Thursday 7 April 2022

Why The Empire of Evil will Not destroy real Christianity - despite that it desires and intends to do so (with reference to Acts of the Apostles Chapters 21-28)

In the closing section of Acts of the Apostles, from chapter 21, there is a rather absurdly-detailed story; a complex and confusing rigmarole of events that begin with Paul being mobbed by Jews at the Temple in Jerusalem, and ends with him being tried, and released! by the Romans in Rome. 

The author of Acts (who was with Paul, throughout) is apparently trying to explain how it was that Paul - and by extension the early Christians - were Not destroyed, and the faith eradicated; despite that the Empire and the Jews both wanted this, and held all the worldly power. 

Philip K Dick wrote an astonishingly insightful meditation on this theme -  in his Exegesis notes from 1980. Dick considered that this episode of Acts was, in a this-worldly sense, an opposite narrative to the crucifixion. 

Whereas Jesus was mobbed, captured, interrogated, tried and executed - Paul went through the same stages...  yet was released!

The release of so dangerous a man as Paul, seems a remarkable thing; given that it was in the interests of both Romans and Jews that Paul either be killed and eliminated, or at least imprisoned and absolutely prevented from continuing his work of evangelism. 

At one level, we can see the hand of divine providence at work in the many and varied encounters of Paul; yet in another sense the worldly odds were stacked against him - and in fact he suffered beatings, chaining, imprisonment and many other tribulations - that were more than sufficient to silence a lesser man. 

Divine providence was 'not enough' to protect Paul from the many and terrible persecutions that Man's free will could inflict; how, then, could this same providence secure Paul's liberation? 

We could therefore ask more specifically how it was that divine providence was able to navigate a path through such apparently overwhelming and irresistible hazards leading to Paul's release in Rome. How was it that "the prisoner slides through the fingers of the Empire" (as PKD said).   

And this same question is again, Now, urgently relevant for Christian survival in a totalitarian global System which dwarfs the Romans in size and power; and holds and enforces an ideology of value-inversion that is far more existentially hostile to Christianity than the pagan Roman Empire ever was.  

(By contrast; the Roman's hostility to Christianity was mostly merely expedient - they disliked any group that tended to cause trouble for the Empire.)

The answer is that there is not one single answer; but that The System is, in actuality, very limited in what it can do - and is continually, and increasingly, sabotaging itself. 

And this applies with particular strength to an incoherent, self-hating and self-destroying Empire - such as the Global Establishment in 2022. 

As PKD wrote:

The Empire has lost the ability to state its case; it cannot close the trap. The later history of this archetype will be that the Empire will lose even more power; eventually it will not even be able to arrest its victim, let alone crucify him.

What matters in such circumstances is Not a detailed understanding of how the Empire works, nor any detailed strategy of how to elude its grasp; but strong faith underpinned by the courage that comes from hope of resurrection. Given that, and when an outcome is necessary or desirable to divine providence - God will find a way to accomplish the 'impossible'. 


Francis Berger said...

I believe what you have outlined here is true. For example, Berdyaev was persecuted by not one, but two regimes -- Tsarist/Orthodox and Bolshevik -- but he survived them both. Dostoevsky was also sentenced to death at one point, but his execution was stayed at the last moment and he was sentenced to four years of hard labor instead. History is filled with many similar examples.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Frank - Good examples - and both also make clear that courage is required. Christians can survive, faith intact, and (presumably) both grow in faith and attain resurrected life eternal - but that does Not mean that this mortal life will be optimally comfortable for everybody.

At the same time, what will actually happen to any particular person is very varied - and not predictable; because contingent on others, and our own faith and courage.

Ann K. said...

Should be no surprise that the Divine is able to “navigate” that which He created.

Ann K. said...

For real Christian courage, read accounts from Russia’s catacomb church from the 1920s-40s:

Bruce Charlton said...

Anne K - "Should be no surprise that the Divine is able to “navigate” that which He created."

It isn't a surprise - nonetheless the workings of providence are neither simple nor straightforward due to the multiplicity of human (and other Being) choices that go into the mix.

FYI - At the same time as that version of Russia's Catacomb Saints was posted, I also hosted a copied book (at the request of the ROCOR person who was doing this archiving).