National Tragedies, Debates, and Ministry

On February 14, 2018, a gunman walked into a high school in Florida, killing 17 people and injuring dozens more.  These tragedies have sadly become more and more common.  Is it the state of mental health in our nation? The mainstreaming of violence?  Accessibility and poor control of guns?  Each one of these subjects seem to bring up visceral reactions from a wide range of people.  Those for and against a given issue take to their moral high-horse, waving their finger at the opposing side.  Inevitably the conversation will become reduced to little more than name calling, accusing the opposing side of being uneducated or insensitive, and a lack of meaningful action by society and the state.

It seems obvious that this detente is not beneficial to victims, politicians, or the general public, but it’s addictive.  It’s so much easier to call someone a name than it is to investigate real, meaningful solutions.  As Christians, you’d think we were above the fray.  You’d think we would employ our basis of the scriptures and an ever-loving God to use cooler tongues in the midst of a national debate.

We don’t.

The truth is that Christians are often among the best of those leading to emotionally destructive debates in politics.  We let our passions overcome our responsibility to stop, contemplate, and think reasonably.  Just look at any of the many verses in Proverbs that encourage this exact type of behavior.

Hatred stirs up conflicts, but love covers all offenses. (Proverbs 10:12)

A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but one slow to anger calms strife. (Proverbs 15:18)

A contrary person spreads conflict, and a gossip separate close friends. (Proverbs 16:28)

To start a conflict is to release a flood; stop the dispute before it breaks out. (Proverbs 17:14)

The list of scriptures that implore us to stop and thinking about our reaction to world events are too many to count.

So, what do we do?

Very often, those involved in youth ministry or ministry in general discuss how representatives of faith should respond in the wake of tragedy.  There are a lot of good responses that seem well founded in scripture.  There are also a lot of responses offered by those with political agendas, loosely based on generic themes inspired by Christ.  Some of these responses can be quite destructive.  Regardless of the issue, I am always far more troubled by the way in which spiritual leaders are going about proving their point.

When we participate in the divisive debates framed by the world, we are “playing the world’s game” rather than playing God’s game.  Christians must be ever watchful of events as they unfold in this world, contemplate where God exists in the tragedy, and respond in a way that glorifies God’s will not a political ideology.  This becomes all the more difficult when we fool ourselves into thinking that our political ideology is somehow the divine Will of God.  There is not a lot of difference between someone pushing a political cause in the name of God in 2018 versus someone attempting the same task in medieval times.

So what do we do?  Do we sit back passively and do nothing?  Do we refused to take part in the national dialog on an issue?  I think the answer is first ‘no’, then ‘yes’.  Let me explain in several steps.

  1. When an event occurs it is easy, and possibly intuitive, to react instinctively to the facet of the situation which resonates with you the most.  As much as we would like to think that God resonates with us more than anything else, our hearts are flawed and we are often drawn to worldly things.  The Christian should not look at evil in the world and automatically assume there is any particular action they can taken to prevent evil’s spread.  This is how the world thinks.  Rather, the Christian should be quick to identify that evil in the world is the result of sin and only through the love of Jesus Christ can this sin be cured.
  2. We should mourn the tragedy and loss which has occurred and pray.  It is becoming a popular line among more progressive individuals to lampoon prayer as somehow ineffective.  “Why pray when prayer didn’t stop this tragedy in the first place?”  The very question is as silly; it presumes that prayer is a magical vending machine that gives whatever wish we ask.  If we believe in Christ and believe the veil was torn in the temple which Christ was crucified, then we believe God hears our prayers.  We also know that God hears the pain of His people when they call out to him (see Exodus).  It is right and it is good to reach out to God and pray for the salvation of our nation, the healing of broken communities, and the mercy of a loving God.  These things demonstrate our obedience to God and submission to his Will regardless of what tragedies we may face on our path to final perfection in heaven.
  3. Finally, we should assess our own actions and how we can advance God’s kingdom, even in the midst of chaos.  If someone is reading this who is not a believer, that may sound insane.  It may even sound a little concerning to those who are Christians, but it is Biblical.  Check out Luke 13.

Just then, some people came to tell Yeshua about the men from the Galil whom Pilate had slaughtered even while they were slaughtering animals for sacrifice. His answer to them was, “Do you think that just because they died so horribly, these folks from the Galil were worse sinners than all the others from the Galil? No, I tell you. Rather, unless you turn to God from your sins, you will all die as they did!

“Or what about those eighteen people who died when the tower at Shiloach fell on them? Do you think they were worse offenders than all the other people living in Yerushalayim? No, I tell you. Rather, unless you turn from your sins, you will all die similarly.”

Then Yeshua gave this illustration: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came looking for fruit but didn’t find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘Here, I’ve come looking for fruit on this fig tree for three years now without finding any. Cut it down — why let it go on using up the soil?’ But he answered, ‘Sir, leave it alone one more year. I’ll dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; if not, you will have it cut down then.’” (Luke 13:1-9)

In the passage in Luke, when Christ is asked about a tragedy, His response is that we should repent.  He doesn’t say we should protest the Roman government, pass new building codes, or participate in marches.  His message is to recognize the temporary nature of our time here on earth and contemplate the inherently sinful and flawed nature of the world in which we live.  So long as God decides it is still good for us to exist on this earth, we should turn our eyes to Him in the midst of tragedy.  Only when we realize that tragedy is the result of a sinful world do we begin to understand why prayer and personal ministry is the only scriptural response.

Now, let me add that personal ministry for some many begin to mimic or follow closely with the reactions of others.  In situations where a great injustice has been experienced by a people group, personal ministry may be providing support and relief for the oppressed or effected people.  To the world, that might look a lot like participating in a political movement.  I think these are the areas where we must check our own hearts and guard against the distractions of the devil who would much rather see us turn a tragedy into an attempt to vainly “solve the woes of a sinful world” without the intervention of God rather than see us use the experience to draw closer to our Creator.

How do we apply this to the latest shooting?

Many individuals are screaming for new gun control measures.  Others are defending their rights and trying to guard against someone using the opportunity of a tragedy to push a political agenda.  Which side is right and which side is misguided is something I can’t find in my Bible.  What I do find are instructions on how to handle a sinful world.  In the wake of the loss of life in Florida, I think it is incumbent on the communal church to pray actual prayers for wisdom, comfort, and mercy.  The Christian community must conduct itself in a way that demonstrates it’s priority to seeking God’s wisdom rather than our own.  Next, we must contemplate how the events that occurred impact our personal ministries, witnesses, and mission fields.  Once we can see God’s direction in the midst of the chaos, and only then, should we begin to take action.  In that way, whatever action we pursue, we will have the comfort of knowing we are pursuing a response influenced by God’s working on our hearts and not based on our own vain attempts at somehow ‘solving’ a fallen world through actions of our own.

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