The world's only superpower and oldest democratic republic has just come through a stunning election process. Most of the world ultimately turned its attention to the state of Florida where the election process literally teetered on the brink of pandemonium due to "the incredible chad." Amazingly, this word has been imbedded into our memory banks forever. This little shred of paper frustrated an entire nation for over a month. How something so small should cause a nation so great to teeter on the brink of uncertainty for so long is worth a second look.
Recently, Time magazine selected George W. Bush as "Man of the Year." If I were doing the selecting, I might have chosen the chad! Just imagine Time's cover with a "dimpled chad" just waiting for the light to burst through it! Perhaps your own cover would have the full hanging chad, clinging to a lonesome corner.
Nearly 200 years ago, Thomas Jefferson made a powerful unifying statement after another close election between John Adams and himself. He declared, "We are all Federalists, we are all Republicans!" His focus was oneness towards the future.
With that thought in mind, I would like to suggest that "we are all Floridians" and look at a unifying lesson for all of us. Every day we "elect" or make choices about a variety of activities that ultimately affect the well being of others. Our choices can affect our families, our congregations, our communities and ourselves.
Intent equated with action
Today, we live in a world that focuses on "feelings" rather than actions. A world that increasingly wants to reward effort as much as achievement. A world that places as much weight on what a person "has gone through" as on what he or she has done.
Please notice I said "as much." Certainly, as Christians, we should care about others' feelings and sufferings, and we should respect their efforts. But excusing personal responsibility due to these factors is a pathway to societal suicide.
This coming year, are you going to tell the police officer that you would like another try at traveling the appropriate speed limit? That perhaps a recount is in order? That he or she didn't understand your intent? As students, are we going to tell our teachers to hold the paper up to the light to discern "the intent" behind our partial answer?
Making excuses versus exercising responsible character by correctly "punching through life" is as old as recorded human history. Perhaps the first request for a recount was in the Garden of Eden. God had specifically laid out instructions to Adam and Eve about their responsibilities (just like Floridians were given complete instructions on how to mark their ballots, so as not to be invalidated). But Adam and Eve took a different route, ignoring God's directions. One moment in time, one bite of the fruit, and history was altered forever by their actions, not anyone else's. They thought they could get by, that God would perhaps understand their "intentions," rather than their lack of full cooperation.
Amazingly, when Adam was confronted with the consequences of his decision, he attempted to blame God and Eve for his error. "The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate" (Genesis 3:12, emphasis added). Adam was the first to complain about a judgment from the Supreme Court of Heaven. He simply would not take responsibility for his own ineptness.
People have recently sought to blame a host of others for their personal failure to follow directions. The list includes the voting machinery, the local canvassing boards, the Secretary of State of Florida, state court judges, federal circuit court judges, the Supreme Court of Florida or the U.S. Supreme Court.
Tragedy clouds triumph
Uzzah's untimely death illustrates individual responsibility and the need to follow instructions. Just like the recent national election in the United States, the return of the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem was a major national event during the reign of King David. It was the will of David, and certainly the "will of the people," to have the precious ark brought to the new capital city. The ark was placed in a cart, driven by two brothers, Ahio and Uzzah. Everyone assumed God would be pleased. What should have been a triumphant event was clouded by a tragedy.
"And when they came to Nachon's threshing floor, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. Then the anger of the LORD was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him there for his error, and he died there by the ark of God" (2 Samuel 6:6).
David was angry! Why was God displeased? God had given Israel a three-part instruction for transporting the ark. 1) It was to be carried by men on poles inserted through attached rings. Why? God knew that human transport would be more reliable than that of an ox cart. 2) They were to be carried by specific people-the "sons of Kohath"-who were Levites. 3) No one, but no one, was to touch the ark itself. Clear standards were given, and God expected them to be followed (Numbers 4:1-15).
It may have seemed that everyone was sincerely pursuing a good cause in the national interest on that day, but the reality is that David chose to use a shifting standard. He followed the example set by the Philistines (1 Samuel 6:7), rather than God's explicit instructions. Both David and Uzzah probably knew better. It cost Uzzah his life, and it cost King David and the nation great anguish.
Leaders of nations, cities, church organizations, congregations, communities and families have a tremendous responsibility to be sure that standards are known and followed. Proverbs 29:2 declares, "When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; but when a wicked man rules, the people groan."
The shifting goalposts of humanism
Today, people are more likely to excuse David and Uzzah's error because of their good intentions. Would we? The humanism that pervades Western society today is spreading its cancerous tentacles into every fabric of society, even religion. It focuses on pain rather than product. It focuses on emotion rather than effect. It focuses on tears rather than performance. It focuses on human reasoning and justification rather than sound principles and justice. Humanism and its companion, modern psychology, have blurred the lines between success and failure where "almost" becomes "all right."
Two thousand years ago, the apostle Paul spoke to this issue in his famous address to the Athenian intelligentsia gathered on Mars Hill. Their philosophy approached modern humanism in that they distanced themselves from an active God, present in everyday life. Acts 17:21 pinpoints an abiding flaw with humanism. The Athenians are described as spending "their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing." Truth, values, standards were all "shifting goalposts" to be moved about, based upon the whim of the moment or the latest understanding.
Paul's masterful message revealed God's functions as Creator and Judge. The Athenians had no difficulty with the thought of a "first-cause God" who now operated distantly as an absentee landlord, leaving the tenants to themselves. However, the true God "has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained" (Acts 17:31).
Paul introduces the concept of judgment and a judge-Jesus Christ. This was a foreign concept to Athenian thought. "Greek thought had no room for such an eschatological judge as the biblical revelation announces. But not only is the judgment day fixed: the agent of the judgment has also been appointed" (The Book of the Acts, by F.F. Bruc e, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, pp. 340-341).
Paul had bluntly declared that the Athenians could not be a law unto themselves or have shifting standards. The Athenians could not accept this. The context indicates that only a couple of people came up to support Paul after his speech. The message of values, personal responsibility and the finality of judgment by an "outside force" fell flat in ancient Athens.
Today you and I live in the "nouveau Athenian age." The same philosophy is here, alive and well. It increasingly permeates our Judeo-Christian culture to the point where human reasoning and self-justification are the prevailing winds of today's society. The voice of that society increasingly declares that if "everybody is right, then nobody is wrong." It has become a society that elevates intent to the same stature as action.
The big question lying before us as we turn a calendar year is how prevalent is "the argument of the chad" in your life? How clearly do people hear what you say and see what you stand for? Is your character as indistinct as a pregnant, dimpled or hanging chad? Do people try to bring your life into better light to try to figure out what you really stand for? How many recounts are you going to demand in school, church and on the job this year? You fill in the answers.
Will we learn from history?
It's not only some people in Florida who didn't handle their ballots correctly. It happens every day with the "elections" or choices of life. "Haste makes waste" knows no boundaries. Remember how I said that in a sense we are all Floridians. As the historian George Santayana so clearly stated, "Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them."
We are not responsible for old voting machinery that may be stuck or the now famous butterfly ballots of Palm Beach or the mix-ups of Dade County, but we are responsible for the "hanging chads" of our personal choices.
Long ago, God told those who would follow His way, "Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it" (Deuteronomy 12:32). He was saying, "Hit it right on and punch clear through to the other side with the standards I clearly have in place." For every cause, there is an effect.
There's a little dangling chad on a ballot now destined for the Smithsonian Institute as an enduring (not endearing) memento of American history. Perhaps, if we take a closer look in that now famous format of holding it up to the light, we too, can divine the greater intent of that hanging chad that echoes, "This is not the way, and do not walk in it again."
As we proceed into this new calendar year of 2001, let's remember that life doesn't give much room for "recounts."