Are you enjoying these dog days of summer right now in the northern hemisphere? These warm, humid days seem to slow time. Laziness becomes contagious; maybe it’s the longer hours of daylight, lulling me to take my time getting things done.
My brain has been a bit hazy since returning from our wonderful family vacation a few weeks ago. Someone asked me if it was too short, and even though I was tempted to say “yes”, I knew it wasn’t. It was just the right amount of time. My bucket definitely was filled but my mind is lingering in those memories, tempting me not to reengage back to “normal” too quickly.
Just hours before we left our Montana mountain getaway, a California man killed four people and injured 13. Three days after we returned to Michigan, a Texas man killed 22 and injured 24. Thirteen hours later, an Ohio man killed ten and injured 27.
I am so sick of this. We all are. Our hearts are so heavy.
We are a vain, violent, throw-away society. I talked to a woman this morning, on the sidewalk in front of a local abortion clinic. She said she and her husband have two children, they aren’t sure they want another. Every day, more than 2,500 babies are aborted. (See stats here.)
What is wrong with us?! We kill our brothers for hate, our babies for inconvenience.
Today, as I reclined at the beach, watching my daughter and her cousins play in the water, I was jolted from my happy place. A man training his canine repeatedly yelled in a loud voice at least 20 times, “BAD DOG!”
I was irritated at this man's obnoxious tone and sad for his dog, swimming by the shore and apparently not fetching the ball correctly. As I tried unsuccessfully to ignore this pet owner, I transposed one of his words in my head: Bad god.
Our sin sick culture is grasping at straws to explain the cause of these shootings: mental illness, radical ideologies, guns. These awful events are the consequence of our murderous tendencies. A pattern that’s been around since the beginning and continues to plague us as we trade the one true God for bad gods, imposters: lust, pride, power. We make believe that our love affair with rebellion and relative truth has no consequences. We act as though there is not one target for which we should all be aiming. We pretend sin doesn’t really exist.
The youngest disciple of Yeshua/Jesus wrote deeply of the Father and his love, reminding us of who we are and WHOSE we are. Read this paraphrase of 1 John 2, a clear message on sin, its deleterious effect, and the antidote!
Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.
I have read exactly one book by Alexsander Solzenhetzen, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. His first published work, it chronicles a single day in the life of an ordinary prisoner at a Soviet labor camp in the 1950s.
A writer and historian, Solzenhetzen became a political prisoner and spent more than a decade in labor camps and then exile, which provided inspiration for his intellectual and spiritual odyssey. This outspoken critic of the Soviet Union and communism was awarded the 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature.
In the past year, I loaned The Gulag Archipelago from the library but was wildly unsuccessful at even making a dent. It is a prodigious three-volume tome. Thankfully, a website about his life and works provided some easy pickings. His eloquence on the state of the human heart is stunning:
"Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains… an unuprooted small corner of evil."
From The Gulag Archipelago, Part 4, Chapter 1, “The Ascent”
The 6th century prophet Jeremiah nailed this:
"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?"
"I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.'"
The choice is clearly spelled out in the preceding verses: trust in man results in a curse but trust in God results in great blessing.
Three years before our nation legalized abortion, Solzenhetzen said this in his 1970 Nobel Prize Lecture:
"But let us not forget that violence does not and cannot exist by itself. It is invariably intertwined with the lie. They are linked in the most intimate, most organic and profound fashion. Violence cannot conceal itself behind anything except lies, and lies have nothing to maintain them save violence. Anyone who has once proclaimed violence as his method must inexorably choose the lie as his principle… Violence [does not] always and necessarily lunge straight for your throat; more often than not it demands of its subjects only that they pledge allegiance to lies, that they participate in falsehood."
Solzenhetzen saw our obvious moral decline when he shared A World Split Apart, his 1978 Harvard Commencement Address:
"And yet in early democracies, as in American democracy at the time of its birth, all individual human rights were granted on the ground that man is God’s creature. That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility. Such was the heritage of the preceding one thousand years. Two hundred or even fifty years ago, it would have seemed quite impossible, in America, that an individual be granted boundless freedom with no purpose, simply for the satisfaction of his whims. Subsequently, however all such limitations were eroded everywhere in the West; a total emancipation occurred from the moral heritage of Christian centuries with their great reserves of mercy and sacrifice. State systems were becoming ever more materialistic. The West has finally achieved the rights of man, and even to excess, but man’s sense of responsibility to God and society has grown dimmer and dimmer.”
Lastly, from his Templeton Lecture, 1983:
"More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened. Since then I have spent well-nigh fifty years working on the history of our Revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some sixty million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”
A ruinous revolution lies in the heart of us all, resulting in millions slaughtered, across millennia, from Cain to the Crusaders, Stalin to the most recent mass shooter, every ethnic cleansing to each mother sacrificing her baby to an abortionist. We must surrender our bad gods, repent and invite the one true God to transform us, each, from the inside out.
Tim Keller, (quoted in photo above and below) one of my favorite theologians and authors, is constantly challenging me to understand the great paradoxes of human nature and Torah/God's instruction:
“So we can say that we are more wicked than we ever dared believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope – at the very same time.”
And the beautiful, joyful truth of the gospel is this!
"For at just the right time, while we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. For rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
"If you declare with your mouth, ’Jesus is Lord,‘ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."