Hear the word of the Lord, O people of Israel;
for the Lord has an indictment against the
inhabitants of the land.
There is no faithfulness or loyalty,
and no knowledge of God in the land.
Swearing, lying, and murder,
and stealing and adultery break out;
bloodshed follows bloodshed.
Therefore the land mourns,
and all who live in it languish;
together with the wild animals
and the birds of the air,
even the fish of the sea are perishing.
Hosea 4:1–3 (New Revised Standard Version)
Hosea could easily be talking about our current condition instead of describing the state of the pre-exilic Jewish community. We see wealth being concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, predatory actions by our financial institutions causing financial collapse, and enmeshment in an endless series of wars. The land languishes, and the animals, birds, and fish perish. Hosea would attribute all of this to the lack of knowledge of God in the land. Compare this state with the vision of Isaiah:
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on
the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the
knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
Isaiah 11:6–9 (NRSV)
Notice the key difference between these two visions is whether or not the people have the knowledge of the Lord. In the first, knowledge is missing from the land, whereas in the second, it fills the earth. The competing visions echo the choice that Moses lays out before the children of Israel in his final address to them:
Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe. . . . I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.
Deuteronomy 30:11–14, 19 (NRSV)
In our time, global climate change is happening to the world that supports and nourishes us; climate change threatens us and our descendants. We are facing drought in California and floods elsewhere in the U.S. southwest. Storms are becoming more frequent and severe. The flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene in Vermont and Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast is leading communities to reassess their flood control plans. As the climate warms, tropical diseases, such as malaria, are found in areas once too cool for them to flourish. Species are facing extinction at an increasing rate. Life everywhere is going to become more difficult, especially in low-lying coastal areas.
What will we do? We are facing a choice. As we see from the visions presented to us by Hosea and Isaiah, this is not just an ecological, political, or economic issue; it is a profoundly spiritual issue. Which vision will we choose to live out? We are being called to enter into a new relationship to God and the created world. We are being asked to live into the community of God here on earth. We are not being called to go across the sea or to seek into heaven; we are being called to find God and God’s direction for us in our own hearts.
This call should seem familiar to Quakers, for it is the message of the first generation of Friends. They discovered their Inward Teacher, and this discovery led them to change their lives and the world. They were called to engage in what they referred to as the Lamb’s War, a two-fold struggle. One part of this war was inward: each person was to overcome the seeds of pride, vanity, and the lusts of the world. Secondly, the war focused on the outward struggle to live a life that reflected inward transformation, thereby testifying to the power of God to enable a life of integrity and obedience to his call. But whether inward or outward, the Lamb’s War was to be waged with spiritual weapons only, as Friends famously declared to King Charles II in 1660:
That the spirit of Christ, by which we are guided, is not changeable, so as once to command us from a thing as evil and again to move unto it; and we do certainly know, and so testify to the world, that the spirit of Christ, which leads us into all Truth, will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the kingdom of Christ, nor for the kingdoms of this world.…And our weapons are spiritual and not carnal, yet mighty through God to the plucking down of the strongholds of Satan, who is author of wars, fighting, murder, and plots. And our swords are broken into ploughshares, and spears into pruning-hooks, as prophesied of in Micah iv.
Not just Friends but the whole world is being called back to the Lamb’s War: the struggle to choose life. This was true for the children of Israel; it was true for the early church; and it was true for early Friends. So if we are to choose life today, how might we expect that struggle to be reflected in our lives?
The first sign would be movement in our spiritual life. The roots of the problems we are seeing lie deep in our attitudes, our way of thinking, our institutions, and our economic system. We cannot think our way out of our situation because our very thinking is suspect. So, in the words of Isaac Penington in “Some Directions to the Panting Soul,” the first act is the folllowing:
Give over thine own willing; give over thine own running; give over thine own desiring to know, or to be any thing, and sink down to the seed which God sows in the heart; and let that grow in thee, and be in thee, and breathe in thee, and act in thee, and thou shalt find by sweet experience, that the Lord knows that, and loves and owns that, and will lead it to the inheritance of life, which is his portion.
As we start to listen, we will feel promptings to make changes in our lives. These might be small things at first, or they might be larger. It may seem that we are prompted to perform an improbable action, but the action will be doable. By responding, we gain strength and are then led to new actions. The faithfulness will also lead to inward growth, and we will find ourselves and our attitudes changed. Faithfulness prepares us for greater faithfulness. The power and joy come from hearing the words written on our hearts and following them.
The second sign of the Lamb’s War at work in us will be a seeking of community. Individuals need to make changes, but individuals alone cannot accomplish the work. While there is much interior work for us to do, it is work that requires a community. We need to find people with whom we can share our struggles and find our way forward, providing and receiving comfort, support, encouragement, and advice. Ideally, we will find this in our meetings. We need to learn to act in community; we need to learn to become a people.
One of the false idols presented by our culture is that of the rugged individualist. In America this image is often embodied as the self-sufficient frontiersman, like Daniel Boone or Pa in Little House on the Prairie. But these frontiersmen had a community and relationships. The frontier trapper sold furs for the urban market; Pa always settled near a town. Humans are social animals, and we ignore that fact at our peril.
American Protestantism, likewise, has become focused on individual salvation: Have we accepted Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior? The community of Christ has been lost. Jesus was not a rugged individualist; he was a builder of the community of God, including the outcasts, the sick, poor, widows, sinners, and oppressors. He scandalized the upright by eating with tax-gatherers and sinners. If we are faithful, our communities will grow, deepen, and include the dispossessed, which will challenge us.
In the Lamb’s War, we will learn to see and value the world for what it is, a manifestation of God, who created the world and then commanded humankind to care for it. We have chosen instead to plunder and exploit it, as though its only value lies in its usefulness to us. We need to nurture a sense of gratitude for the earth as a gift that embodies its Creator. Because Friends believe that God resides in each of us, we value every human being as an embodiment of God. We need to see and value the world in the same way.
Even as we see the world as a gift from God, we also must see the damage that we have done. Humanity has changed the environment with unprecedented speed. We burn oil and gas reserves laid down by microorganisms that created our high-oxygen atmosphere. Coral skeletons, the backbone of the complex ecosystem of tropical reefs, are lost. Mountaintop removal, tar sands extraction, and carbon dioxide pollution are hardly creating a beneficial new ecosystem. Species of all kinds are going extinct at a rate comparable to any of the great extinctions in Earth’s history, loss of habitat a major factor.
We need to accept responsibility for what we have done, grieve the losses, and come to a place of repentance. We can change our individual and collective behavior, but a change of heart is needed to bring life and not death. Living the Lamb’s War within the community of God will change our hearts.
The Lamb’s War will teach us to have faith in God and hope for the future, even though it looks increasingly bleak. We will need to look at the lives and writings of people who lived in bleak times and found a sustaining faith that God is still at work in the world. We need to experience the love of God, and to believe that there is nothing that can separate us from it.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:38–39 (NRSV)
There is nothing we can do, up to and including destroying the entire world, that will cause God to love us any less. It is only by accepting and living in the love of God that we can stop ourselves from destroying the world. We know that difficult times are coming, but we also know that we will not be facing those difficult times alone. The powers of this world will push us to defend and grasp what we have, but the love of God reminds us that it is not too late to enter into and dwell in the community of God. It is not too late to build that blessed community here on earth and, in doing so, save the world. It is not too late to choose life, so that we and our descendants may live. As George Fox often said, “The power of the Lord is over all.” Victory in the Lamb’s War will make that spiritual truth visible to everyone.