Sheldon Vanauken wrote a book he titled “A Severe Mercy.” His point was that sometimes God uses painful things to get our attention. In his case, it was his straying heart that God arrested by the pain he experienced in the illness and death of his wife. The title, though, seems almost incongruous. It is almost an oxymoron, a combination of words that seem contradictory but make a significant point. One of my favorites is “jumbo shrimp.” Another interesting word usage is the paradox where two seemingly opposite meanings join to make a true statement. Jesus used such a figure of speech when He said, “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matt. 16:25).
These word usages, though unusual, make sense. Vanauken’s title was very poignant. Some phrases, though, cannot be described as oxymoron nor paradox but are rather absurdities. “To eternity and beyond” comes to mind, as does “let’s square the circle.” The one in popular use that is perhaps the most damaging in our culture is “the wrong side of history.”
What is the wrong side of history? It reminds me of the time in the last decade of the twentieth century when I was visiting with my neighbor Charlie. We were on his porch and someone went by who was openly having an illicit affair. Charlie indicated that he had no problem with that kind of thing. He defended it by the phrase “it’s the nineties, you know.” As though the time we lived in superseded any sense of morals since we were on the cutting edge of civilization, having evolved beyond the outmoded concepts of the past. In present day parlance, speaking of being on the wrong side of history means nearly the same thing, except it has a threatening overtone to it. If you are on the wrong side of history you are likely homophobic, xenophobic, and a bigot.
If words mean anything, then there is no such thing as being on the wrong or right side of history. History is just that. It is a record. It gives an account of events. People in history are right or wrong not because of their place in the chronology of years but because of their relationship to something beyond decades and centuries. Those Christians living in the days of Nero were not on the wrong side of history because they refused to confess that Caesar was god. They may have been out of step with the culture of the time and some of them paid for their belief with their lives, but they were not somehow on the wrong side of history.
Forget being on the wrong side of history. What is of eternal importance is whether or not we are on the wrong side of truth. By truth, we must mean truth that is really true. As Francis Schaeffer said, it must be “true truth.” Fifty years ago that concept was being lost among the intelligentsia and now it is lost on most of popular culture. People make things up as they go along and truth is an invention of their minds and words. Whether their truth aligns with reality is in a large measure irrelevant. Even the facts of biology must be subservient to the twisted inventions of the minds that are “on the right side of history.” Men can use women’s restrooms because their truth for the day is that they are female. It doesn’t matter if their biological features shout that they are deceived. They construct their own reality.
This is not new phenomenon. Multiplied centuries ago Isaiah the prophet wrote that “truth is fallen in the street” (Isa. 59:14b). He contended for truth even though it was not popular. Another prophet, Jeremiah, preached the truth in the midst of a backslidden nation that rejected his message at every turn. Sometimes the prophets were more successful than at other times. Elijah confronted the false prophets of Baal and the people confessed that the Lord was God. He was not hesitant to point out that there was a life and death difference between the truth and falsehood.
The New Testament is as clear as the Old Testament that there is a difference between the true and the false. We cannot be faithful to truth without being clear about the lies that are seducing people in these last days. Not only phrases, but actions of our contemporaries are absurd when they are bereft of the truth. People not only say words or phrases that are absurd but they attempt to live as though absurdities are normal. When someone on numerous occasions tells patent falsehoods but expects to be trusted, that is absurd. When someone claims to be right with God while violating God’s truths, they are engaging in falsehood. We have the freedom to choose how we live, but we have no right to redefine truth. The Bible is clear on that. “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:4).
When someone claims to be a Christian and is a drunkard, or a fornicator, or a practicing homosexual, or a thief, that person is speaking and living an absurdity. It is not possible. But such claims are increasingly common. “They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate” (Titus 1:16).
History does not tell us what is right or wrong. However, one stepped into history, into space and time, to show us the truth. “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice” (John 18:37). These words of Jesus clearly state that truth is inextricably related to God. Not only did Jesus bear witness to truth, but He was the truth. “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).
Jesus came to deliver us from the absurdity of darkness into the sanity of light. He was not tentative about the battle between the two. When religious people were wrong, He did not treat them with easy words. “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44).
Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again for the purpose of bringing us from darkness to light, from lies to the truth, from Satan to God. “He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).
Thank God the absurd life can be redeemed. By faith in Christ we who walked in darkness can walk in light. Rejoice in faith in His promise. “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).