There should be a word for it: kicking the ladder away after you’ve climbed it, thus leaving yourself out on a limb.
The pioneer ladder-kicker was probably Lucifer: “I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high” (Isaiah 14:13). Maybe it wasn’t as crazy as it sounds—the superlatives used to describe him would go to anyone’s head, even—or especially—a supernatural head. The qualities that distinguished him also disoriented him: “Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor” (Ezekiel 28:17).
But this was not merely a case of the bigger falling harder. Lucifer’s glory belonged to him, but did not originate with him; everything he had was given, and the Giver could not be superseded. No matter how vaunted the ambition, how determined the will, no one can rise above himself. Lucifer, later known as Satan, was the first to plant his feet defiantly in the air and find nothing underneath.
Human civilization has slowly climbed the ladder of history to reach a height where the rarified air encourages unsupported assumptions. We (speaking for contemporary America) assume our natural goodness. We assume liberty and justice for all as a default. We assume happiness as a simple matter of removing all obstacles. We assume that adequate food, clean water, and comfortable shelter would be readily available if only greedy people would stop hoarding and gouging. We don’t see the sustained and grueling effort it took to get to a place on the ladder where we can make these assumptions. In fact, we don’t see the ladder.
In the 1960s, centuries of legalized racial injustice were overturned in a decade by the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King Jr., its spiritual and moral leader, borrowed his tactics from Gandhi but based his authority squarely on the Bible and its insistence on the worth and equality of all human beings. He stood at the top rung of the civil rights ladder, last in a line of preachers who found their justification in the Word of God: flawed men with a sound message whose time had come.
Promoters of gay rights piggybacked on the same ideas of equality and justice. But though their campaign looked similar, it was based not on affirming the Bible but on dismantling it. Gay-rights advocates, often in all sincerity, appeal to God and Jesus just as MLK did, and it appears their time has come. But unlike civil rights advocates of the ’60s, they can only make their cause sound godly by denying the Word of God.
The “Battle for the Bible” has been going on for a long time—actually from the moment Lucifer-turned-Satan challenged Eve with that fatal question about what God really said. As the Bible grew in influence, so did humanity climb out of ignorance and poverty, until the Western world reached the point of privileged adolescence when teens start bad-mouthing their parents. The dismantling of biblical truth that began in liberal seminaries becomes official and assumed with anti-biblical laws—and the battle appears to be lost. Our culture is captivated by its own beauty, power, and corrupt wisdom. One last push, and down goes the ladder.
The Bible taught us about human worth, honesty, and respect: the building blocks of human rights. The ancient world knew nothing of it; the contemporary world has forgotten it. Stranded on an unstable platform without the means of rising, our culture has nowhere to go but down. We feel as if we’re fighting a rearguard action for the Bible, hoping to preserve our children and grandchildren. Any hope for the world they’ll have to live in?
On her website, Ann Voscamp shared a video of Chinese Christians receiving their own copies of the Bible for the first time. Over and over, they press the book to their lips and hug it to their chests. Thank you, Lord; there’s always hope. The battle for the Word of God goes on, but the God of the Word will prevail.