First, I reminded me of the pervasiveness of sin and how it comes cloaked in different cultural clothes. It’s easy to get romanticized version of different culture from books and movies. Watching ‘The Last Samurai’ it’s easy to believe the samurai were noble, simple, honorable people. That would be a naive assessment of samurai/feudal Japanese culture (as an assessment of Mohican Culture based on the ‘Last of the Mohicans’ would be naive). Sin isn’t a western thing – its a global thing. Sin isn’t just an individual issue, but a societal one. On the flip side of that, it’s not just a societal issue, it’s also a individual one (we should reject the ‘noble savage’ idea – that mankind is essentially good and it’s society that corrupts him). Just as individuals struggle with different manifestations of sin, so cultures do also. Clavell’s work is brilliant in portraying the clash of Western/English cultural sensibilities (through the pilot Blackthorne/Anji-san) with Eastern/Japanese customs and values. Each are appalled at the barbarism of the other. The Westerners are appalled at the sexual promiscuity of the culture with their multiply consorts and ‘pillowing houses’. Their appalled at the violence and murderousness/lack of value for human life. On the flip side, the Japanese are aghast at the rudeness and lack of self control in the Westerners. They don’t understand their love of money and unending quest for wealth. In the two very different cultures, sin manifested itself in some different ways (and in some of the same old ways as ever – jealousy, pride, etc.). The point, all cultures are fallen. No single culture or period can be rightly called righteous (not denying some are more righteous than others).
Second, the book reminds the reader, at least this reader, how much damage is done when we serve God as though he needed our help. Near the end of Clavell’s book there is a discussion between a Portuguese priest and a convert. They are concerned that Blackthorne (a political and religious enemy, being English and Protestant) will use his repaired ship to attach the interests of the Catholic Church in Japan.
[priest]: “That ship is going to destroy us and there’s nothing we can do.”
[Japanese convert]: “God will help us.”
[priest]: “Yes, but meanwhile we’re Soldiers of God and we have to help Him.”
A few years ago, at a Father’s Day Church service (not ECC!) a group of men sang a Gaither Song. It stuck with me, and not for good reasons:
“What this dying world could use is a willing Man of God
Who dares to go against the grain and works without applause;
A man who’ll raise the shield of Faith, protecting what is pure;
Whose love is tough and gentle; a man whose word is sure.
God doesn’t need an Orator who knows what just to say;
He doesn’t need authorities to reason Him away;
He doesn’t need an army to guarantee a win;
He just needs a Few Good Men.
Men full of Compassion, who Laugh and Love and Cry-
Men who’ll face Eternity and aren’t afraid to die-
Men who’ll fight for Freedom and Honor once again-
He just needs a Few Good Men.”
Can I just say, Crap, Crap and Double Crap. Instead, hear Paul’s words from Acts 17:24-25:
“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” (ESV).
It is so easy to fall into the trap of over estimating our importance to the Kingdom of God. It can take the shape of individual self-importance, generational arrogance (“we’re the generation to take the gospel to the ends of the earth – to do what every other generation has failed to do!), denominational arrogance (“we’re the only really faithful church – without us the gospel would be lost”), and a thousand other ways. And when we fall into the trap of thinking we’re necessary or our work is essential to the building the kingdom, then we’ll talk ourselves into using methods that are not God honoring. In the case of the Church in Japan (and elsewhere), there was interference in the political struggle for power, murder, intrigue and more. That’s dramatic, but it happens at other levels also. To build the ministry, to win the friend we shade the truth, use manipulative tactics or rely on proven ‘techniques’.
We need to be careful how we serve God. We must never serve God in a way that makes him look needy or pathetic – as if his kingdom will be lost without our diligent efforts or his plans thwarted without our activities. We must serve in a way that makes our reliance on Him evident and the joy of serving him must be evident to all.
Shogun was a long book -nearly 1200 pages. I’m up for some shorter reading now – Ann Rices’ Christ the Lord looks promising!