By the time the First and Second World Wars had ended, many Christians were no longer looking for renewed conditions of peace on earth, but instead for increased confrontations that would lead to the second coming of Christ. This earth would be destroyed, it was said, and our future was in heaven. Seeking social improvement for the world, in these circumstances, “would be like rearranging the deck chairs on the sinking Titanic.” It just shows our selfishness, when we compare the suffering of other people with deck chairs to be ignored.
So instead, many Christians believed in conflict and the reestablishment of Israel was seen as part of this scenario. Earlier, Christians had sought Israel’s political rebirth as a sign of improved conditions for the world, now it was being sought as part of “God’s plan for conflict before Christ returns.” The Palestinians, in this plan, were not people to be pitied, by inevitable collateral damage in a pre-arranged end-times event. The Old Testament Prophets were now being used as a source book to prove this plan, and not, as earlier stated, a source book for what James called true religion, social justice for others.
So as many Christians were drawing away from the principles of peace and reformation of social conditions, the United Nations was birthed on the same Christian principles, to carry them forward throughout the world. Many Christians had been beguiled by a false eschatology (end-times thinking) and middle-class self-centredness, into forsaking what they had given to the nations.
Nevertheless, the United Nations was birthed and began its work in the world. Its founding logo is straight from the book of Isaiah, of a man beating his sword into a plough, for farming. This is a difficult vision for the world to swallow. Soldiers, even today, receive more honour than farmers. Farmers are peace-makers, sowing seed is a vision for a peaceful future. But in our world, soldiers receive more honour than missionaries who die bringing peace. I am not wanting to take honour from the dedicated soldier, but this reflects our disdain for peace. It’s like praising entrepreneurs who make millions, and not the teacher who gives them self for others. The millions we make privately break down justice and peace, the equipping of others in education build both of these. The vision of the United Nations doesn’t easily receive respect.
But the vision of the United Nations is the vision of Isaiah. Isaiah speaks of a new order in the world, where people bring about peaceful conditions through their care for the poor and rejected. It starts with the rejected Christ, who shows up our rejection of others, just because they challenge our self-interest, or the interests of our own non-sharing community. Through this visitation of Christ among us, somehow we are given a new heart, to change the way we see our neighbour, to see Christ in the poor, the sick, the prisoner and the refugee. As our vision changes, so too does the way we live together. Eventually a new world comes into being. This is the founding heart of the United Nations.
It’s a monumental shift, from seeing religion in the church buildings, lands, holy cities and nations we fight for, to seeing Christ instead in our neighbour whom we lift up and heal, even in our enemy. But the question is today, like it was with Israel of old, are we willing to make this shift, or we will continue to scapegoat those who bring this message to us, like we did to Christ?
The early church was born with the vision of taking in the stranger to one table of care, denying their separate nationalities and advantaged social conditions, to treat each other as equal brothers and sisters in Christ. Today, many Christians have forsaken this message and life style, choosing instead the separation we lived in before Christ came, only to hand over the vision of Isaiah, the greatest vision ever given to humanity by God, to a secular organisation called the United Nations.
This shift in the Christian’s vision, from its earlier peace-making to a vision of separation and conflict, brings the gospel and church into discredit in the world. While Christians are seen to be self-serving, it is often the journalists and the staff of organisations like the United Nations that are trying to solve problems and heal injustices. Christians often don’t seem to care anymore, just giving out mantras about godly living while multitudes live in conflict and scarcity. The gospel has lost of lot of its earlier relevance. Spiritual salvation without social justice doesn’t seem to be real.
And the greatest danger of this is that while the gospel loses its relevance, secular organisations that have been established on the gospel’s principles, may start to lose those principles. If they reject the church and its message as irrelevant to today’s world, and eventually lose sight of Christ who is behind the whole picture, then what will become of these institutions which were founded from our past Christian revivals? If the Christian vision is lost, then the institutions have only the vision of paganism to fall back to, back to the former ways of humans in covetousness and violence. This means the very future of these peaceful and healing institutions in this world is in jeopardy, just because we don’t value them, and cast them off in favour of our tribalism.