, he claimed, and they would be great and wise like God Himself. Don’t listen to the voice of the establishment just trying to keep the best stuff for Himself. And so they were deceived into rebelling against God and eating from that tree, ignoring the warnings God had given them.
And just as He had warned them, when they ate from that tree they did start dying, morally spiritually and physically. And after the lie and the sin came the cover up; both literally and metaphorically, as Adam and Eve hid themselves from the Lord’s gaze. Then when He tracked them down there came the spin; trying to blame others for their own failings. And it’s been the way of humans ever since; the lies, the sin, the cover-up, the spin going round and round in a viscous circle. And after their fall from grace Adam and Eve were driven out of the beautiful land God had provided them into the much harsher land outside the Garden, where the ground was “cursed” to “produce thorns and thistles” and “through painful toil you will eat food from it.” (Genesis 3). And that’s how it’s been for us humans ever since; life is tough and hard (but much harder for some than others).
And the Father of Lies, Satan, the one who spun the first lie that made us fall and drove us from the perfect land, is still active today. He "prowls around like an angry lion waiting for someone to devour ” (1 Peter 5:8), with more of his lies. His mission remains the same- to create chaos and division so that men turn against God and each other so that we all suffer. He just loves to see us suffer. And he’s probably more angry and hateful towards us than ever when he thinks- what was so special about them that God sent his only son to die for them? He’s still spinning his lies in all aspects of our lives. And in our personal lives as in our politics we remain susceptible to those lies and often it's the biggest lies that we are most taken in by.
And these lies can cause good people to do bad things and intelligent people to do stupid things. They’ve certainly led me to do some bad and stupid things over the years- including how I voted in the 2010 election, as well as plenty of bad or stupid things in my personal life (as my wife would no doubt tell you!). Such lies certainly deceived many good an intelligent people in these recent votes. Like my cousin, a very intelligent University lecturer from South Wales, who voted for Brexit. He lives in a “forgotten” rust belt of a region. But it’s a region that is a net recipient of EU funds and has low EU immigration levels and he himself earns his living from the academic sector which relies heavily on EU support in both research and people. Whatever problems South Wales or he himself face, by what logic could he have reached the conclusion that leaving the EU could do anything except make things worse for both him and the people around him? It’s clear to me that like so many in the EU referendum he was just taken in by the leave campaign’s lies that made him hope and vote for a mythical better land that is simply never going to exist. It doesn’t make him or the rest of the 52% bad or stupid people. Just weak and fallible human beings, like all of us, susceptible to lies, especially the big ones.
As a follower of Jesus I myself am looking for a better land, a better place I can put my hope in. Like all the other faith heads throughout history- Abraham, Moses and all the rest- I’m looking for that better country, the land Jesus promised He'll bring when He returns to earth. (See Hebrews 11). It’s the restored Garden of Eden which Satan’s lies drove us from. This is the land John describes in Revelation 21, where there is no more pain or sadness but perpetual sunshine in a dazzling jewelled city, whose gates are open to men and women of all nations and where they will receive complete healing and know perfect peace.
Many would say that I've fallen for the biggest lie of all and that there's simply no evidence at all that the land I believe in ever can or will exist and that I'm just taking all this on blind faith, a much blinder faith even than those who believed in Brexit, Corbyn or Trump. After all, look around at what a mess we've made of the world. How can I really believe that such a perfect world can come out of something so broken, damaged and imperfect? Yes my belief in Jesus's better land is something I take on faith, but it's far from blind faith. In fact, I’d say there's rather more evidence that the man I believe in - unlike the Brexiteers or Corbyn or Trump- can be trusted to deliver and that the better land he invites us to does or will exist. Boris, Corbyn and Trump can't claim to have ever been to the better lands they believe in. No one ever has. But Jesus claims to have come from his better land- heaven- and to have gone back there. It’s that land he promises to bring down to earth.
But how do we know He even promised this better land let alone how He can deliver it? Well we have the four historical accounts of his words and actions in the gospels. Their historicity stands heads and shoulders above other ancient writings in the time intervals between events and writing and writing and earliest manuscripts and this in a society of strong oral tradition. These accounts record Jesus predicting five things: his execution, his rising from the dead after three days, the coming of his Holy Spirit, the destruction of Jerusalem within his generation and his eventual return in power to bring his kingdom in full.
The first four of those have all happened (or so us Christians believe) and they happened just when he said they would. The fifth of course has yet to happen and he was very clear about giving no predictions on the timescale of that one- “only the Father in heaven” knows when he will return. (Matthew 24:36)
But really? Really did those things happen? The difficulty is we don’t have proof for these things in the form that we are used to seeing proof, i.e. pictures, video or sound recordings. We are inured to not believing things until we have seen them with our own eyes. It’s part of our human instinct. After all ever since “Edengate” we have a history of being deceived which makes us naturally sceptical until we have seen it with our own eyes. (Although at other times weirdly we are still so easily taken in). And that was true in Jesus’s own time as well. Hence the demands by the Jewish authorities for a visible sign that Jesus was the Messiah he claimed to be. Even one of his own disciples, Thomas, said he wouldn’t just take his friends’ word for Jesus’s resurrection. He wanted to see Jesus’s risen person in the flesh- nail marks and all. And in his rising from the dead and appearing to dozens of people, including Thomas- nail marks and all- Jesus did provide just that visible evidence at the time.
Of course, 2,000 years ago the technology didn’t exist to make a permanent visible record of these events. There were no cameras- still or video and no sound recorders. However, stuff did happen back then. The first century AD wasn’t a fantasy world. It was our world only 2,000 years earlier and so that means stuff that happened did leave visible marks we can see today, even if there weren’t any cameras around to capture the events like you can today. We know Jerusalem fell and at about the time Jesus predicted because we can see the evidence for the destruction of Jerusalem in the historical writings from the time and the archaeological evidence. We also know the Jews were disbursed throughout Europe and as people still living today can testify (and was filmed) they did not return to their previous land until just after the second world war.
It’s the same with the Jesus stuff. The very fact there are hundreds of millions of Christians today throughout the whole world is part of the visible evidence for the Jesus events. Jesus’s existence and his execution by the Romans is a widely-acknowledged fact by historians. It’s recorded not just in the four gospels but by reputable secular historians of the time too, e.g. Josephus and Tacitus. But if the fall of Jerusalem were the only prediction that Jesus got right why would faith in him have survived his death? He was a leader of a small sect of a weird national religion of a small country in the backwater of the Roman empire (a country annihilated 30 years later). If the Jesus stuff recorded in the gospels was all made up how did belief in Him not just survive but thrive after his death? If Jesus just died on that cross why would his small band of (mostly) poorly educated followers give their lives to share his message which they themselves had seen to be a lie? This is very different for example to the origins of Islam where Mohammed himself when he died was a successful religious and political leader already, with an established large following. Jesus on the other hand left a small, frightened band of followers. They would have been just devastated by his ignominious death and defeat as a criminal on a cross- the ultimate sign of cursing in both Jewish and Roman eyes.
And how and why would his followers spread his message with such fervour that within a generation it had spread from that obscure backwater to virtually the whole empire? Even to the heart of Rome. If Jesus had just died on that cross surely his “religion” would have died with him? And without some miraculous divine power behind them how, without any worldly weapons, would this little band have spread faith in Him so widely and quickly? And don’t forget the message of Jesus from the outset has not just simply been about “love and peace”. It has absolutely been about love and peace, but love and peace based on one essential historical fact- Jesus’s death and resurrection. As the new testament writings show that has always been central to the Christian message right from the outset. If Jesus hadn’t risen from the dead then Peter and all the others who were sharing his message were just outrageous liars who pulled off one of the biggest con tricks in history. Well of course we know history is littered with outrageous liars starting from the Garden of Eden right up to Donald Trump and the Brexiteers. But, as is recorded in Roman writings at the time, what marked out the early Christians was not being outrageous lairs but being good, moral and loving people. It just doesn’t fit with their character. And anyway why would Peter and his mates have fabricated this big lie? What did they have to gain? They certainly didn’t get rich through it (unlike some outrageous American TV evangelists today!) and most of them died quite horrible deaths for their faith. Again it doesn’t fit.
With the “better lands” offered by the Brexiteers, Jeremy Corbyn and Donald Trump people had an opportunity to vote. (Well if you were part of the electorate for those contests- in the Brexit vote there were plenty of 16 and 17 year olds who were pretty annoyed that they didn’t get an opportunity to vote a different way to the result we got). And of course with Trump outside of the USA no one got a vote before he was thrust upon the world. In each of those cases I would frankly be astonished if those who voted for these promised “better lands” will end up in any places remotely like them. I think it will be like they had bought tickets for the holiday of a lifetime only to find their hotel in the middle of a noisy building site, the food gives them salmonella and it rains every day.
But the greatest lies that the Father of Lies weaves are about Jesus. He knows that Jesus offers humankind's one way back to Eden and he's pretty annoyed about that. He must have been rubbing his hands with glee and congratulating himself when he saw Jesus up there on that cross. Through the lies he'd spun to the Jewish people he'd got them to turn against God's Son and their Messiah, Jesus. When Pilate put the decision to them they literally voted to nail him to that cross. (Mark 15:13/14)(
Perhaps the first and greatest success Satan had at deceiving voters).
Surely God's never going to forgive them now! he must have thought. Mankind will all be doomed. He'd literally killed off God's master plan to rescue us, wasn't he clever? But then it turned out that he the great deceiver had himself been "deceived". What he'd thought as the ultimate defeat of God's rescue plan for us was in fact God's victory. Satan himself had helped bring about the very result that God wanted- not to see His son elected King of the Jews and then the world (not yet)- but to nail him to that cross- to pay the price for our sin so that we could be reconciled with God and could return to "the better land". the Garden of Eden. (Just as Isaiah had predicted in his chapter 53 hundreds of years earlier). All this left Satan with was his mission of making sure as few people as possible believed in Jesus and what he'd achieved, so that they missed out on God's salvation. And the way he still seeks to do that is by what he's always been best at; lies:
Jesus was real but it was so long ago we cant know what the truth about him was;
Jesus might be true but I'm not one of those religious types so he's not for me;
Jesus just wanted us all to be nice and I'm nice (well mostly) so I'm following Jesus anyway, aren't I?;
the Jesus stuff might be true but I'm young and enjoying myself-I'll get back to him when I'm older; he might be true but I'm too busy with my job and my family I'll think about it when I've got more time;
I'm told old for big change now; I just want to relax and enjoy my retirement....
And then suddenly- time's up! Either our life ends, probably not at a time of our choosing, or Jesus returns. Either way the veil of any deception will be lifted and he will be revealed as King of the universe- "every eye will see him" (Revelation 1:7) and "at the name of Jesus every knee... bow...and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.." (Philippians 2:10/11) But sadly not everyone will then be welcomed into his Kingdom. Everyone is invited, but those who have had the opportunity to accept that invitation in this lifetime but refused or ignored it won't get a second chance. (John 3: 16-18).
With this“better land” promised by Jesus we all get an opportunity to vote for it. Only this time the electorate is everyone, whatever age and nationality. Unlike with the other elections I believe this “better land” is coming whatever percentage of us vote for it. But by choosing him and voting for the better land he promises we are guaranteeing ourselves citizenship in that better land of Revelation 21. It’s a bit like if in the EU referendum by voting remain we were choosing whether we as individuals would be an “EU citizen” or by voting leave we would become “an independent UK citizen”. (In fact, there has been recent talk that pro-Europeans like myself might be able to apply for European citizenship, although I don’t see how you could have the full benefits of being an EU citizen living in a non-EU country- would the EU citizens pay a cheaper tariff-free price for our French cheeses or German cars?). Sadly, as with the EU referendum, many will not vote exercise their vote at all. They will decide not to decide. But unlike the referendum this is not something that we can just leave to others to decide and it’s a decision that is far more important even than whether we remain in or leave the European Union. It will affect our eternal destiny and whether or not we will spend eternity as a citizen of the beautiful ultimate better land of the new Jerusalem that Jesus will eventually bring to earth. If we don’t make a decision then, like those who didn’t vote in the referendum, we’re choosing to be given a result by default. Effectively we’re voting ourselves out of his better land.
Unlike with the referendum we don’t have just one moment in time to cast our ballot. We get potentially many moments- our entire life. The trouble is we just don’t know how long that will be any more than we know when Jesus will return. It could be fifty years, it could be ten years. It could be ten minutes. Some people invest an awful lot of time investigating the evidence and arguments before they exercise their vote in an election like the referendum . (I know I did myself!) But how much time do you spend investigating the evidence and arguments before deciding whether you will “vote” for Jesus and the “better land” he offers? And yet that’s a decision that will not just affect our lives for the next 5, 10 or even 50 years but for the whole of eternity. Isn’t it worth examining the evidence around that?- before we either dismiss it all as just another “big lie” or don’t bother voting at all and by default risk missing out on our ticket to the one truly better land? Isn’t this something that truly is worth reflecting on this Christmas- to ponder its’ real meaning? After all we can’t do anything about Brexit or Donald Trump and how those events will affect us over the coming years and decades. But if Jesus’s claims are true we can do something to affect our own eternal destiny. Over 2,000 years ago the Magi travelled from a distant land to earnestly seek and find the heavenly King. Will we do the same? And thereby find our way to his truly better land?