When a notorious terrorist leader like Ayman al-Zawahiri is killed, those of us in the West rejoice. We see his death as part of revenge for those murdered for his radical ideology and strategic leadership. And we hope this sends a signal to other jihadists that they cannot win, that they will be confronted and defeated by our united determination to defend our people and our democracy.
However, al-Zawahiri’s supporters view his death as the exact opposite. According to them, he was a holy religious man, a great leader in the service of Allah. They believe he was helping to liberate the Muslim world from its global oppressors. Since the Quran requires Muslims to uphold Islam (sura 2:190), they believe that he acted in obedience to their scriptures. They now view his death as a martyrdom guaranteeing his place in heaven.
As you can see, ideas change the world. The West sees in the advance of democracy a liberation of nations; radicalized Muslims see democracy as the heretical imposition of man-made values in place of divinely sanctioned sharia. We regard the death of a terrorist leader as the just punishment of a horrible criminal; they see his death as the martyrdom of a hero.
“An idea endures”
John F. Kennedy was right“A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives.”
In our own culture, we see the continued increase in postmodern relativism, the claim that all claims to truth are personal and therefore all ethics are subjective. This idea, which dates back to Immanuel Kant and other Enlightenment thinkers, has become conventional wisdom in Western society. This makes the Bible a record of religious experiences that we have no right to impose on others; it transforms evangelization into the imposition of our personal values; and he defines morality as anything willing people wish to do without harming others.
A related idea is the sexual hedonism which defines sexual morality in equally subjective terms. This so-called “sex revolution” spawned no-fault divorce, the normalization and legalization of same-sex behavior and marriage, and the imposition of transgender and “queer” values on schools and society. This desire for sexual “freedom” threatens religious freedom wherever the two collide.
A third idea that has taken hold of our culture is secular materialism. This worldview defines success in measurable terms. We are what we own, what we wear, what we drive, where we live and what we look like. We are consumers who constantly need to consume, driven to have more to be more.
A fourth idea that dominates our society is religious pluralism. This worldview claims that since all truth is personal and subjective, all religious claims are also subjective. There are “several roads on the same mountain”, we are told. It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere in your beliefs and tolerant of the beliefs of others. To claim that Jesus is the only way to the Father (John 14:6) is considered the height of intolerance, the cardinal sin of our time.
Other cultures also have their dominant ideas. The jihadists, as I noted in my Special edition of the daily article the death of Ayman al-Zawahiri, are convinced that they are defending Islam by attacking the West. They believe they are paving the way for the coming of the Mahdi, their Messiah, and regard their terrorist acts as a holy war in obedience to the call of Allah.
Communist leaders in China and North Korea are driven by yet another different worldview. Their Marxist ideology claims that the success of the state benefits its members. Thus, individuals exist as a means to the end of the collective. From this perspective, democracy threatens the future of the nation and must be fought. A one-party regime that imposes Marxist ideology on its citizens is the path to their best future.
“The greatest idea that was ever born”
The first century, like the twenty-first, is not lacking in founding ideas. From the religious mythologies of Greece and Rome, to the philosophical schools of Plato, Aristotle, the Epicureans, Stoics, Cynics and Skeptics, to mystery cults, to the cult of the Roman Emperor, worldviews abounded.
Into this cacophony of competing ideas, the Gospel of Mark introduces the ministry of Jesus Christ with the words: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Matthew records Jesus’ first sermon in the same way: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).
Here we are face to face with the central theme of the Bible, expressed fully and definitively in the teaching of Jesus: the kingdom of God.
In The life and teaching of Jesus ChristScottish theologian James Stewart has beautifully described the importance of this theme in the word of God and the Christian faith:
“Every new idea that has burst into the world has had a watchword. There has always been a word or a phase in which the very genius of the thing has been concentrated and focused, a word or a phrase to emblazon on its banners when it left for the world. Islam had a watchword: “God is God and Muhammad is his prophet”. The French Revolution had a watchword: “Liberty, equality, fraternity” The democratic idea had a watchword: “Government of the people, by the people, for the people”.
“Each new idea that stirred the hearts of men created its own motto, something to wave like a flag, rally the ranks and win recruits. Now the greatest idea that has ever been born on earth is the Christian idea. And Christianity came with a watchword, magnificent and mighty and imperial; and the watchword was ‘The Kingdom of God.’
A prayer that changes the world
What ideas will give direction to your life today? Will you choose postmodern relativism, sexual hedonism, secular materialism and/or religious pluralism? Or will you choose the kingdom of God?
The way to make the right choice is to pray what Jesus taught us to pray: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). The kingdom of God comes wherever his will is done. When we pray these words and answer our prayer with our lives, we can never be the same again. Neither does our world.
Will the kingdom of God come into and through your life today?