We all rely on myths that offer rational and emotional support for our values, especially those values that are impossible to justify. I embrace a myth, for instance, that my little bit of walking in a day is enough to satisfy my need for healthy exercise. A recent contact with my doctor put that one on the shelf!
Today we have the stubborn myth of an improving world—even in the face of moral reversals at every turn. But such shifts are simply old plays being shown in new theaters. Centuries ago the prophet Isaiah spoke on God’s behalf to warn against the “edgy” culture of his own day—a warning that was soon followed-up with devastating days of trouble. He put it out as a “woe” which meant “Look out folks!”
“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!” (Isaiah 5:20).
The Baal of Sidon was not, after all, the improvement over Yahweh that Ahab and Jezebel promised; and, in later years, the fertility goddess Artemis was hardly a real alternative to what Jesus offered; and the sexuality and violence that entertained the Romans in ancient time ultimately gave way to shame. Myths tend to dissolve over time in the face of greater realities.
The solution? We must offer true narratives that capture the heart and invite real progress. I read last week of a rescue operation that freed a group of girls from enslavement by sex traders in Calcutta. Thank God for those who are willing to go there. I heard very recently of Christians in Iran who share Christ even at the risk of their lives; and I think of how the early church leaders in Jerusalem once did the same before the Sanhedrin and before other governing authorities.
We all need a call to nobility. If we see someone perform a noble deed, we find our hearts drawn to them and to what they stand for. In my childhood, for instance, I recall hearing the first reports of the group of men who gave up their lives for the Auca Indians. We waited for news about them when they first disappeared and then were saddened to hear that they had all been killed by the group they were seeking to reach. Then in the years that followed the names and stories of some of those men, including Jim Elliot and Nate Saint, emerged. Elliot’s prescient writing—“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose”—moved me to want to live boldly.
But that’s very old news by now. Who is there for the current generation? Where is a new Elijah ready to take on the modern versions of the worship of Baal? Or a new spokesman ready to do what an old saint once did in standing before the Coliseum of Rome to challenge the cult of gladiatorial bloodbaths? Or a new Wilberforce whose courageous efforts turned the corner on slavery?
It’s time for a new nobility. For voices and lives that will confront the mythology that comfort and security are ultimate necessities in life. For people ready to stand against a declining culture and to insist on doing what is right. For truthful people ready to challenge the falsities promoted by today’s social engineers.