It is clear – unless you are a castaway – that we are living in “interesting times.” Since March, we have remained isolated from our neighbors as a previously unknown virus rampaged through communities, caused politicians to behave more like potentates, and led people to enter into contentions over such simple things as toiletries, bread, and face masks. Then, just as it seemed that we were about to exit our communal COVID-19 confinement, the deaths of Ahmaud Arberry, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd led to a new wave of suffering for the black community, followed by protest marches and civil unrest. This, in turn, has led to the increased presence of militarized police forces, uncontrolled mob violence as well as orchestrated violent agitation, and the destabilization of entire communities.
All around us, voices are calling for us to take sides, to declare our loyalties. Some want to interpret the call for justice as choosing sides in a conflict that pits neighbor against neighbor but offers nothing but destruction. Where can we turn instead? What does God’s word have to say to those of us who trust in his promises and in his son?
God’s Promises Endure
Christians live in the communities that have been first ravaged by the medical and economic impact of the pandemic and then have become the stages for live dramas of sorrow, rage, and retribution. We hear the anger, the fear, and the zeal as everyone - no matter their stance on Black Lives Matter or COVID-19 - declares that they are right and those who aren’t fully with them are wrong.
We don’t like to think this, but the first article of the Nicene Creed (I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible) includes the notion that God stands behind the calamities that press us out of our hubris. The devil may be in the details, but God sits on the throne. It seems to be contrary to our common notions about the goodness of God, so let God speak for himself:
“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chron 7:13-14).
We would excise those words in verse 13 from the Scriptures, but there they are. The times would come when Israel and Judah could either rail against God’s authority, accept it numbly, or trust that, in all things, God is good, and does good (Ps 119:68). As we try to make sense of current events, some try to figure out what God is doing, as if his will could be teased out like bird entrails. They go the wrong way, because they ask the wrong question, thinking that God is a rogue lion that needs to be captured and tamed, and not “the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (1 Tim 4:10).
God reveals himself to those who trust in him, and preserves them in accordance with his gracious will which he has declared in the gospel of Christ. This relationship is not an abstraction or a theoretical construct. The Father’s “precious and very great promises” (2 Peter 1:4) are the foundation upon which we are to build our lives as “obedient children” (1 Peter 1:14). The Word of God shows us God’s purpose for us by his life, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection (John 20:30-31), and commends us to trust in his goodness regarding the things that he has kept to himself. The Holy Spirit ministers to us by opening our hearts to give us what we need, as people who do not know everything, cannot see all things, and without his word are left to stumble about in spiritual, moral, and psychic darkness (Eph 1:18). Through the “one holy Christian and apostolic Church” (Nicene Creed), God offers to provide for us as we live out our vocations in service to one another.
God reveals himself to those who trust in him, and preserves them in accordance with his gracious will which he has declared in the gospel of Christ. This relationship is not an abstraction or a theoretical construct.
God’s Church Endures
Jesus Christ has never left his church to go through its time on earth alone. In every generation, he has kept his promise that he would never leave us nor forsake us (Heb 13:5). We receive his gifts of word and sacrament to encourage and comfort us.
As the church during this turbulent time, we are blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ, chosen in him before the foundation of the world, and holy and blameless before him. We, whom the world disparages as abandoned and without hope (Ps. 42:10), are actually adopted children who have been granted to know the mystery of his will (Rom 8:15). While the world runs to and fro, following every wind of teaching from the various religious, political and socio-economic purveyors of temporary fixes to a transcendent problem, we stand our ground upon the foundation that is built upon the Rock. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12).
The spiritual forces of evil do not create; they appropriate our fleshly passions, our fear, and our desire to be in charge, in control, to be the winners. They ply their lies to lead us down the same road that the serpent led Adam in the Garden. Whether it’s the fear of death, the desire to make someone pay, or anything that offers us an alternative to the certainty of God’s abiding love for his creation, Satan and his forces will try to lead us astray from “a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Cor 11:3). Instead of being empowered by the Spirit of power and love and self-control (2 Tim 1:7), we become fueled by our emotions, our sense of self-righteous indignation, and our need to worship idols in place of the true and living God (Gal 5:19-21; 1 Cor 12:2). The Lord has a more excellent way: the way given through the reality of his word of promise.
The current civil unrest over the past week has put a stark contrast between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of men. After spending months debating what it means to “love your neighbor as yourself,” and going to every source but God for the answer, we now find people coming to wrong conclusions about other people who were made in the image of God just as they were. And, who just like them (and us), are sinners in need of the grace, mercy, and peace of God that is in Christ Jesus no matter their appearance, vocation, or law enforcement status might be.
The Lord has a more excellent way: the way given through the reality of his word of promise.
God’s Hearing Endures
God doesn’t permit me to write you off regardless of who you are or what you may have done. Nor does he allow you to dismiss me because I might not fit your image of a vessel of God’s mercy. Instead, God’s directive to his people is simple – having prepared ourselves through being nourished by his word, pray, with all manner of prayer and supplication in the Spirit. It is the fervent, effective prayer of the righteous that avails much. It is the prayer of faith that saves the sick, forgives the sinner, and comforts the suffering. It is prayer, in Christ’s name, that has the promise of God that he will hear from heaven, forgive our sin, and heal our land.
A health official said, regarding the measures being taken to lower the risk to life of his community, “We may not know whether we have done too much, but we will certainly know if we have not done enough.” If this is true regarding the various actions taken against a virus which still has no cure and no clear roadmap for defeat, how much more should we look at our prayers and intercessions during this time of sadness, unrest, and uncertainty, and say, “We might not know whether we have prayed and preached enough, but we shall certainly know whether we have not prayed or preached much, if at all.” Who knows whether God is patiently waiting for his people to call upon him so that he shall send showers of refreshing, a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit, an increase of fruitfulness in our ministry, and a harvest of redeemed people? When it happens, it will happen because we stopped debating, stopped virtue signaling, stopped accusing, and started praying and bearing witness to Christ, to the praise of his glorious grace.
God doesn’t permit me to write you off regardless of who you are or what you may have done. Nor does he allow you to dismiss me because I might not fit your image of a vessel of God’s mercy.
There is only one solution that reverses every curse, that breaks every stronghold, that makes all things right. Jesus Christ and his good news shine the true light that enlightens everyone. The gospel alone brings the love of God into every sin-darkened heart and situation. There is no true justice that either ignores the righteous decrees of God or leaves no room for the grace of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Often imitated, this grace can never be duplicated because there is no other name given under heaven among men whereby we must be saved.