We’re all beleaguered by the appalling realities of terrorism, mass shootings, and suicide bombings these days. I’m personally frustrated that I don’t have any solutions and don’t even know exactly how to pray about these genocidal maniacs who have brutally murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent people, driven millions from their homes and countries, and have intimidated most of the world to live in craven fear for their own lives.
It’s a vicious and volatile time as well as a regrettably polarizing season in our own national conversation. I have no intention of adding my voice to either the right or left side of the political spectrum. I’m no political pundit. I don’t have any quick political fixes for the fixes we’re in. But as a pretty serious Bible student and stumbIing disciple of Jesus I have to get some things off my chest regarding my disappointment with rancorous rhetoric coming from alleged Christian sources these days in regard to terrorism and its consequences.
It’s a no-brainer that Christians everywhere have to accelerate our prayers for peace and justice. My own denomination is calling for a 21-day fast and prayer vigil for that very reason. I don’t know about you, but when I pray, sometimes God intervenes in the circumstances I’m praying about, but almost always interferes with my way of thinking. Frankly, I’m a pretty slow study. My feet dragging notwithstanding, it’s what I consider to be a Christian way of thinking that I want to submit for your consideration.
I don’t want to trivialize the crisis or belittle anyone’s proposed solutions with my simple musings. I hope not to come across as, “Here are some Bible verses, now get over it!” But I am seriously ill at ease about how we Christians think and speak about these things.
We don’t seem to be as apt as we should be to consult God and his Book when formulating our opinions about world events. Christians seem to have made a mad dash to partisan presuppositions and their favorite news pundits before turning to their Bibles. We’re letting our feelings – especially the companion emotions of fear and anger – govern our thinking when we should be “thinking through” the Word of God.
I’m not saying that the Bible supplies simplistic action steps for each and every human predicament. It was never meant to provide us with precise solutions to every social problem. What it does is lead us by principles more often than by precepts. It directs us to God instead of away from him. God never intended for the Bible to be a substitute for the Spirit. It’s not like we can just look up “How to respond to your rebellious teenager” to find out exactly what to do when you catch your kid in the backyard smoking pot! That’s not really how it works. While there are a number of passages that give panicking parents wise principles on how to treat our children in general, they don’t give us specific actions steps for every child in every circumstance. We actually have to ask God for the wisdom to know how to apply what we find in Scripture. The same applies to how we relate to our terror of terrorism.
Hysteria and Hostility versus the Word and Will of God
When we’re dominated by what we feel rather than informed by what we believe we Christians have been known to do some pretty stupid things! We become part of the problem more than part of the solution.
When I was a preteen I had a mini-bike, sort of a tiny motorcycle with a lawnmower engine, which was equipped with what they call a “governor.” I don’t know how a governor works exactly, I just know it keeps the engine from going faster than is safe for the engine and its rider. The Word and the Spirit of God work in a similar way, as a governor to prevent us from rushing headlong into destructive – as opposed to constructive – behavior.
Someone said, “I don’t have a bad temper; I have an impulse control disorder.” That’s what afflicts many of God’s beloved – a “disorder” keeping them from controlling their baser impulses! Right?
Solomon either had a problem reining in his own anger or knew someone who did. Maybe a lot of both! It’s one of his favorite themes in his make-better-choices book of Proverbs. “Mockers stir up a city, but the wise turn away anger.” Radio shock jocks, TV news propagandists, and most on the campaign trail stir up American audiences with vitriolic speeches.
One of my all time favorite Proverbs is, “As twisting the nose produces blood, so stirring up anger produces strife.” Good advice. Don’t grab a guy’s nose and twist! You might not like what comes out!
Since 9/11 our world has lived, to one degree or another, in terror over terrorism. That day changed us and not for the better. And now, despite all our “efforts,” the world is even more dangerous with even more coldblooded enemies who despise us and hate everyone who doesn’t believe the way they do. The atmosphere we’ve been inhaling for the last decade and a half consists primarily of fear and anger.
Christian or not, to some degree, we’re all angry and afraid of what’s going on in our world. These human emotions are just as much a reality for Christians as everyone else. But in another sense we’re not like everyone else. We have, or should have, a more enlightened way of looking at the world and its calamities.
What concerns me, especially for those who claim a faith in Jesus, is how fear and anger seem to frame our national conversation in a way that’s extremely unhealthy. If all the revenge-laden rhetoric came from the irreligious I would understand. But I’m ashamed when people who profess faith in Jesus exhibit a similar hysteria, cloaked in biblical language.
I’m not saying that we should just get over our fear and anger, but I hope to evince a way forward so that we can live well in spite of them. It’s not that we’ll ever not be afraid of or angry about genocidal atrocities. As long as there is evil in the world we should be incensed about it, and to some degree frightened for ourselves and for others.
Pulitzer prize winner Earnest Becker, “To live fully is to live with an awareness of the rumble of terror that underlies everything.” We can’t bury our heads in the sand and pretend there’s no danger, but we have the bonus of letting the Word and the will of God govern our thinking instead of fear and anger. We can be defined by what (Who) is inside us more than what is outside.
Next time: How to tell the difference between a call for human revenge and divine justice…