Even to those who aren’t genuinely cynical, it seems that religion and politics are fully intertwined in current culture. Some might even claim that many appear to have elevated politics above their claimed religious beliefs. Even to the point where many claim you can’t really be a “Christian” and a member of the other political party. Seriously?
The ancient writer James recorded his timeless insight on the matter nearly two thousand years ago: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)
I love how James cuts straight to the crux of the matter. No complex theology, no intricate epistemology. Actually rather simple, isn’t it? Genuine compassion blended with sincere holiness is something that our Creator really likes to see in the critters he formed. Simple, yes? Easy? Uhm… not so much.
I learned early on in life what constant attention and effort is required to keep something from being overtaken by the forces of nature.
During the time that we owned a small dairy farm in western Kentucky, Dad modeled best practices of the day. In addition to pasture for fifty head of cattle, we grew alfalfa, corn, soybeans, and tobacco. The fences were kept tight, the fields tilled, and the whole place well-tended.
After every milking, the floor was swept and washed, and the equipment sanitized. Dad carefully maintained his purebred, registered Jersey herd, supplied Grade A milk, and through relentless effort, the dairy operation never failed a health department inspection. In fact, our place was included on the Farm Bureau Model Farms tour right up until we sold the place in 1967.
Fifteen years later, I took a friend to see the farm where I’d grown up. It was not recognizable.
Thistles and other weeds dominated what had been lush pasture. The fences were broken and sagging. The old tobacco barn had partially collapsed. Tall weeds swarmed around old junk cars abandoned within thirty feet of the house. Perhaps most disgustingly, the pond that I’d fished in, that Paul and I had swam in regularly throughout the summer months, had morphed into a sewage lagoon.
They’d formed a new livestock holding lot that drained straight into the pond. After every hard rain, fresh manure and the standing seepage swirled into the pond. Eventually, what had once held fresh water for the cows and offered recreation for humans was no longer fit for either one.
In a world seemingly saturated with vulgarity, immorality, and sensuality, keeping ourselves “from being polluted by the world” is a challenging and essential aspect of the religion that God approves. We cannot absorb the filth of the world without contaminating our own souls and spirits. And no less important is the designation to show genuine compassion and active care to those in need. An indifferent holiness is no more Christlike than is a self-indulgent licentiousness.