Looking through my journal from past years, I found a transcription of vocal ministry from April 20, 2003, not long after the U.S. government’s invasion of Iraq.
For the past couple of months I’ve been reading the works of George Fox. A week or so ago, I read a passage there that affected me deeply. It’s mostly a quotation by Fox of words of the prophet Micah.
The prophet, said Fox, was speaking of Christ when he wrote, “He shall judge amongst the nations, and shall rebuke many people, and they shall beat their swords into plough shares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more, but they shall sit every man under his vine, and under his fig tree, and none shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the Lord of Hosts hath spoken it.”
That in itself affected me, but I was even more deeply touched by Fox’s own words which followed. In his enthusiasm, Fox wrote, “Is not this vine Christ, and are not these the days of his gospel of peace?”
Those words made me sad, because I knew that if I could respond to Fox today I’d have to say, “These are certainly not the days of Christ’s good news. We still live under the God of war, not the Prince of Peace.”
Fox and other Friends believed that the eschaton, the full realization of God’s Kingdom of peace and justice, was at hand. They believed so, in part, because they knew by experience that within them was a holy light and power which, when surrendered to, led them to justice and peace. They expected that the extraordinary thing happening in and to them signaled the advent of God’s perfect world. After more than three hundred and fifty years of subsequent history, we know that they were wrong in that expectation. But we also know that they were not mistaken in their experience: living in fidelity to the love in their hearts, they did change the world for the better.
To say “better” is to judge. George Fox often insisted, quoting another scripture [1 Cor. 6:2], that “the saints shall judge the nations.” He knew that Jesus had said, “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” but he saw no contradiction there. The Christ who “shall judge amongst the nations” lives in those who are faithful to the measure of his light in their hearts; their judging, then, is that of his spirit at work within them. In the spirit of the Kingdom we discern good and evil.
When I see rulers who torture and murder those who oppose them, I know that I see evil. When I read that the master of the world’s mightiest military said “I feel good!” moments before announcing the imminent destruction of many lives in Iraq, I know that evil masquerades as goodness. When I think of the millions of Christians who demand that death be visited on others even as they pray that they themselves be spared, I know that we are inhabited and surrounded by darkness.
The “ocean of darkness” is disheartening, but I find courage in the example of those Friends who, despite the failure of the eschaton, never forsook their commitment to the spirit of justice and peace. They teach me that, although surrounded by darkness and bereft of grand hopes, I still can cherish compassion and allow myself to live by its light, a branch of the sheltering Christ-vine.
Note: When giving the message during worship in 2003, I did not recall the statement by Fox perfectly, but for this post I have copied it from the source, Gospel Truth Demonstrated, Vol. 6 of the 1831 edition of his Works, p. 166.