One famous theologian said that in one hand he read the newspaper and in the other he read his Bible. I feel a bit like that (even though newspaper reading has fallen out of fashion). I’m always interested in the news, but in recent months I’ve become almost manic. The tragic events happening in the Middle East and Nigeria have captured the world’s attention and my own.
And then this is also the 100 year anniversary of World War 1. Recently, I began to realize that I barely understood the events that led to World War 1. I began reading Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August. She described how hubris, human pride, vanity, self-pity in the hearts of Kaisers, Presidents, ordinary people was at the heart of the events that unfolded in August, 1914. She talked about a world that was filled with the philosophy of Nietzsche and Hegel and motivated by ideas of human grandeur, nationalistic ambition, and wounded pride.
Today, I saw a report on CNN where a Russian hell’s angel said that he loved Putin so much because finally the country had a president that they could be proud of, a president who would deal with the national shame of having declined as a superpower. He said some of his Hell’s Angels had gone to the Ukrainian front to fight with the rebels and that some of them had died. He was described as having almost religious devotion for Putin. His comments were tinged with the same wounded pride and self-pity that people in Germany felt in the 1930’s when Hitler promised to return the country’s grandeur.
As I reflected on all this--particularly the atrocities of ISIS, I felt like the Psalmist when he cursed his enemies and asked the Lord to vindicate His name and bring justice and judgment on them. And on the other hand, I could also hear the whisper of doubt coming into my own heart, “Lord where are you? How can you let these things go on?” I’m glad that the Psalmist gives vent to all our emotions while continually bringing us back to the Lord.
As I reflected further, I was sobered by the fact that the roots of the same sins that lead people to warfare and murder are in my own heart—everyone’s heart. We all have roots of self-pity, envy, anger, lust, and sloth where we basically just want to live safe, comfortable lives. In short, I could see that we all have disordered loves that are a disease of the heart, and that these disordered loves if allowed to grow will make themselves public in our lives.
But then I thought I’m a pastor. I have to give people the good news of the gospel. It’s Thursday and Sunday is coming. If you are a pastor, Sunday is always coming. So I needed to keep my footing for both of us. Here is what helped me:
- There is no such thing as “the good guys and the bad guys”. Jesus when talking to the disciples said, “If you who are evil know how to give good gifts, how much more will the Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” Such audacity! He called them “evil”, and by inference all of us. But I accept the Lord’s verdict. If he could call the disciples “evil”, then certainly I am as evil as well. This actually brings a lot of hope. It saves us from my judgmentalism, comparisons and pride. We can’t look at any group of people--no matter their race, their political affiliation, their religion or their sin and smugly declare that they are the bad ones and we are the good ones. We can also have the same hope of salvation for them that we have for ourselves. The doctrine of original sin and the cross levels us all.
- As for the question, “Where is God in the midst of these atrocities”, what we do know is that God has not let himself off the hook. He has entered into human suffering in the person of Christ--who was tempted and tried more than any of us can know--and yet he was without sin. He has also said that ultimately everything that is sad will become untrue. Romans 8 (where we are at present) says that in the end all will be be for good, nothing can separate from his love and the best is yet to be.
Reading Romans, the Book of Revelation and the Psalms have been good medicine. I know who ultimately wins, and I find that the Biblical authors struggled with the same questions but found their trust in God (see in particular Psalm 73). I also reminded myself that it was time to seriously read Augustine’s City of God which was written at the time when Rome was being sacked by the barbarians. While Rome falls, he sees the enduring kingdom of God.
- Get on with the business of preaching the gospel and planting churches. That was the thrust of a recent Gospel Coalition article that took up some of the same questions. The article reminded the readers of Paul preaching the gospel in the first century. While he was preaching the gospel, the Roman and Jewish war took place between 63 and 73 AD. At the end, Rome raised Jerusalem to the ground (just as Jesus prophesied). Shortly after there was the beginning of the great persecutions under Nero, and Diocletian.
So what did Paul do--he endured everything to preach the gospel and to plant churches. So I got up and worked on the next sermon, contacted my best church planting friend to get together so we could think more clearly how the gospel can be multiplied in our city through church planting, and began to pray how we could better support our brothers and sisters who are paying for their testimony for Jesus at the cost of their blood.