Emboldened, the enemy has now invaded the sanctuary.
By no coincidence, after Charleston the best of secular pundits are lost and out of words.
“I have nothing for you but sadness,” as comedian Jon Stewart confessed with commendable honesty—dismayed that amid the nationwide explosion of murderous acts among us, “we still won’t do (anything) about it.”
After the anguish, the disgust, the anger, the dismay, the grief, even the forgiveness, the world is left with nothing in its reserves of intelligence and industry. Lurking beneath whatever satisfaction in our very best, even humane efforts, lies the terrifying reality that we can mourn the destruction, but we can’t stop the destroyer. We can even catch and punish the criminal, but we can’t stop the crime.
Like the carnival game Whack the Gopher, we kill or lock up one murderous gunman only to see another pop up elsewhere. After awhile, it makes you want to unplug the game.
Amid the ongoing carnage, what astounds me as a Christian is not the bloodshed but our utter blindness before the power of evil–clearly described in the Bible–which perpetrates it. Christians believe that through Jesus’ death and resurrection, God established a beachhead for His Kingdom rule in this world. In fact, He poured out upon us all His very Spirit that animated Jesus—and has thereby not only overcome the dominion of evil, but extended that power to us.
“The reason the Son of God appeared,” as John put it simply, “was to destroy the Devil’s work” (1 Jn 3:8NIV).
What’s more, Jesus gave His disciples “power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:2; see “Jesus the Warrior King” in No Small Snakes: A Journey into Spiritual Warfare.)
Meanwhile, as we cling to the fantasy of our control, the enemy of God and humanity is controlling and destroying us.
Of course, such “primitive” and “medieval” references to demons and devils offend our spiritually challenged Western sensibilities. Indeed, our conceit makes us more offended by the concept of a devil than by his murderous violence among us. This reveals our spiritual denial as patently irresponsible—and leaves us with nothing but sadness in the face of his destruction. (see “Overcoming Spiritual Denial” in Religion vs Reality)
We’ve become too good at civic mourning. A year ago, the University of California in Santa Barbara where I live held an evening memorial service for seven students killed in the campus community by a crazed gunman. Over 20,000 mourners attended. Sincere eulogies were offered, comfort was preached, candles were lit, families were embraced, tears upon tears were shed.
Then everybody went home into the darkness.
It’s good, even necessary for our sanity, to grieve the afflicted–but not sufficient to stop the afflictor. What redeems our awful loss is a renewed determination to destroy the evil perpetrator whose work is destroying us.
“Peace is what I leave with you,” Jesus promised his followers–then qualified that gift by adding, “It is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does” (John 14:27).
The peace of Jesus is neither quiet nor gained without a fight. “For though we live in the world,” as Paul explained, “we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we use in our fight are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretense that sets itself up against the knowledge of God (2 Corinth. 10:3-5; see “Jesus Is Our Peace: The Alternative to Warmaking” in Broken by Religion, Healed by God.)
To recap: Jesus did not protest the power of evil. He destroyed it.
How then, can we join Him in that victory?
Here’s my vision: What if twenty thousand Jesus-believers in Santa Barbara, and thousands more in Charleston, in Sandy Hook, in Littleton, in the now countless sites of destruction decided literally, “To hell with this killing!”? What if after caring for ourselves by grieving we cared for others not yet shot by responsibly taking up the sword of the Spirit released in us through Jesus? What if we marched through our campuses, communities, movie theaters, churchyards, and cities throughout our country and in the name of Jesus commanded the Destroyer out from among us?
What if Christians went on the offensive so boldly before any occasion to grieve?
Apparently, it’s easier for a blindly secularized culture and a divided, anaesthetized Church to suffer senseless deaths over and again than face the reality of evil, confess the shame of our own powerlessness, and wield the power God has given us in Jesus to defeat it.
We’re out of words because the only way we can cope with evil amid our limited natural resources is to deny it.
Maybe it’s good that we have nothing more to say.
Maybe it’s time for us to stop talking and let God speak.
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power,” as Paul exhorted the church at Ephesus:
Put on the full armor of God so you can stand up against the devil’s evil schemes. For your struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms… This is for keeps, a life-and-death struggle to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.
Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. (Ephes 6:10-12NIV, 13TMB).
Certainly, the killers must be caught and held accountable. Until Jesus returns, we will need police and soldiers. But if we want to offer something more than sadness in the face of evil, for God’s sake Christians, get in the battle with Jesus!
If indeed, anything redemptive is to come out of our culture’s insane violence, it must be to force us out of denial and humbly to face the reality of evil—and drive us thereby on our faces before the God who has overcome it in Jesus. There, at last, we can cry out not only our grief but also, like Jesus, our fierce determination to destroy the works of the enemy who is now so freely scourging our land.
As on cue, the media is busy psychoanalyzing the Charleston killer, even dignifying his hateful message by publicizing his “manifesto” and thereby giving the enemy an international stage. Meanwhile, the world denies Jesus a stage—often because Christians offer no palpable alternative. “More guns in church could have stopped Charleston shooting,” as one news story headlined this week, paraphrasing a current avowedly Christian Presidential candidate.
“The only problem with Christianity,” as once said, “is that nobody’s ever tried it.”
The world has understandably framed the Charleston murders as a racial event and focused its counterattack on a racist culture which fostered it. Certainly, racism is among the enemy’s works which Jesus has come to destroy, and we are rightly compelled by such events to challenge and overcome it (see “Victory over Racism” in Fight like a Man: A New Manhood for a New Warfare).
But could this terrible loss be further redeemed by an even larger takeaway?
As bearers of God’s Holy Spirit, Christians are uniquely empowered to take out this spiritual enemy. Until now, he has apparently respected that and focused rather on secular venues; his agents have balked at actually entering American churches.
Could Charleston, like 9/11, be a watershed event in the battle to establish God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven? What if until now the enemy has been testing the waters, waiting to see how Christians respond to his destruction in the world—even as Hitler invaded Czechosolvakia in 1938 to test European resolve?
Very soon, the world will dismiss the Charleston murders as outdated news, and once again we’ll all go home into the darkness. What if the enemy is hoping we’ll all thereby miss the more strategic lesson—as England’s appeasement encouraged Hitler’s larger aggression?
If so—if indeed, the enemy can now enter God’s house with impunity–no church is safe, no matter what color its worshippers.
If that leaves you with nothing but sadness, you need to read this again.