Editor's note: This article is an excerpt from the Bible study Kingdom Agenda: Living Life God's Way by Tony Evans.
People often ask, What's wrong with the world today? They see a multitude of personal problems. They see the deterioration of the American family. They see the spiritual decline of our nation and the marginalization of the church. They see cities and suburbs wracked by crime, violence, racism, and greed. But the dysfunction is merely the symptom of a deeper problem.
Our society is suffering from a spiritual sickness. We're in the throes of a spiritual malaise that's killing us. It can be traced all the way back to the struggles and symptoms experienced by the nation of Israel in the Old Testament.
The following verses capture the essential elements of humanity's current situation.
These verses paint a picture of great spiritual and social chaos - the breakdown of a society. So what was wrong? Three crucial elements were missing in Israelite society, and I believe they're missing today in our nation as well.
1. The Israelites were without the true God. The author wasn't saying God had abandoned His people, nor had the Israelites become atheists. Rather, Israel had lost an accurate view of God. The Israelites wanted a convenient God - one they could control. They wanted a figurehead who displayed the trappings of authority but carried no real power. The Israelites wanted a kingdom without a King. They didn't want the true God to interfere with their national life, reminding them that He had an agenda greater than their personal interests and desires. In other words, the people of Israel had forgotten that God is the all-powerful, unstoppable Creator of the universe.
We've also lost an accurate view of God in today's society. Oh, we're willing to pay homage to Him every now and then in the right circumstances - offering a prayer before public meetings or setting up a nativity scene at Christmas. But mostly we prefer to view Him as a harmless deity with nothing significant to say about the educational, scientific, political, social, familial, and personal issues of our day.
2. The Israelites were without a teaching priest. Again, the problem wasn't a lack of priests but a lack of priests engaged in teaching. That means the priests of Israel had stopped telling the truth. They'd traded enlightenment for entertainment and allowed genuine worship to degenerate into a social club. As a result, the temple was no longer the epicenter of life and conscience in the culture, calling people to take God seriously. Israel suffered from an absence of spiritual leaders who were serious about the authority of Scripture for all areas of life.
We're also suffering from this absence in the church today. Too many modern pastors preach to please their congregations. Afraid of hearing someone say, "I didn't like that sermon," they abdicate their proper prophetic role in the culture. Politicians need to be popular. Preachers need to tell the truth.
3. The Israelites were without law. Specifically, they'd lost an accurate view of and a proper respect for God's law as expressed in His Word. They'd turned their eyes away from the true God, closed their ears to the truth, and turned their backs on God's law.
Once God has been marginalized in a culture, the standards of morality and civility degenerate, and people become their own worst enemies. When the rule of God's law is missing, chaos replaces community as people become more and more enslaved by the very freedoms they seek.
That's what happened in Israel, and that's what's happening in society today. Too many individuals, families, churches, and communities want to keep God's law - and by extension God Himself - on the fringes of their lives. They want God to be accessible if there's a critical need or a tragedy, but they don't want to live in submission to His Word or acknowledge it as the source of truth. Like the Israelites, we've distanced ourselves from God, we've been hesitant to teach the truth about God, and we've refused to submit to God's Word as the law of our lives.
What must we do to reverse this downward spiral? It's time to return to the King. It's time to place ourselves once again under His rule and His agenda.
God's kingdom agenda is the visible demonstration of the comprehensive rule of God over every area of life. If we want life to work the way God intended it, we've got to follow His plan instead of ours.
Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.lockman.org)