Last time I talked about how hysteria and hostility tend to dominate American minds and mouths in relation to terrorism, and how this plays right into the plans of the Captain of “Team Hate.” When we think and talk the talk of the hysterical we’re tossing it up right over the plate and into the wheelhouse of Captain Hater and his lineup horrendously hot hitters. (Baseball reference for those of us missing the sport for the winter.)
Terrorism is a form of theater. It always has an audience in mind. Terrorists are not only interested in massacring their initial targets, but have long-term strategies beyond those targets. They don’t just want to kill infidels; they want to undermine their culture. They have a highly effective way of driving people apart. While we may not have a foolproof strategy to eliminate terrorism in our world, there are ways to quit acting like fools and start combatting their secondary goal of creating hostility in our own ranks. Essentially, we have to stop doing the work of the terrorists for them! We have to live over the tempting trend of hate and hostility and we have to quit engaging in the sort of unchristian conspiratorial rhetoric that drives us apart as a nation.
Revenge versus Justice
“Be slow to get angry. . . anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” James 1:19
I confess that I am a lover of action movies where the good guys get their revenge over the bad guys. The worse the injustice done during the storyline, the severer the vengeance justified, which, for me, yields the greater catharsis and emotional satisfaction at the end of the movie. I admit that it’s really quite hypocritical for an old hippie peacenik like myself to be fist pumping when the hero kills all his enemies and saves the world. “Vengeance is mine, saith Barney!”
There’s no getting around it, in movie watching it’s vengeance that I celebrate. But in real life there’s a difference between vengeance and justice, a distinction that seems to be nearly absent in our American psyche. The one incites hate while the other is inspired by the holy.
“Wait, in Scripture, God ‘hates’ certain things and even certain kinds of people.” Yes, but God is the only one in his universe that possesses that singular kind of hate that could be called a “holy hate.” As God contains no conflicting components in his character. His hate and his love collude rather than collide. He hates anything that stands in the way of our full enjoyment of his love. Hate in the heart of the God who is love is a hate that exudes from his loving character. No one I know is in constant possession of such a thing.
Similarly he’s called a “Jealous God.” How could it be that jealousy (like hate) is an iniquity for us and yet a quality in God? It’s because he knows that what’s best for us is him! It’s only right that he should hate it whenever we prefer something or someone above him. It’s to our benefit, to love and serve him first and foremost. It’s entirely for our benefit that inspires his unselfish, yet jealous, love. For our sake he’s jealous of any devotion less than that.
Conceptual theologizing aside, we sinners simply aren’t capable of such a virtuous expression of divine hate and are therefore commanded to beg off of it altogether.
The goals of revenge and justice are disparate. Revenge only makes us feel better for the moment while justice makes things better in the moment and beyond.
Our job is to work for justice and leave the vengeance to God. He alone is qualified for that task. He’s the only One righteous enough to say, “Vengeance is mine… I will repay…” His anger is a uniquely righteous anger. He doesn’t hate evil people. He hates evil because of what it does to people. This doesn’t seem to be a skill that many, if any, of us humans have developed.
Again, I’m saying that whatever strategy our country devises to counter the threat of terrorism, as we go forward, we who follow Jesus must take our cues on how to think from God and his Word rather than from the media and hostility.com. We simply can’t afford to perpetuate the wagon-circling and retributive rhetoric of the stump speechifiers.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The Church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state.” We have to be informed and inspired by the character of the God we serve or fail our culture as a reliable “conscience.”
Next time I’ll share about how hysteria and hatred hijack our abundance…