I’m searching for a metaphor, a symbol, to depict God’s wayward people since antiquity, Eden even.
The one that comes to mind is that of someone being led around by a ring in the nose. That is, a hand yanking the ring—and the nose—in whatever direction the hand wants. The hand is the prevailing culture; the nose belongs to the believer; and where the hand leads, the nose goes.
Though warned about eating from the tree in Eden, and exercising the free will inherent in love, Eve listened to the serpent, to the “culture.” In contradiction to the words of God, the serpent/culture told her to eat from it. And then Adam, listening to her, followed. It’s been downhill since.
When ancient Israel wanted a king, or worshipped idols, or sacrificed their children—they didn’t pull these practices out of the ether. They got them all from their neighbors. As the Lord had warned Moses beforehand: “This people will rise and play the harlot with the gods of the foreigners of the land” (Deut. 31:16). In short, they were led around by the nose.
they ultimately justified attitudes and behaviors antithetical to the teachings of Jesus.
Turn to the early Christian church. Where did the idea of the immortal soul come from? Not from the Bible. It was absorbed from the pagans, from the surrounding culture, which flooded the church like a leaking septic tank.
And did Sunday worship arise from believers’ fertile imaginations? No, they got it as permanent loan from their sun-worshipping pagan friends, neighbors, and acquaintances.
And what was the church of the medieval era—with its images, relics, transubstantiation, and praying to saints—but the result of Christians, led by the nose, borrowing ideas and practices that originated in non-Christian faiths?
Protestants haven’t done much better. Why did so many Christians make such good Nazis in the Third Reich? “The German Christians always painted Jesus as a non-Jew and often as a cruel anti-Semite. . . . Before the German Christians were through with him, the Nazarene rabbi would be a goosestepping, strudel-loving son of the Reich.”* Because they were led around by the nose.
And what hate-filled, fouled spring did Jim Crow, cross-burning nineteenth- and twentieth-century Southern “Christians” drink from? Pulled continuously by a racist culture that denied the full humanity of all persons proclaimed in the Bible, they ultimately justified attitudes and behaviors antithetical to the teachings of Jesus.
And (some) Adventists today? It’s hard, for example, to find anything more antibiblical than the assertion that billions of years of evolution were required as Jesus’ way of creating life on earth (John 1:1-3). However, led by the nose, which easily happens when the hand pulling the ring comes in the name of “science”—the closest thing to a god in the modern world—these Adventists have accepted theistic evolution in place of biblical creation. Again, culture prevails.
In the end, those who don’t “worship the image of the beast” will be persecuted: some will even be martyred (Rev. 13:15). If led around by the nose now, how quickly and easily, when death is threatened, will persons accept the mark of the beast on their foreheads or on their hands (Rev. 14:9)?
Nose first. Forehead and hand next.
* Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Thomas Nelson, Kindle edition, 2010), p. 172.
Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Bible Study Guide. His latest book is Risen: Finding Hope in the Empty Tomb.