Was the Arab oil boycott a blessing in disguise?

That was a hard conclusion to draw when you were waiting in line for gas. At that point one was tempted to grant that from a strictly political standpoint the Arabs had made a smart move. They knew the West had been spoiled by the availability of cheap oil, and that North America especially had come to rely on it for a vast assortment of creature comforts. What better way to gain political advantage than by disrupting a convenient way of life? The Arabs felt that the affluent would be willing to exert extensive pressure on Israel rather than forsake their conveniences.

Whatever the effect of the oil boycott in those terms, it had some measurable benefit for the whole world in a psychological sense. At least a few people have had their horizon broadened enough to realize for perhaps the first time that abundance is not a critical human need. Some may even have begun to sense as a result of the energy crisis that life might even be more meaningful if we did not consume so much. Up until these last few months many young people in the West had never had the privilege of experiencing a shortage of anything! And untold numbers of both young and old have assumed that life is merely a prolonged collection process, the more collected the merrier, and that anything that got in the way was by definition a liability. Maybe the oil boycott showed us some difference between want and need. Maybe we tasted an austerity that is not as repellent as we thought.

U. S. News and World Report noted recently, “Experts see a silver lining of pluses now and in the future—such as families and neighbors drawing closer together, fewer traffic accidents, new housing designed for more efficient heating and lighting, home appliances that last longer and cost less to operate.”

There are also some reports that crime is down somewhat because of the energy shortage (except in the category of gasoline theft!) The number of car pools is up remarkably. “A new tendency to save gasoline by staying home is reflected in booming sales of television sets and materials for crafts and hobbies,” adds U. S. News. Sales of religious books, we might add, have been increasing, too. It will be interesting to see how travel curtailment will affect recreation if there is any substantial gasoline shortage this summer.

We don’t mean to suggest that the energy crisis did not bring genuine adversity. For one thing, many thousands of people lost their jobs because of it—and are still unemployed. Many people around the world who were already in dire economic straits have more recently been worse off than ever. The overall picture is mixed.

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The point here is simply that people whose life motto has been “More, more!” have been obliged to reassess their outlook, to their own benefit. They might otherwise not have done so. They are like the child who refuses to try anything new to eat, protesting that he will not like it, but who, when he is forced to try the new dish, finds himself asking for more.

God often allows trouble and sorrow to come into our lives to bring us to our senses. This is true all through Scripture. Perhaps at the present time he has used the oil boycott to speak forcefully to a fallen world for its own good. The Psalmist urged, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man that trusteth in him.” May not God have brought this thing to pass to prod us to take the first taste and to see that something less than great affluence is closer to man’s ideal state?

The concept of doing more with less, which has been called progressive ephemeralization, has been the basic principle behind the ballistic arts of man and, indeed, behind all warfare. R. Buckminster Fuller notes that it was the principle that enabled little David to slay the giant Goliath. It is also the principle employed in guerrilla warfare—in, for instance, tiny North Viet Nam’s holding off the armed might of the United States. It is the principle behind the current kidnappings and acts of terrorism: highly strategic and risky deeds that involve minute resources but through which enormous demands can be made.

Our environmental deficit, which is growing all the time, behooves us to extend this idea of consciously trying to do a lot with a little into many areas of human endeavor. A fascinating new book by David Hancocks, Master Builders of the Animal World, shows what remarkable things can be done even by sub-human species that cannot reason! Why not man? This is where the Church comes in. Christians must develop and proclaim a greater respect for God’s great creation. Science and technology have gotten carried away from ethical dimensions. Christians have the task of reunifying fact and value and of inspiring motivations that are sensitive to the careful use of divinely bestowed resources. Empty lives seek to consume more of this world’s goods as a substitute for the inner peace that only God can provide. Christians must take the lead in scaling down appetites.

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For the sake of an ecological turnaround and ultimately out of obedience to God the creator, so be it.

Petrarch: Prisoner Of The World
“If you do not raise your eyes, you will think that you are the highest point.”


A colorful procession of robed scholars and statesmen wound its way from the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D. C., to the “Capitoline Hill” on April 8 to reenact the coronation of Francesco Petrarca as poet laureate of Rome six centuries ago. For many it represented a hope that the Renaissance spirit of creativity and individual inquiry might be revived. The march highlighted the “World Petrarch Congress,” a multi faceted commemoration of the death in 1374 of the scholar, Renaissance humanist, canon, archdeacon—indeed, “Citizen of the World,” as the congress planners put it.

Few men have worked as diligently or achieved as much as this scholar of the antiquities who has been lauded as “the father of Renaissance humanism.” Petrarch is to be applauded for his role as inspiration and spark for the new spirit of individualism, curiosity, and sense of history that characterized the Renaissance. Although he long considered and always admired the traditional religious life of the medieval monk, he sought to amend medieval man’s concept of spirituality by integrating in his works the secular and the spiritual. This he accomplished superficially by the use of many mixed classical and biblical allusions, and with more depth by the outpouring of his own spiritual conflict over his love for God and his desire for renown, fortune, and Laura (the woman who inspired his famous sonnets).

The integration was limited, however. Although Petrarch was intimately acquainted with Augustine’s Confessions, he could not wholeheartedly accept the assertion that knowledge of God would bring him fulfillment. By his own admission in the Secretum he “saw the better course, but chose the worse,” thus becoming “chained to this world” by his love for wealth, fame, and Laura. Although he recognized God and the spiritual dimension of life, he set his sights on the temporal prizes rather than the laurels of “the Kingdom of God and his righteousness,” finding himself unable to trust God to give him “all these things.” Thus having essentially rejected the spiritual, he could never fully integrate it with the material, although the struggle to do so continued to receive his attention. In this lies the key to many of the contradictions apparent in Petrarch’s life and works.

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Aspirations to the rebirth of the Petrarchan/Renaissance spirit of creativity and individual inquiry lay at the core of the anniversary celebrations. In the words of Folger director O. B. Hardison, Jr., “Petrarch believed in the power of art to redeem and ennoble a society”; and now that, “in this era, man is becoming more aware of the spiritual element in life, he should be encouraged to find himself through the arts and humanities.” Certainly this spirit of re-creation and self-development should be applauded as a happy alternative to the spirit of destructive revolution that pervaded society in the last decade. But if it is to enjoy lasting success, it must be undergirded by a hope firmly fixed upon the knowledge of God, and a desire, through all its creativity, to reveal the integrative force of God’s redemptive act.

The Expanding Sahara

The world’s largest desert, the Sahara, is expanding southward. The rate of growth has increased in the last five years or so because of a prolonged drought across all of Central Africa. Although the media have carried extensive reports about the resulting suffering, comparatively few people outside Africa really have any idea how bad things are. Those concerned have the chance now to-see a graphic portrayal of the problem in a new film, Africa: Dry Edge of Disaster. It has just been made available by the World Relief Commission, overseas relief arm of the National Association of Evangelicals.

The twenty-eight-minute, 16-mm, color, sound film, shot in Central Africa only a few weeks ago, is unusually well done for a film of this type. It manages to put across the inherent beauty of the people despite the agony they are going through.

Surely this situation is a summons to people everywhere to respond generously, whether through the World Relief Commission or through some other agency working in the area. Granaries are empty. Wells are dry. Thousands of refugees are begging simply for a daily ration of millet, which in the United States is used simply for bird seed. Says the film narrator, “Some think the only solution is that millions die.” The producers obviously think otherwise, and we join them in hoping that this film will go a long way toward negating that option.

Early To Rise

Were you to ask the average American today the meaning of “Aaron’s rod,” he would be likely to identify it as the bat used by the Atlanta Braves slugger to break Babe Ruth’s all-time career home-run record. One similarity between the biblical object and the baseball bat is that some had hoped that the latter, too, might work miracles—not to establish Henry Aaron as the greatest home-run hitter in history but to bring baseball out of the doldrums.

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Alas, that miracle didn’t occur. Out of the more than 50,000 “fans” who came out for the game in which Aaron swatted number 715, only a handful stayed through the ninth inning. Can all those Johnny-go-earlies really consider themselves fans—i.e., fanatics, persons “possessed by excessive and irrational zeal”? Football, basketball, and hockey fans, many of whom would leave early only if the stadium were in the path of an avalanche, have reason to scoff.

Pay Day Some Day

In these post-April 15 days a lot of American citizens feel relieved, and a lot feel poorer. Prominent among the latter this year is President Nixon, who has had to pay not only his 1973 income tax but a whopping addition to his payments for several previous years. He says he intends to keep his word to pay whatever he was assessed by the congressional committee that examined his earlier returns.

No person of integrity should let the questionable example of the President’s tax maneuvers influence him to relax his own standards. Everyone is entitled to all the deductions the law allows; if there are questionable areas, a ruling can be secured in advance of the deadline. It is far better to settle the matter before, not after, the fact. Taxes now seem intolerably high, but they will keep going higher as long as the citizenry demands more and more benefits from the government.

Most Christians who tithe have their returns audited periodically. This is not a matter for concern if they have deducted only what the law allows. Let them instead be concerned with preparing for the ultimate audit—the life audit that will take place at the judgment seat of Christ, when the books will be balanced and the final and perfect judgment will be rendered.

Kudos For ‘Something Quite Different’

Christians with talents in the arts will be encouraged by the acclaim given Tedd Smith for his appearance last month in the Auckland Arts Festival. That Smith was invited to participate in this major cultural event was itself a boost for talented evangelicals with a creative spirit. Unfortunately, the evangelical community as a whole does not readily lend its support to serious, highly disciplined artistic endeavors, which is part of the reason why the Christian believer today feels culturally alienated. Smith’s success in New Zealand is a tribute to him and also to the programmers of the festival and to the respected critic whose review in the New Zealand Herald is reprinted here, who did not let Smith’s “revivalist fervour” diminish their appreciation of his ability. May it also lend boldness to the truly creative and truly Christian in the days ahead.

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Georges Pompidou

The late Georges Pompidou, second president of the French Fifth Republic, maintained a full official schedule almost to the last day of his life, so much so that on the morning of the day he died, April 2, the major Paris newspapers carried nothing to suggest the seriousness of his condition. Although mortally ill, apparently from cancer, Pompidou had courageously continued to carry out his duties. One of his acts near the end of his life was to commute the death sentence of two condemned murderers.

A Roman Catholic, Pompidou was criticized by churchmen for some of his official positions, such as France’s continuing development of nuclear weapons. Under his guidance France made a successful transition from the charismatic and intensely personalistic leadership of General de Gaulle to a more bourgeois style of government—bourgeois in the French sense of the word, implying hard work, cultivation, a certain urbanity, and devotion to traditional moral values though not necessarily to a distinctive religious system. During Pompidou’s short presidency, France achieved remarkable economic growth and a high degree of affluence. Both are now threatened by the worldwide economic malaise that must have increasingly burdened Georges Pompidou’s last days.

Not a heroic figure, Pompidou embodied many of the best traits of the European bourgeoisie. It will be hard for France to find a successor to match his many talents.

The memorial mass for the late president will itself be remembered. More than 7,000 persons, including fifty heads of governments, attended the mass, held in Notre Dame Cathedral. It was conducted in the 800-year-old tradition of the famed church.

Smuggling Reexamined

The Christian’s duty is to obey God rather than man. But it does not follow from this indisputable principle that God wants us to break his moral law in order to work out his purposes. Those who contend, for example, that bearing false witness—orally or by signing false statements—is justifiable as an aid in getting Bibles into Communist lands are really questioning the sovereignty of God. They are arguing in effect that God cannot work out his will in the context of his own plan, that he must stoop to the enemy’s tactics to get the job done (see also letters, page 20). That is a conclusion we vehemently oppose!

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When we break one commandment we are guilty of all. Would it be right to kill a border guard, or to bribe a customs agent with sexual favors, to smuggle Bibles?

The lie told by Rahab, often appealed to as a precedent for immoral action in a good cause, is nowhere commended in Scripture. Rahab is lauded in the New Testament for receiving the spies and giving them directions, not for deceiving the king. And let it not be lost on us that she is identified as a harlot in both Hebrews and James.

We oppose the smuggling of Bibles or anything else because smuggling by definition entails deception. “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid” (Rom. 6:1). We heartily endorse the importation of Bibles into Communist countries by any means that does not oblige us to disobey God’s commandments.

On Mountain-Moving

We all recognize the importance of faith in Christian experience, yet few of us try to know much about it. We believe the words of Paul to the Galatians that “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love,” and we analyze love a great deal these days. But how many of us have gotten beyond bland definitions of faith? We talk a lot about faith, but to what extent do we really try to understand its nature and meaning?

To begin with, we might take an excursion into the Gospels for a better look at those passages in which Christ talks about the kind of faith that can move mountains. In Matthew 17, for example, the disciples are told that even a minimum measure of faith (“faith as a grain of mustard seed”) will enable them to effect a major geographical change. Did he mean this literally, or was he, as some commentators hold, using hyperbole? The context of a similar statement Jesus made in connection with the incident involving the barren fig tree suggests a literal interpretation.

We tend to think about such statements today in terms of their sheer technical possibilities. By doing this we may lose something of the significance of what Jesus was trying to put across. True, what is impossible for men is possible for God. But mountain-moving, though an extremely large task, is not impossible. All that is needed is enough time and manpower. The people of the first century could have done it—some of them may have known about what was entailed in the erection of the mammoth pyramids, and the shifting of a mountain is not really out of that league.

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Maybe what Jesus was really getting at was how enough people could be motivated to move a mountain!

Consider another herculean task, the one facing the early church after the ascension of Jesus. Here is a tiny band of ignorant people commissioned to proclaim the Gospel so that it would leave its mark upon the world as nothing else ever had. What a job!

The miraculous thing is that it was accomplished. Christianity transformed human culture. Jesus came to be recognized as the focal point of history. Adherents of the Church exercised vast power over the world.

Judging by its performance, the early Church must have understood the concept of faith a lot better than we do. They certainly did a lot more with it. We desperately need to devote more time in prayer and study so as to discover more clearly the potential as well as the nature of faith and its relation to the course of human events.

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