The Old Testament book of Judges ends with the refrain: "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit" (21:25). As part of the Old Testament story this judgment prepares the way for the unveiling of a king who will lead the nation. Saul is the first appointed king of Israel but he is a miserable failure. David comes next and for all his faults proves to be a man who fears the Lord and faithfully leads the nation and in so doing foreshadows the King of kings who was to come, the Lord Jesus Christ. We celebrate the coming of Christ into the world at Christmas and Christians understand that he came to die to set his people free. We also know that he has done just that and we anticipate his return to judge the earth and bring his own into the full possession of salvation. This will happen when human history has runs its course and God has saved his elect and rendered the unrepentant without excuse. Until that great day dawns the refrain of Judges remains true with one important adjustment: "In those days the world had no king; everyone did as they saw fit." The refrain should not describe the church--the New Israel of God--because we have a king. But it is an accurate description of the world at large which walks in spiritual darkness even when they profess to see.
The release of movies like "The Golden Compass" based on a series of children's books by atheistic author Philip Pullman is that latest in a series of works which seek to rebel against the idea of divine authority. Rebelling against illegitimate ecclesiastical authority is one thing and is often necessary when people or religious institutions make claims for themselves that have no basis in Scripture. But rebelling against God the creator who has revealed himself in the Scriptures and in Jesus Christ is disastrous. Human authority including the powers of human reason and intuition must be guided by something objective outside of themselves or they will become hopelessly captive to self-justifying, self-exalting human subjectivity. The idea that everyone can do as they see fit and that life on earth can be anything other than a living hell is preposterous. For all our greatness as divine image bearers we are not in a position to make sense of the universe and our place in it because of our human limitations and the pervasive contamination of sin. No where is the latter more clearly seen today than in our thinking and feeling. Too often evil is called good and darkness is called light. Those who trust their own hearts are fools.
Ironically, what is being played out before our eyes is Romans 1:18-32. Human declarations of independence from God coupled with arrogant assertions are human wisdom are not a surprise to the reader of Scripture. Rather this is a sure indication that humanity is under judgment. When we get so smart that we do not need God we only show that the wrath of God is already being poured out on our societies in advance of the great day of wrath. But the words of Romans 1 are not the end of the story. They are the bad news before the good news of the gospel. In spite of our love of sin God is determined to glorify himself in the salvation of a large number of human beings. To this end he sent his Son and to this end he continues to call his elect to himself through blogs, sermons, songs, books and personal conversations. Until he acts in grace we are blind, deaf, lame and do not know it. But when he comes to us in Jesus, when he sets up his reign in our hearts, the world becomes a different place, and our lives become a demonstration of his kind mercies.