Irony is an incredible thing. Irony happens on so many occasions, it is so unexpected and uninvited.
For example irony happens when we firmly hold to a position or view, but then we find ourselves doing what we preached against.
Irony is nothing new. I honestly believe irony is the world’s highest form of humor. For humans irony tends to be degrading and it makes us look stupid. Yet it doesn’t stop it from being the very best form of humor. Why? Because it is God’s form of humor. I honestly believe that he loves irony in all its shapes and sizes.
One of my favorite parts of the Bible is in the last section of the book of Esther. Haman, King Xerxes’ highest adviser, is planning a strategic plan to rid himself and the kingdom of all Jews–especially his hated rival, Mordecai. Such is his hatred he has even erected a massively tall structure to have this man, and many other Jews, lynched by the angry city mobs. He has even had the king sign an edict to eradicate the Jewish “pests”.
Well, as the story goes, he is informed by the king that a certain man in the kingdom deserves to be greatly honored for his valiant work. It must be me! Haman gloats. So he expounds to the king the various honors that should be given this man, and goes into great detail on the things this man should receive for his “valiant work”.
To his devastation, it was Mordecai. And he was to be his guide!
What glorious irony! Can you imagine the angels laughing their heads off as Haman was forced to lead this “hero” about the city of Suza? And the joke only got better and the laughter only became harder as Haman rounded the corner, leading Mordecai on the horse, and passed by the enormous wooden hangman he had built to eradicate the man he now “honored”.
Yet the irony did not stop there. Haman died on the very tool he had built.
Or how about the French philosopher, Voltaire, who is quoted as to have said “Christianity is the most ridiculous, the most absurd, and bloody religion that has ever infected the world.” He was one of the boldest and most outspoken God-haters of his time. Where is the irony? Read this:
The French philosopher Voltaire, a skeptic who destroyed the faith of many people, boasted that within 100 years of his death, the Bible would disappear from the face of the earth. Voltaire died in 1728, but the Bible lives on. The irony of history is that 50 years after his death, the Geneva Bible Society moved into his former house and used his printing presses to print thousands of Bibles.
Yes, God has a sense of humor!
Now the real reason I wrote about this today was to point out a recent bit of irony that I came across, on Youtube. I found one of my favorite groups, Il Divo, a fabulously talented opera-style quartet, singing the song “Amazing Grace” recently:
(Sorry, this video will not upload directly to this site for some reason, so open this link in another window/tab, watch it and then continue reading).
First of all, in musical history it has not been uncommon to see our favorite vocalists singing this historic song. In fact there is little argument as to the importance of this song to American culture, and International culture as well. It is without a doubt the most important song in the history of music. So it comes as little wonder that this song has graced the lips of such singers as Elvis Presley, Mahalia Jackson, Aerosmith, Whitney Houston, etc.
Yet as I sat enjoying this beautifully performed song, I took note of the setting. Did you? Look carefully, it becomes very clear that this song is being performed inside the Coliseum, one of the seven wonders of the world, in Rome. I have since taken the time to verify it, and yes this was performed inside the Coliseum (a vocalist to recently sing in there was Elton John, in 2007).
Where is the irony, you ask?
First of all, the men in this group are predominantly atheists and Catholics, and this is a Christian song. But this is not new. Elvis Presley was nothing close to a saint, neither is Aerosmith.
This was not what stood out to me, it only made the main point stand out to me the more. It was the glorious Roman Coliseum that caught my eye. The home of the best entertainment of the time in quite possibly the most magnificent city in the history of human-kind–Roma. History books remember the gladiators, the fearless men of iron that once battles on the blood-soked ground. Yet the history books forget that this was also home to despicable tragedies and martyrdom’s of Christians in the early centuries.
Watching “Amazing Grace” being sung by those men as they looked over the killing fields brought a chill to my spine. What irony: devastatingly cruel irony. Yet it is true what is said, that time changes everything. Europe became “Christian” and the Coliseum became “holy”.
Now, how about some more irony:
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.
Every English speaking person in the world likely knows these words–yet few understand them.
Christianity has become a classic religion in the sense that, like every other religion, people try and become good enough for the god they serve. Every religion in the world, without exception, tries to appease their god to accept them. As humans we try and become better and cleaner and more “holy”. I’m a good person! Is a common phrase.
Let me enlighten you. John Newton–do you know him?
If you knew him you wouldn’t want to be close to him–he smelled like beer, was usually drunk, and many times had a prostitute hanging about him. His job? Trading slaves between Africa and England in the 1700’s. History on this man has and always will be rewritten to make him look perpetually “holy”. But it is simply not the truth.
He wrote Amazing Grace. More importantly he wrote: that saved a wretch like me, and not that saved a good person like me. A wretch. A human failure, a walking disaster, a breathing dirt-bag. That was John Newton.
John was a failure. You know who else was? Abraham, yet he was called “righteous”, and so was his always-in-trouble relative Lot. David was a looser with women, yet he was called a “man after God’s own heart.” Paul was a God-hater, yet he is known as the most important writer of the Bible. And the list goes on.
Are we missing something? Or am I instead being wrong to criticize Elvis Presley’s faith, or the way of life of Aerosmith?
Let’s take a lesson from John Newton, the wretch, and learn the lesson from him that took him his entire life to master: Salvation is free and it is for everyone. If you try to earn it or deserve it, you will never get it.
Stop trying to appease God and become good enough for him. You cannot be, the Bible is clear that Salvation comes through faith alone, apart from good works. We cannot be good enough for God because we are all sinners (Rom. 3:23) and we are all wretches. Yet faith in what you ask? In Christ alone.
Watching the wetness in the eyes of the singers of Il Divo brought this all into perspective. The sad irony is that they did not understand the words that were making their eyes wet with tears. They did not understand the Amazing Grace that gave John Newton his undeserved freedom and they did not understand the price of God’s Son as he bled to bring the human race forgiveness of sins. The truth is that the greatest irony is that God paid to have man love him. He paid with blood to give us freedom, which we did not deserve.