“For this is what the Lord said to me with great power, to keep me from going the way of this people: Do not call everything a conspiracy these people say is a conspiracy. Do not fear what they fear; do not be terrified. You are to regard only the Lord of Armies as holy. Only he should be feared; only he should be held in awe.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever been reading along in the Scriptures and suddenly something grabbed your attention and wouldn’t let go? This passage did that for me this week. I have been starting to get ready for the Christmas series I’ll preach in a few weeks and read these verses as I was reading the context of two of Isaiah’s major prophecies about the coming Messiah. As I did, the Spirit whispered that these verses are really important. Here’s why I think He did.
We live in the midst of a culture that is changing. It is becoming at one and the same time increasingly more secular and more pagan. How does that work? It works because we are in a season of transition. The basic framework and assumptions of the Christian worldview are quickly falling away as the bedrock foundation of how our culture operates. Indeed those are nearly gone. Anymore they are treated like something alien and hostile.
Throughout most of the 20th century, the major competitor to the Christian worldview was secularism. Many secularists, keen to see the fall of their chief rival—something they have been both predicting and calling for for many years—have been rushing into the vacuum slowing being created.
But, what they are finding growing up in that spot as they arrive is not what they expected. Someone once said (many assume this is from Chesterton, but the evidence for that is slight at best in spite of it sounding like something he’d say) that when people stop believing in God, they won’t believe in nothing, they’ll believe in anything.
Even as formalized religion of every form is being swept from the public spaces of our culture, secularism is not really rising to fill the void. Paganism is. A whole host of beliefs that can only be described as pagan in their basic structure (though to call paganism a structured set of beliefs is generous) is quickly becoming the chief replacement for what was. Indeed, we are still one of the most religious nations in the West. But our religion isn’t Christianity any longer, it is something else, something much older.
Here’s the thing about paganism, though, that we are going to learn as we continue forward down this path: It’s net effect on a culture is not positive. The various deities of paganism are not good like the Christian God is. They are nothing more than reflections of our own flaws, magnified to a divine status; more powerful, but also more debased in their power. In paganism, human brokenness gets concentrated and magnified.
We cannot trust the gods we create for ourselves. We cannot trust them anymore than we can trust ourselves. And, given that they are nothing more than glorified versions of ourselves (with only loosely concealed undertones that the Christian worldview recognizes as demonic), this should come as no surprise.
Well, what is the result of a lack of trust in the people—or in this case gods—we have in positions of authority over us (and whether that authority is granted willingly or taken by force does not much matter here)? Cynicism and fear. We begin to see conspiracies everywhere around us.
We can see this current in our media dating back multiple decades. Think about shows like the X-Files or movies like Conspiracy Theory or Enemy of the State. It exists in a somewhat more twisted form in modern shows like American Horror Stories. It exists in the realm of politics in the increasingly frequent cries of “deep state” whenever something happens that one side doesn’t like and can’t immediately explain. The theme for all of these and many more like them is that there is something more going on than we can see and this thing isn’t good.
This is the natural mindset of paganism. The Christian worldview destroys it because we have a God we know we can trust. Where that foundation is weakest or even simply absent, this paranoia creeps back into the foreground. And as the Christian worldview continues to erode away in our culture, this cynicism and fear will grow apace of its departure.
I hope you can see that a culture marked by these kinds of negative assumptions isn’t as good as one free from them. They may make for fun movies to watch, but no one in their right mind would want to switch places with those characters and live in real life what they are experiencing on the screen.
So, how do we hold this chaos at bay? How do we keep from letting ourselves get dragged down into this muck? How do we help those around us not get all tangled up in this despairing state of affairs? We already answered that question. It is the very thing Isaiah tells us here. Listen to these words again.
“For this is what the Lord said to me with great power, to keep me from going the way of this people: Do not call everything a conspiracy these people say is a conspiracy. Do not fear what they fear; do not be terrified. You are to regard only the Lord of Armies as holy. Only he should be feared; only he should be held in awe.”
Israel’s was a culture awash in this same kind of conspiracy-mongering that is increasingly characterizing our own. And the reason this was the case for them is the same reason it is the case for us. They were replacing the worship of the one true and trustworthy God with the worship of various pagan gods. They may have been more overt about it than we are because of cultural assumptions at the time, but the results are the same. Ahaz was the king of Judah at that time and he was leading the people intentionally away from Yahweh and to the gods of the nations around them.
The only way to avoid the path that worshiping various pagan gods and goddesses takes us down is to quit worshiping them. Instead, if we are going to fear anything, it must only be the Lord of all creation who is unrivaled in His power and terrible in His holiness. If we are going to be in awe of anyone, it must only be the God whose greatness is entirely without measure. If we are going to trust in anyone, it must only be the God who is true, whose very essence defines the shape and details of reality. To turn anywhere else is to immerse ourselves in a system we cannot trust to provide what we need from it. And when trust erodes, cynicism and fear and conspiracies flood in to fill the gap.
Here’s the question you need to answer: What kind of a culture do you want to have? Conspiracy theories make for fun movies, but that’s no way to live over the long haul. If you want a culture where trust is plentiful and all of the fruits of trust are ripe in all seasons, there is only one way to go. Fear the One who alone is worthy of it. Worship the God who alone is good and just and loving at all times. There is no other way to the life that is truly life.