Whatever Happened to Civility?


Riots. Lootings. Shootings. Beheadings. The news is flooded with alarming reports of these very signs of hate, violence, and murders. This raises the question running through the minds of many, and that is, Whatever happened to civility?

Just the question alone indicates social anxiety and unrest. Many are bewildered and bothered to see masses of persons stealing and destroying property, shouting curses and obscenities, making vicious threats against authorities. This comes after the recent shooting incident in Ferguson, Missouri, where a white policeman fatally shot a black 18-year-old male during an alleged confrontation.

Switch to the Middle East. More unrest. As we watch the world coming apart we are stunned at the beheading of a journalist by a terrorist espousing threats of violence against the free world. As if the deaths of innocents at the hands of the blood-thirsty religious fanatics like this man aren’t enough. The beheading of the journalist, James Foley, only fuels the fire of hate and revenge and fear around the world.

Then, of course, there’s the latest fighting between Israel and Hamas. Hamas and other terrorist groups do not want peace as they espouse the destruction of Israel. Israel is surrounded by enemies from all sides who wish nothing more than to totally annihilate this small nation.

But we don’t have to go to Ferguson, Missouri or all the way to the Middle East to question the civility of our world today. Lack of civility hits home, too. We are troubled when seemingly rational persons go off the deep end and start shooting innocent persons in shopping centers, campuses, work places, and the like. Then there’s the road rage, bombings, vicious attacks, cold-blooded killings, as well as the all-around-strife stirred up by leaders for political gain. This kind of chaos gives us even more reason to ask whatever happened to civility.

The unrest we are witnessing reflects the turmoil pictured by the prophet Isaiah:

“Woe to the multitude of many people, like the multitude of the roaring sea: and the tumult of crowds, like the noise of many waters,” (Isa. 17:12, Douay-Rheims, RHE). Nations and cultures are agitated like an angry sea. Wave upon wave of strife indicates that civility is fading in this present age.

As Christians, we understand that such uncivility are signs pointing to the nearness of Jesus’ return. Jesus, himself, said, “…And upon the earth distress of nations with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring,” (Luke 21:25, King James Version, KJV). The perplexity of many over a world that is going through these distressing times is, in itself, an important indication that Jesus is coming soon.

The Apostle Paul also spoke of “difficult times” in the last days prior to Jesus’ return: “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come,” (2 Timothy 3:1, New American Standard Bible, NASB). The Greek word for “difficult” means extremely violent or fierce. Indeed, whenever there is no civility then the world will undergo very tumultuous times. 

The apostle went on to say what makes these times so difficult: “For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these. For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth,” (vss. 2-7, NASB). Here we read several examples of an uncivil society.

These examples parallel such a society that existed in Noah’s day before God cleansed the earth of out-of-control violence in the Great Flood: “The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence,” Genesis 6:11-12.

Jesus compared the signs of the last days to the violent days of Noah: “As it was in the days of Noah so also shall it be at the coming of the Son of Man,” (Matthew 24:37-38).

The Good News is that Jesus will soon come to put an end to the violence and unrest we see before our very eyes. He, the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6-7), will establish world peace and bring civility to the people and nations of the world. The Prophet Zechariah prophesied that Christ will “speak peace to the nations,” (Zech. 9:10). He will cleanse the earth of evil doers who stir the strife. In the Messianic Kingdom, he will create an atmosphere free of the civil unrest we see today. (See Psalm 37:8-11; 72.)

This is Good News to believers who recognize how times have changed. There was a time when civility was more common that it is now. For example, if we go back over 200 years ago we get a glimpse of the way it was taught to young people. In fact, it left a very big impression on a young lad who would grow up to become the founding father of his country.

While only a teenager of 16 years, George Washington copied, by hand, 110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation. These were rules set forth by French Jesuits in 1595. It is believed this was a practice for teaching young persons the art of penmanship in those days. Yet, it was also an exercise for teaching civility and decency to young people at that time.

 washington_rules of civility

Most persons would scoff at these rules today. These rules would be seen as obsolete and even strange. But you can also find sound biblical principles behind many of these rules that teach the importance of respecting others and treating them like we would want to be treated ourselves, as in the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12). If these rules were applied today, we wouldn’t have the kind of problems that are plaguing our modern society. http://www.foundationsmag.com/civility.html

In this day and age when many wonder whatever happened to civility, we can show the world what true civility is all about as we apply the Good News set forth by Christ. We can shine our lights and be the salt of the earth to point the way to Christ and the hope we have in him (Matt. 5:13-16). At least, we can be civil in this uncivil world.

Good News to you,
Pastor Michael

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