False Messiahs and Broken Dreams
A couple of years ago, I watched a great movie version of Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel, “War and Peace”. In this novel, Tolstoy chronicled the story of Napoleon’s war against Russia. At the end of the movie, there is a powerful and haunting panoramic shot of French soldiers either lying dead or half-dead in the Russian winter. At the end of these scenes, the camera zeroed in on Napoleon.
The message was loud and clear………It was this puny 5 foot, 4 inch man who, in his Gargantuan pride and ambition, was the primary cause of this great destruction.
When he was leading France, many Frenchmen looked to Napoleon as a messianic figure. The fruit of his messiah-ship was bitter indeed. Many looked to him to bring in a kingdom of glory and prosperity for France. Instead, he brought death and disillusionment.
The movie “War and Peace” also chronicled the lives of different aristocrat families in Tsarist Russia under the Romanov dynasty. There were some examples of great courage and integrity among some of these characters. But there were also depictions of several characters who lived debauched lives of repeated marital infidelity and drunken orgies.
The Romanov dynasty in Russia was becoming decayed at its roots. It set the stage for Marxist/communist ideology to find reception in the hearts of many Russian peasants and laborers at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.
Communism again ended up giving a false hope, a vision of utopia that ended up killing millions of Russians at the hands of another false messiah, Josef Stalin.
False messiahs and false utopian hopes litter the landscape of human history.
Why are false messiahs and false messianic claims so appealing to us human beings? I believe that the major reason is that they promise utopian blessings without suffering. We want easy answers and easy solutions.
When things don’t go right in our relationships, for example, we want to blame somebody. And that somebody is usually not us. We like to point the finger and say “He’s the problem” or “She’s the problem”. The problem is out there.
True Messiahs and Real Dreams
We don’t like to take a hard and painful look at ourselves. Jesus calls this “taking the speck out of our brother’s eye without realizing there is a log in our own eye” (Mathew 7:3-5). Psychologists call this condition described by Jesus as transference.
Even Jesus’ own disciples at first wanted easy answers to the vexing problems of Jewish society in the early first century. In Mathew 16, Peter correctly confessed Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God (v. 16). Jesus blessed Peter and said that this was revealed to him by God. In other words, it was a Spirit-inspired utterance by Peter.
But then Jesus immediately began to speak about His upcoming arrest and sufferings on the cross. Peter responds: “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” (v. 22). Jesus then turned to Peter and says “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (v. 23).
One minute, Peter is a mouthpiece for God. The very next minute, or so it seems, he’s a mouthpiece for Satan. He had the confession right, but not the commitment. Peter wanted to reign with Jesus on a throne, he didn’t want to die on a cross with Jesus.
Eventually, Peter did come to fully understand the mission of Christ and how Jesus defeated all the powers of darkness, including human and demonic evil and death, through His life, death and resurrection.
And eventually, Peter did follow in the footsteps of the true Lord and Messiah……….Church tradition says that Peter was crucified upside down. He didn’t think he was worthy to be crucified upright like his Lord was, so he insisted that the Roman authorities crucify him upside down.
True messiahs don’t promise easy solutions to the real problems we face in our lives. This is one thing we learn from Jesus and from the repeated failures of false messiahs in human history.
American Politics and False Hope
There is an election process that is in full swing in the United States. Americans face real problems in the area of immigration and in helping massive numbers of Iraqi and Syrian refugees find a home, not to mention out-of-control gun violence in their own country. On one hand, it’s not surprising to see the support Donald Trump has garnered. But on the other hand, it is deeply disappointing, especially when you consider the number of Christians who support him.
He has all the characteristics of a false messiah giving false hope. According to Trump, the immigration problem is easily solved: just build a wall on the southern border of the United States. The refugee crisis is just as easily solved: ban all Muslims from entering the United States. Problems solved! And Americans don’t even have to suffer or sacrifice anything. How many times do we have to experience disillusionment and further brokenness before we realize that leaders like Trump just make things worse.
It is interesting how the pendulum swings in politics. Far-left wing governments are many times replaced by far-right governments and vice versa. I just hope that when Americans vote for the next President of their great country that they would heed the wisdom distilled from past history.
QOTD: Are leaders like Donald Trump capable of bringing shalom to the people they govern?