As I sit here at the keyboard attempting to begin this blog post, I feel a bit overwhelmed. I have so many thoughts swirling inside my brain and it is hard to know where to start. I am tempted to just go ahead and throw in the towel and not put forth the time, thought, and energy it is going to take to see this post to its completion. But today, I feel compelled to write. We will see if I finish!
For quite sometime I have taken in all of the news reports, commentary, tweets, Facebook posts, debates, and opinions that have been expressed in all of the media outlets to which we are exposed. I have considered each and every story that seems to permeate our news. I have pondered them all from different angles. My conservative friends would be unhappy to know that I follow and read headlines/commentary from CNN on Twitter, and listen to NPR when driving my car. My liberal friends would be equally unhappy to know I occasionally listen to FoxNews on my Sirius XM app. When I step back and weigh all of it on the scales, my heart is heavy. If you profess to be a Christian and are reading this post, the goings on in our world today should give you great pause. If you are watching all of these events unfold and are not doing a serious self-evaluation, I would encourage you to do so. Notice I said self evaluation. I think we do quite enough evaluation of others, don’t you? Yes, we are doing quite a lot of that.
So often, we are distracted by what we see on the surface. We focus and fixate upon the arguments: the words that people say, write on their Facebook status, or tweet. We allow what is said on the news to permeate our thought life. We react, vent, and make sure our opinions are heard. Notice I am saying “we.” Even though I refrain from writing my opinions about current events on Facebook or Twitter, I most definitely vent them to my husband or close friends. I find that it is so easy for us to get caught up in the fray–to allow the tweets, responses, and commentary to govern our belief systems and thought life.
Can we all just step back for a moment and look a little deeper?
I believe that the enemy would want for us to keep our attention focused upon the surface things. If we can stay distracted and angry at what is going on around us, then we can’t really step back and see the whole picture. He is delighted when we don’t go deeper. He is counting on it.
So, when I step back and look at the state of our country and our world, what is clearly seen can be encompassed in one statement:
We have made humankind and our lives here on earth an idol. We believe that our purpose on this earth is to gain the acceptance and acknowledgement of other people and have our own needs met, rather than to praise and glorify our God and Creator.
Allow me to type that again.
We have made humankind and our lives here on earth an idol. We believe that our purpose on this earth is to gain the acceptance and acknowledgement of other people, and have our own needs met, rather than to praise and glorify our God and Creator.
In our minds and our beliefs, we have elevated us and what we think our lives should be, above the Creator of it all. This is what lies at the root of our broken world. Allow me to list a few ways that this manifests itself:
- The need for control
All of these things point to self consumption and elevation.
We put our rights as individuals or a group ABOVE the call to practice forgiveness, grace, love, and mercy. We place our own rights as of utmost importance. I hate to narrow this to just politics, but that seems to be the way we can most easily see it these days. This is happening all across the political spectrum. It is happening among conservatives and it is happening among liberals. It is happening among the moderates. It is happening among Christians, Jews, Muslims, Atheists, and people of all races. We are ALL demanding our rights. We are all demanding justice for how we were or are being wronged. Please don’t mistake me–there are many people groups that have been terribly and horribly wronged throughout the history of mankind. I weep as I think about the atrocities that do happen and have happened just because of a person’s skin color, religion, or culture. What on earth could possess a person to think that they can look at another created human being as less than human? In addition to that, we must advocate for the widow and the orphan, we must give to the poor, visit the prisoner, minister to the needy. This is the call of the church. But, here is the unavoidable and horrible truth: as long as sin is in this world, evil will continue. It is happening all over the world. It is everywhere and is ingrained in every culture. The question we must grapple with is, “What will be my response when someone wrongs me or when they reject my point of view?”
When forgiveness is absent, bitterness and hatred take root.
Until He makes all things new, this will not be erased. But, in the meantime, we want justice. The desire for justice in itself is not wrong. But, I believe when this noble desire becomes an all-consuming desire, sin is crouching at our doorstep. If justice must happen at all costs, this is when it becomes dangerous.
Here is a fundamental truth: justice will not be fully met until the One True Judge disperses justice. There is only One who can rightly be trusted to judge humanity for crimes of prejudice, of jealousy, and of hatred. Our thirst for justice will not be quenched by any human system or law. Am I saying that we must do away with laws and punishments? Absolutely not. Law and order are essential for a society to thrive. Should the criminal be put in prison? Most definitely. But we have fallen to such a level that we want punishment for a person just because he/she says something we disagree with. We are ALL doing this. Every single one of us. No side is exempt. Why? Because we are human. We are fallen creatures and it is all too easy to keep our eyes focused upon ourselves. Sadly, we do not believe in the power of forgiveness. Forgiveness and reconciliation is a much greater power than demanding our rights are met. The world will begin to move in a different direction when we all begin to practice forgiveness and to show grace to others. When we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him–amazing changes occur.
I have been reading a story aloud to my children that has been a catalyst for this blog post. This story is not a new one. It is an ancient one, really, but was retold as an allegory by John Bunyan in the 1670s. The Pilgrim’s Progress is indubitably considered to be one of the foundational writings in all of western literature. Scholars from all walks of life have read it and written about it. Many will say that along with the Bible, the writings of Homer, Shakespeare, and the writings of St. Augustine, it is a must read for all those who pursue an education. I would argue that it is a must read for everyone. And for those who cannot read, a must listen.
I am not reading the original to my elementary-aged children. Instead, we are using The Little Pilgrim’s Progress, and may I just say that it is so well done. I am usually not one that recommends adaptations of the classics, but in this case, you can’t go wrong. A little over halfway through the story, Christian (the protagonist) and his friend Faithful come to a city called Vanity Fair. Both Christian and Faithful have already come through various trials and sufferings, but Evangelist warns them that this city will be the most difficult challenge yet. He describes the city as being one that is full of beautiful and pleasant things. He remarks that it is also full of many pilgrims who have forgotten about their good King, and have instead been distracted by the kind of life the Wicked Prince can provide them in Vanity Fair. You see, the Wicked Prince (Satan) erected this city in a very strategic place, and all pilgrims who are on their way to the Celestial City (heaven) must pass through it.
Evangelist goes on to tell them that there are many who live there who hate pilgrims on their way to the Celestial City, and will stop at nothing to keep them from passing through the gates. He exhorts Christian and Faithful:
“You must walk quietly along the streets. Do not stop to look at the beautiful things in the shops and in the market, and do not let the children persuade you to play with them. Sometimes the pilgrims are treated very cruelly.”
After receiving this warning, Christian asks, “Would they kill us, do you think?” Evangelist replies that they well may be put in prison and that there have often been people wicked enough to kill anyone who does not serve the Wicked Prince. Then he remarks, “Do not be afraid. If you have to die there, the King will send His angels, and they will carry you at once to the Celestial City, and you will have no more trouble or pain forever.”
As the boys walk on, they talk about what Evangelist has told them. Christian asks Faithful if he is afraid. This is how Faithful responds, “Not very much. The King will take care of us…I shall keep close to you, and if the people do kill me, there will be no more enemies to fight.”
When the two pilgrims enter the city, they are immediately accosted by a group of children who mock them. They are then falsely accused of causing trouble in the city, when in fact they have made no comment or raised their voices in any manner. Because the magistrate has such a strong loathing for pilgrims, he drags them to the Governor. The boys are beaten and endure further mockery and unjust treatment. Their response? They chose to trust the goodness of their King. They do not believe the lies that are being said about them and do not demand their rights. But, Faithful asks if he might speak to the judge and jury, and he speaks eloquently. As Christian witnesses the resolve of his friend…
Christian wondered how it was that Faithful had become so brave. His face was pale, but he did not seem to be frightened, although the judge and the people in the court looked wicked and cruel. Christian afterward knew that the King had helped His pilgrim and had made the timid boy brave and strong, so that he was not afraid to speak out and own that he loved his King dearly and would obey no one else.
How is this different from what we see today? Faithful speaks of his King, not himself. He does not demand to be treated differently. He does not yell in anger at his enemies. Ultimately, Faithful knows that the hatred that is being spewed toward him comes from hearts that hate the King. It is the King they reject, and therefore the King’s followers are also despised. Furthermore, he knows that the King is with him and will never abandon him, even in death.
Faithful is then unjustly condemned to death and martyred for his beliefs.
In Bunyan’s original classic, these words follow:
Brave Faithful, bravely done in word and deed;
Judge, witnesses, and jury have instead of overcoming thee; but shown their rage:
When they are dead, thou wilt live from age to age…
Oh reader, we must remember that any argument that elevates the creation over the Creator is an argument that will not last. We were not created to live comfortable, care-free lives. We were not created to be accepted by other people or people groups. Being accepted and praised by human beings is not our reason for living on this planet.
If Christ was not spared mockery and suffering, how can we expect to avoid it? Are we spending our energies on tearing down other humans who are created in God’s image? Or, are we focusing upon making His name great with our words and arguments?
Are we so obsessed with position, recognition, revenge, and the praise and acceptance of others, that we become controlled by them? This is vanity.
“Behold Vanity Fair, the pilgrims there
Are chained and stand beside:
Even so it was our Lord passed here,
And on Mt. Calvary, died.” John Bunyan The Pilgrim’s Progress