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Chapter 5

THE SHREWDNESS OF THE WORLD

            Already in the Garden of Eden mankind was ordained to rule over nature, but because of the fall into sin and the subsequent curse that came upon all of creation, the severely weakened race lost his sovereignty.  However, in Christ, the Son of Man, this rule is restored and that in a three-fold manner.  First, immediately by means of the power to perform miracles directly, a power that His disciples inherited from Him.  Secondly, mediately by means of the enhanced development among mankind of its spiritual factors wherever the Christian religion triumphed.  Thirdly, at the time of His return, an event to which the New Testament does not tire of pointing as an indispensable component of the great work of deliverance.

            This then is the three-fold situation arising from the above.  First, Jesus restored human control over nature by giving the power of performing miracles.  Secondly, Jesus restored this same power on a much broader and lasting scale by means of the light that has gone through the nations and that has renewed their cultures.  Thirdly, at His return, Jesus will lead nature to its highest goal by means of final glorification.

            It would lead us too far astray from our present purposes to fully explain this third item.  Let a reference to the prophet Isaiah’s statement suffice:

The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.  The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.  The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child will put his hand into the viper’s nest (11:6-8)

 

            This is obviously the promise of the final restoration of affairs to a situation similar to that before the fall.  The promise is expressed in Eastern poetry, but it is a powerful way of depicting the full restoration of peace within nature and of human control over nature.  This full restoration will not be realised until the return of Christ, but then it will spell the everlasting defeat of the power of Satan and the end of all the resistance evil spirits now offer us daily.  This restoration will come at the end of days, when the struggle is completed and the kingdom of glory has finally triumphed.

            While the above victory awaits the future, we already reap the benefits of the restoration of mankind’s mediate control over nature.  This control comes to us in the second of the three phases.  It is the power that we now have at our service and that has especially during the last century and a half developed at such a startling speed.

            This is not the immediate power to perform miracles as Jesus practised it when He was on earth.  This is a power of a totally different order that operates in a very different way.  In both kinds of power Jesus exercised over nature, that is both the power of working miracles as well as His mediate power, it is the spirit that subdues the physical but does so in a direct manner without using means.  In our present phase the spirit governs the physical mediately, that is, by means of the development of the human spirit.  This is the power of the spirit over the physical by means of science and technology.  In addition to science, we have resourcefulness, the brilliant move, the energy and the talent, perseverance and the will.  Nevertheless, all this is analyzed and explained primarily through science and technology.  Technology is the ability of mankind to subdue nature and includes medical science.  This immediate, direct power of ours over nature is a wonderful power, but it is not the same as miraculous power.

            This scientific and technological power has come to us through Christ.  His gospel has called forth a totally different and much higher development of the human spirit.  Wherever this gospel has taken hold, this development has taken place.  Out of this newer, richer and higher development of the spirit arose automatically the superior knowledge of and power over nature.  The credit for this development must go solely to Christ, not to any nation or race.

            It cannot be denied that through this second indirect, mediate phase of the restoration of control over nature we received through Christ, we achieve more than what Christ did through His miracles.  This is not to be seen as a higher power, for who has displayed higher power than Christ when the wind and storm obeyed Him, when He multiplied loaves of bread and raised the dead?  Nothing can be higher than that.  Our achievements are not greater in the sense of higher, but their superiority lies in their extent, their magnitude, their scale, their scope and their duration.  Jesus’ miracles were always performed on a single individual or a single crowd and were restricted to a limited area.  Our present direct, mediate control over nature, the scientific, affects and influences all nations and people equally, year after year, and constitutes a blessing to millions simultaneously in all their problems and diseases.  And so this declaration of Jesus that His followers would do greater works than He did, strange as it may seem at first glance, can thus be fully explained.

            The above issues have frequently been misunderstood.  Many have assumed that anything that did not come out of the Christian faith was also beyond the sphere of Christ Himself.  The inventions of unbelieving scientists and the production of unbelieving artists have often been regarded as the works of the devil.  Jesus had nothing to do with these works.  His rule was limited to all that related to the salvation of souls for eternity.  The terrain where Christ exercised His royal sovereignty was regarded as excluding the evil direction of the spirit that guides the “world,” that is the community of unbelievers, as well as all common human life.  The Biblical statement that God so loves the world that He gave His only son to deliver it was understood exclusively as referring to the elect.  The world itself was abandoned, while Jesus’ coming was only for the salvation of the elect.

            Such a reduction of the Gospel flies in the face of what the Scripture teaches about the restoration of paradise, about the new heaven and the new earth and about the glorification of our body.  Thus many ended up with the untenable position of admitting that where the Christian religion has taken deep roots, culture has reached a higher degree of development, but denying that this development has anything to do with King Jesus and even regarding these developments as hostile to Christ.  The rich and comprehensive meaning of the Biblical assertion that “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” was not understood.  It is time we broaden our spiritual horizon and recognise that Jesus, as King, has sovereignty over the totality of human culture.  Once that is realised, it becomes inevitable that both our spiritual development unto eternal life and our general cultural development that has led to such an amazing increase in our knowledge and control over nature, are placed under His rule.  The contrast between human development in Muslim and other countries where the Gospel had not taken root and the West is sufficient evidence for this thesis.  Our spiritual awakening unto eternal life and our general human development are not independent from each other.  These are two operations within the one organism that exercise mutual influence on each other.  He who refuses to honour the majesty of Christ in both of these developments, robs Him of the full glory due to Him.

            Though we cannot accept it, it is not difficult to see how this failure to recognise the Kingship of Jesus over general cultural development has come about.  It is a fact that unbelievers have generally contributed more to the development of culture than believers have.  It is no accident that scientists who worship the Lord are a small minority among them.  The Lukan statement that “the people of this world are more shrewd...than are the people of the light” (Luke 16:8), has been true throughout history.  That is to say, when it comes to nature and to the visible affairs of this world, unbelievers usually know how to exert greater power than do followers of Christ.  This statement does not constitute disapproval, for Jesus praised the manager for his shrewdness, though, it must be emphasised as well, not for his corruption.  There is no explanation here as to why this should be so.  The cause for this situation is not explored.  It is simply observed from experience that this is usually the case.  In the area of general cultural development, unbelievers often outdo the followers of Christ.

            The above trend can be observed already early in the Old Testament.  Abel prefers to wander around pensively with his flock, while Cain exerts himself with his spade in his farm.  Of Cain it is said that he built a city, though we must recognise that this would not be much more than a primitive community that protected itself against wild animals.  Nevertheless, Cain, the son of darkness, is associated in the Bible with the first technological advance.  In the next generations, it is not the descendants of believing Seth who are at the edge of progress, but those of the worldly Cain.  The credit for original development of the harp and flute goes to Jubal, of tents to Jabal and of bronze and iron tools to Tubal-Cain (Genesis 4).

            And so it continues throughout history.  Egypt was known as a pagan country, but it is there that Israel grew into a people and it is there that Moses was educated to prepare himself for his role as leader of his people.  King Solomon had to send to pagan Tyre to get Huram, a craftsman “experienced in all kinds of bronze work” (1 Kings 7:13-13), to work on the temple.  In the days of King Saul there were no blacksmiths in Israel.  When they needed such craftsmen, they had to resort to other nations around them.  During its glory days, Israel never excelled in any area of science or art.  Commerce was mostly controlled by the Canaanites.  Israel’s maritime fleet was puny compared to that of her neighbours.  Egypt, Assyria, Babylon and Persia all surpassed her in every science and art.  And then we have not yet mentioned the achievements of the Greeks and Romans.  The best historical musea in the world have very few artifacts from early Israel among their displays.  During the reign of Solomon there seems to have been a temporary unusual increase in wealth in Jerusalem, but even here there are good reasons to surmise that the artists employed were foreigners.

            This tendency can also be noted during the days of Jesus.  The new cities of Caesarea and Tiberias sprang from foreign inspiration.  Even Jesus surrounded Himself with mostly simple fishermen from Galilee.  Among His followers were few intellectuals; Paul, Apollos and Luke represented the intellectuals in the New Testament church.  Apart from Paul’s writings, New Testament and subsequent apostolic writings are products of divine inspiration; they are not the products of scholarship.

            The phenomenon we are describing is no accident.  Its basic cause is to be found in the psychological fact that for most of us our spiritual power is not sufficient to embrace both spheres, that of the kingdom of heaven and human culture.  Often, or, perhaps, usually, when the human spirit concentrates too much on cultural human development, the resulting science or art will encourage our ego, our selfishness, with such force that it becomes very difficult for the child of God in us not to be suppressed by our pride.  Some, like Newton and Agassiz, have taught us how to overcome this problem, but these two men are among the exceptions.  For most people it would appear that their achievements in science or art give them such satisfaction and pride that it becomes impossible for them to humble themselves in the worship and service of God.  The doubts that science and art can arouse in your heart can create a degree of spiritual confusion and temptation of which the ordinary believer can form no idea.  Engagement and success in these endeavours can create such pride and elevate the human being to such an extent that worship of the Almighty suffers severely.  Pride and humility do not make good bed partners.  How often do not our young people enter the university with a true confession of Christ, only to graduate as unbelievers?  The demands of this area of life are so absorbing, so comprehensive that it tends to keep people from looking up.

            There is another side of the coin.  The fear of losing their faith has kept many Christians from involving themselves in society.  The most concrete examples of such withdrawal are the hermit and the monk who lock themselves in their cell.  Believers are seeking after God, they want to enjoy fellowship with Him, but the world tends to divert their attention from this quest.  The result is that they will avoid the world altogether, avoid the temptation to be side-tracked and withdraw from society in order to achieve intimate communion with God.  The examples of hermit and monk are extremes.  They do not represent the mainstream of Christians, but the tendency to avoid the world and to isolate yourself in your own circle of believers is still as overwhelmingly strong in many quarters as it has been throughout church history.  Though Calvinists have generally had a different perspective and have resisted the withdrawal symptom because of their doctrine of common grace, it cannot be denied that during the 17th and 18th centuries they became unfaithful to their best insights and also tended to isolate themselves from society.

            Now, we may look down upon these negative escapist withdrawal tendencies and we must surely reject them, but not without honouring the quest for holiness that forms its deepest motive.  The wisdom of the Biblical rhetorical question, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26) stands.  When you involve yourself in the world, you will immediately be confronted with what is called the “world” that is, its unholy spirit, its pretentious temptations and the demonic background of its life.  True the Christian can overcome this “world,” but when you feel insufficient and weak in your faith, it may be better to withdraw into the light than to fall away from it into the darkness of the world.

            As we devise a Christian approach to the world, we must keep in mind the tendencies and difficulties discussed so far.  The spiritual struggle demands that we constantly concentrate on all spiritual powers available to us.  If you work in the world, in order to achieve, you must concentrate all your spiritual power on the material and visible.  Both streams will continue to follow their own beds.  So it has been in the past, so it is today and so it is likely to continue.  On the one hand, there is a powerful development of human knowledge and skills, a development especially encouraged by people who concentrate all their spiritual powers in this area, but who for that very reason remain strangers to the mysteries of godliness and piety.  On the other hand, there is that powerful development of the spiritual or religious life that is encouraged by the children of light who expend all their spiritual powers in this area.

            There are some reasons that would lead us to acknowledge that this tension was designed by God Himself.  After all, He is the almighty dispenser of gifts and talents.  In addition, it would seem that history itself shows that God was pleased to distribute His gifts and talents to develop human knowledge to the pagan peoples rather than to His own Israel.  Did not the pagan nations of Egypt, Babylon, Greece and Rome possess gifts for science and art of which Israel was deprived? Can we not clearly discern the difference between the sons of Seth and the sons of Cain throughout history?  Even when we come to our own time, do we not see the same tendencies at work?  We may pray all we want that those eminent scientists and artists humbly bow before Christ.  Sadly we may enquire why we cannot count such people in our fellowship.  But it does not seem to change.  It continues to be true that the gifts and talents necessary for general social developments are more generously distributed among the children of this world than among the children of light.

            It is only Calvinism that in its most flourishing periods has broken this general rule.  Calvinism has revived in us the realisation and hope that there are historical exceptions, not only of individuals, but of entire communities, that have followed a different spiritual direction.1515Kuyper is likely referring to the Calvinist revival in The Netherlands, a revival of which he was the major architect.  See Introduction. Exceptions to the rule are possible, they exist, but this fact does not invalidate the general rule itself.

            Let us never lose sight of that fact that, even where this basic rule is operative, where the torch of higher scientific knowledge has been lit and power over nature has been greatly increased by people who personally reject the kingdom of Christ, such developments never take place outside of His divine ordinances.  Thus in this general cultural development, without forgetting its sinful and negative elements, we must recognise and honour the fact that these gifts have come to us through Christ.


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