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The fastest growing group in surveys taken regarding religious belief are those known as 'the nones,' and, of course, make sure you know now that word is spelled; it's not n-u-n-s, it's . n-o-n-e-s. This development is of such interest to the world at large that a few year’s ago, National Geographic published an article with this title, 'The World's Newest Major Religion: No Religion.'
'There have long been predictions that religion would fade from relevancy as the world modernizes, but all the recent surveys are finding that it’s happening startlingly fast. France will have a majority secular population soon. So will the Netherlands and New Zealand. The United Kingdom and Australia will soon lose Christian majorities. Religion is rapidly becoming less important than it’s ever been, even to people who live in countries where faith has affected everything from rulers to borders to architecture.'
Evangelical Christians here in Canada tend to think of the United States as a strong counter influence to the secularization happening in the rest of the world. Not as much as you might think. The Pew Research Centre did a massive study in 2014, the Religious Landscape Survey. Here's what they found: Religious 'nones' —a shorthand we use to refer to people who self-identify as atheists or agnostics, as well as those who say their religion is 'nothing in particular' — now make up roughly 23% of the adult U. S. population. This is a stark increase from 2007, the last time a similar Pew Research study was conducted when 16% of Americans were 'nones.' (During this same period, Christians have fallen from 78% to 71%.)
Recent surveys do not give us much better news. I recently read…the remainder of this paragraph was added at the last minute reading some detail from a recent book. On Decline by Canadian journalist Andrew Potter.
Who are these 'nones?' This is hard to define. Among such people we do find the famously belligerent atheists of our day, such as Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. In the United States, the nones make up an even greater slice of the younger population—that will not be a surprise to any of you. Among the younger and older millennials, those born between 1981 and 1996, the 'nones' make up 35%, slightly more than one third. Some of these, like Dawkins, seem to have an axe to grind against any religion.
For those most part, however, they are not aggressive; they have simply decided life can be lived without any recognition that there is more beyond what can they can touch and feel. Some of them might concede that it is possible some sort of god exists, but they see no reason to care. If a god or gods do exist, they are perfectly content to live as if they do not. And when it comes right down to it, given the state of the world, it seems clear to these 'nones' that if there is a god then he or she or it has checked out long ago.
That is one way to deal with the world as we find it. The poet of Psalm 10 chooses another way. He cannot give up on God; instead he questions God, why are you standing so far away, why do you go into hiding when there is trouble? Do you not realize there are people in the world thumbing their noses at your laws and doing exactly what they want to do? Don't you care that they are victimizing the poor and helpless without a thought for the consequences? Don't you realize they are making fun of you? God has forgotten; he covers his face and never sees.
Here is an honest expression of disappointment, of frustration. These are not the ravings of someone who has been consumed by a grudge and the desire for revenge. Rather, this is a person of faith who comes to God with the pain of righteousness, that's right the pain of righteousness. This is a person who understands God's desire for his will to be done and who has brought her life into conformity with that will. This is a person who has cut the cloth of his life on the pattern laid down by the laws of God. This is a person who is burdened by the evil that flies in the face of God's every desire and who brings that pain to God and says, 'it just makes me spit that you, God, are not doing anything about it.'
Now the fascinating thing is this. The poet is rewarded with an answer. This is the person who is faithfully impatient. There can be no doubt about either attribute. The faith is there; it is God to whom she cries out. But the impatience is there too; I am fed up with the world he says. I've got a chronic heartburn for which even Rolaids will not spell relief. The rampant evil of the world gives me such a burden, it is painful, the pain of righteousness.
But our poet, our pray-er is not struck down, she is not lectured by God as we are so often tempted to do to an impatient Christian. Instead his faithful impatience is rewarded by a response from God which is something like this—I have not forgotten, I have not hidden or covered my face, but in fact I do respond to prayer, I do reward in accordance with their deeds both the faithful and the wicked and I continue to reign over the whole of creation.
This Psalm is a call to a kind of boldness in faith with which many of us are both unfamiliar, and frankly, uncomfortable. Martin Luther, one of the most prominent figures of the Reformation, had a great friend and assistant, Frederick Myconius. In 1540 Myconius became sick and was expected to die within a short time. From his sick bed he wrote a loving farewell note to Luther. Luther immediately sent back a reply: “I command you in the name of God to live because I still have need of you in the work of reforming the church. The Lord will never let me hear that you are dead but will permit you to survive me. For this I am praying, this is my will and may my will be done, because I seek only to glorify the name of God.” Myconius did regain his strength; he did live for six more years, two months longer than Martin Luther.
We wonder how Luther could be so presumptuous, but it may be he had learned the lesson that God is not offended by such prayers which are offered to him by those who want the world to more perfectly reflect God's will. For Luther it was simple; he had more work to do, Myconius was part of that work and so he prayed with boldness for this blessing.
The first thing then that God says to me in this psalm is this: continue to pray, pray with faith, and pray with impatience that I will make my will known on earth. If that is your burden, if you feel the pain of righteousness, then pray.
Pray because I respond, says God, and also pray because I reward. The Psalmist was troubled when the wicked claimed evil did not matter because God will not call me to account. Can you imagine a conversation with a friend in which he casually revealed that he had been writing bad cheques for most of his life? You might try to correct his statement, saying he must mean that every now and again he neglects to put enough money in his account to cover all his cheques, but you are sure he cannot mean this has been a lifetime habit. But he insists, oh yes, I have been doing it for years and the great thing is the bank never calls me to account.
That is about what the wicked were saying, that nothing they did mattered because even if God did see what they were up to, he never called them to account for their deposits and withdrawals. God's answer to the Psalmist is simply to assure him there is an accounting. The answer is not spectacular because I think all any of us need is a simple reminder.
The simple reminder is this—when we get fed up with life we need to remember we are not seeing it yet from the completed side. We don't have God's perspective. There can be frustration at time with the wickedness that is going unpunished. But in the words of that great amateur theologian and baseball philosopher, Yogi Berra, 'it ain't over until it's over.'
A Methodist preacher of another era, Clovis Chappel, one day used the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus as his text. He spoke about the opportunity the rich man had—that in responding to the poor man at his gate, he had the opportunity to make a deposit for eternity. Jesus told the rich young ruler, sell what you have, give the proceeds to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. The frustration of the poet in Psalm 10, our frustration, is we want to see some of that rewarding, some of that accounting, here on earth.
The fact is that we do. We all know what it is that makes people unhappy; it is what the Bible calls sin. Selfish people are unhappy people. People who cannot love are unhappy people. Those who refuse to forgive condemn themselves to be eaten away by an emotional cancer. There is no happiness in sexual promiscuity and some the most unfulfilled people that I have known in my life are those who insist on doing nothing unless it satisfies what they have decided are their needs.
On the international stage, I don't pretend to know what is ahead for the world, but I will say this. If our world is plunged into more bloodshed for the sake of anyone building a man made empire then that person will be judged by God with the same universal condemnation that has so deservedly been given to Stalin and Hitler and all of other dictators and nameless terrorists who have presumed that God will not call them to account.
But God will. For the God who responds to prayer, the God who does reward according to our faithfulness or our wickedness is able to respond and reward because he is the one who reigns.
The poet writes, the Lord is King for ever and ever. I think the person of faith can find confirmation of this truth in a variety of circumstances. For me it is the created order. One summer, pre-COVID, Chris and I took in a Tuesday evening concert, part of the summer's Symphony in the Gardens series at Casa Loma in Toronto. The featured selection that July evening was Vivalidi's Four Seasons, musical depictions of spring, summer, fall and winter. Just think about all that is involved in our enjoyment of that evening. First, there is that orderly cycle of nature, which we here in Canada experience, I think, to its fullest. Behind that though is the tilt of earth of its axis and the precise distance between earth and sun. Then there is the composer, Vivaldi, known as 'The Red Priest,' who develops the talent within, a gift of God, so that he can picture for listeners the changing seasons. And last there were the four relatively young musicians who played the four solo violin parts in these concertos, hard workers all of them I am sure, but I think also, like Vivaldi, being born with that God-given song that wants to be sung, music that needs to be played.
I heard that night an eloquent testimony to the creator who stands behind the universe. I believe by faith the one who set the universe in motion according to his gracious plan has not abandoned that universe but instead desires a universe that will recognize him for who and what he is—the King of love.
One day the Lord God will have just that. This is a call to that faithful impatience that earnestly prays for God to make his reign more and more apparent in this world. You see, it is not hard to come up with a list of kingdom characteristics—forgiveness, compassion, joy, integrity are some that come to mind. We need to make it a matter of prayer that with every passing day this world will more perfectly resemble one in which God's reign is recognized, a world in which forgiveness sought is forgiveness granted, a world in which the path of the sorrowful is marked by heavenly compassion, a world of infectious joy, a world where the disease of distrust is wiped out by the medicine of integrity. If that is the kind of world I seek by faith, then I need to pray for it with impatient faithfulness.
A Christian can be fed up, but should never give up, instead continue to look up.