A segment by Tucker Carlson notes how few of the American public, relatively speaking, see the significance of recent news events like the Chinese-mediated rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia, not to mention the alliance now formed between China and Russia. As Tucker points out, we are actually witnessing the end of American (for which, in practice, read “Western”) hegemony in the world. He’s not wrong about the complacency, yet I remain surprised. It seems to me that the very blindness of governments and people alike to this, which resembles Belshazzar’s partying complacency on the eve of defeat by the Medes in Daniel, or indeed Jesus’s analogy between his own times and those before the Flood in Matthew 24:36-39, indicates that the transition will probably come in the form of a collapse, not an adjustment by reform.
Think about it. If we view Jesus’s ministry in the context of the life of his own nation (over which, by Davidic descent and holy anointing, he was the rightful king), he did not reform Israel, but pronounced a prophecy of imminent judgement over it, whilst preparing a faithful remnant. That remnant became a significant movement which, come the revolt of 69-70, fled to the city of Pella and so survived the disaster. The heavenly and eschatological dimension of Jesus’s ministry complicates the issue thereafter, his spiritual kingdom becoming worldwide. The final restoration of Israel as a nation, if that is how to interpret the Scriptures, is a future end-time event. But the principle remains: in order for the nation to be redeemed, it had first to fall.
I think we need to see the political events surrounding Jesus as the outworking of a divine pattern also seen in the Old Testament, and frequently in secular history. To be succinct, the Judaea of Jesus’s time had become so immersed in deception, from king and priest to commoner and slave, that at that point it was beyond reform, and must be brought low in order to purge away the corruption. As Jesus cried out:
“How often have I longed to gather you together, as a hen gathers her chicks, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate.” (Matt 23:37-38)
“If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19:42)
The same pattern was seen leading up to the first destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon in 587BC. Despite the reforming attempts of Hezekiah and Josiah, supported by the prophetic ministries of God’s spokesmen for the time, idolatry and injustice swamped the nation of Judah. There came a point at which Jeremiah was told to stop praying for the nation, because its judgement was now sealed. Once again there was a faithful remnant, but even they had to go into exile. Why? I think because even the best were caught up, to a degree, in the lies that had alienated God from his chosen people. As Isaiah proclaimed:
But this is a people plundered and looted,
all of them trapped in pits,
or hidden away in prisons.
They have become plunder,
with no-one to rescue them;
they have been made loot,
with no-one to say, “Send them back.” (Isaiah 42:22)
Another video clip I saw today helps me to understand that we might be in a similar position today, and that nothing short of civilisational collapse, rather than simply a lessening of our power in the world, will be enough to bring real resolution. That was a campaign video by Donald Trump, which on any reckoning is an astonishing manifesto for the reform of the American political system, very much in the spirit of King Jehu, whom I have long seen as a biblical counterpart to Trump. He promises nothing less than the permanent rooting out of the Deep State.
I suspect that many of my readers, especially in the US, would say “Amen” to such a programme. After the last few years, what godly person does not want to see a return to “government by the people, for the people”? Whatever the precariousness of America in the world right now, it is still the undisputed leader of the Western bloc, and a revolution in the political establishment there would certainly cause the corrupt dominoes to fall across Europe and the Anglosphere too.
But whether you think Donald Trump is the one to initiate such reforms, or whether you think he is psychologically incapable, or too much a part of the system himself, I find myself wondering if such a project can ever succeed. That is because, as was the case in ancient Jerusalem, the deception involves far more than a corrupt deep state. It involves us all.
For example, Trump wants to break the linkage between Big Pharma and those regulating it, insisting on financial and academic independence for the latter, and closing the revolving door of employment for company employees, regulators, and political masters. What’s not to like in that? Well, for the average Guardian reader or BBC listener, everything. A majority in this country, at least, is convinced that they only escaped death from COVID because of the timely design and distribution of vaccines. Pfizer and the rest are the heroes of the day, and the MHRA (so the story goes) is the envy of the world in making these safe products available to Britain before the rest of the world. If MP Andrew Bridgen presents an alternative view, the chamber of the House of Commons quickly empties.
A similar situation obtains in America, I guess (although not among the poor and “ignorant,” apparently!). Imagine that a newly installed President, whether a Trump or a de Santis, were to sign an executive order to reform these institutions. Immediately the press would make it a front page issue around the narrative of “political interference to destroy science,” and a majority of people would be likely to swallow it. It would become the equivalent of Margaret Thatcher’s Poll Tax, the public reaction to which ultimately brought her down.
But of course, it would only be one small component of the attempted reforms, like the purging of the Security Services (“weakening our Intelligence Community to aid Putin and Xi), the limitation on terms in Congress (“an attack on our time-honoured democracy,”) and so on. The thorough reform of a system as corrupt as our has become has to be the next thing to a revolution – and Trump has already been accused of insurrection, together with that vast mass of ordinary Americans who want to see the country returned to some measure of decency.
So in practice, it seems to me that any President of the USA, or indeed a radical new leader elected in any of our Western democracies, would inevitably see clashes in the streets as a result, and unless I’m much mistaken the policing and reporting of those civil upheavals would all put the blame on the man or woman “rocking the boat.”
To be frank, I don’t see the reaction of Christians as being much more perceptive in such circumstances. In the time of Jeremiah, I’m sure what popular support he had against the corrupt elite was weakened when he suggested that God wanted them to surrender to the Babylonian invaders rather than forming a coalition with Egypt against them. Try telling the average Evangelical to talk terms with Putin rather than sending nuclear waste to Ukraine to lob at him.
If (as Tucker rightly observes) most members of the public don’t recognise the current troubles as an existential crisis for the West, then the average Joe will simply see the evil of civil unrest as being caused by meddlesome interference by a demagogue in our wonderful democratic institutions. And they will rejoice to see whichever national leader tries it going the way of Liz Truss, Imran Khan or even Saddam Hussein.
It may well be that the Christians, though deceived into believing that evil mobsters are, in fact, noble governors seeking the good of their people, are nevertheless the core of a faithful remnant believing in true politicial virtues (though too gullible to doubt that they operate today). But to be effective salt and light in a renewed nation, they need to become undeceived first. And it seems to me that nations become undeceived only through the complete failure of the lies. That is a painful and humbling process.
This does not necessarily mean the complete disappearance of nations. We have recent examples in the countries suffering the collapse of the Soviet Union, and especially Russia. They underwent economic disintegration and social trauma, but perhaps even worse was their fall from the status of a world power to that of “a gas station masquerading as a country.” It seems that in the divine economy, that was the way to national redemption, rather than Gorbachev’s democratic reform, still less the triumph of Soviet power. It was only after humiliation that God raised up leaders, and then the nation – through spiritual revival more than anything else.
Jeremiah demonstrated the inevitability of exile by wearing a yoke before the people; Ezekiel by packing his own bags for exile and going elsewhere. They demonstrated that the first job of a true prophet is to tell people what they do not want to hear. But once the event had happened, Jeremiah wrote to the exiles to stop listening to soothing lies, and to assure them that when they sought him with all their heart he would bring them home and restore their nation.
They were to be a scattered remnant until then, which scarcely accords with Evangelical hopes of an imminent national revival, but may give us a better template for surviving the next few turbulent years faithfully, over here in the West.