Bible, Christianity, Church and State, Civility, Discipleship

Online Reading (March 11, 2022)

Some things I have been reading in the midst of this busy week. 

On Ukraine from the ERLC: “Thus far, the leader of Ukraine has shown the world that, contrary to what we’ve seen among many global leaders recently, virtue is not dead”

On “purity culture” from desiringGod: “They may not have dated young or kissed someone before marriage, but they didn’t get to taste what God means by purity either.”

Scotty Smith on praying for an evil ruler: “Father, either bring him to yourself, put him down, or take him out. You are “sovereign over all kingdoms.” You alone are God, You alone are worthy of our adoration, affection, and allegiance.”

On the Bruxy Cavey sandal from Christianity Today:After a three-month-long investigation, Cavey, 57, publicly confessed on Tuesday to an “adulterous relationship.” The church said it amounted to abuse of authority and sexual harassment against a woman under his pastoral counsel, asked him to resign, and removed his teachings from its website.”

ICC reports on the cost paid by some to be Christian online: “The assassination of Iman Sami, who was known as Maria, is suspected to have been retaliation by her family following a TikTok video she posted where she was singing Christian spiritual songs.”

Bible, Love, Mission, Politics, Prayer

How To React to Evil People.

Lightstock 169280 xsmall stephen daweOne of the things I enjoy most about the modern world is the ability to see lectures pretty much from all over the world. I have generally loved to attend public lectures at university and similar places because it stimulates my thinking and can get me to consider things from a different perspective than I had before. My penchant for public lectures (and the discussions afterwards) may be one of the reasons I date so infrequently. It’s honestly not that common to meet people who think an evening of, say, thoughts about the implications of Plato’s Republic for foreign policy sounds like a great way to spend an evening, so I often find myself attending lectures like that alone. Of course, COVID has done a number on attending public lectures, but has made it possible to “attend” lectures online, often from places I’d be unlikely to be able to visit myself for those lectures.

Most recently this was a very stimulating lecture on imprecations in the Psalms (I believe he was also promoting a book on the same topic).  As with most very good lectures in Biblical fields, at least for a pastor like me, it has been helpful as I think through some of the things the Church is facing. The speaker contends that our reading of Psalms, where it interprets the imprecations as merely desires for vengeance, are lacking. We need to see that God is still expressing His love and that God’s people are often through the Psalms, in the midst of suffering still desiring the vindication of God through the conversion of the nations to faith in God.

Why does this matter? As I write, someone I perceive as a very evil man is destroying people for no good reason through lies and through a powerful military under his command. What is a Christian to do in a case like this? Admittedly, I am not one of the people facing this evil, though it is hard not to have some indignation as people are killed for no other reason than being on the wrong side of a border and having political and cultural leanings different from other people. Additionally, there may come a day when as a Christian I face similar injustices. How is a Christian to think through these things?

Of course, we should pray for and positively help those who are victims of evil. That is a given.

The problem comes in one of Jesus’ most undeniably Jesus-like commands (and likely His most difficult)

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

Luke 6:27–36 (ESV)

There is an argument that goes around claiming that this text is about the oppressed forcing those with power to face them on equal terms (Walter Wink in “Jesus and Nonviolence” comes to mind), but I don’t think that is the point of the text, which seems to be more about actually loving your enemies, which I take to mean, desiring their good. The lecturer’s reading of the imprecations of the Psalms (at least what I understood from his lecture) seems consistent with this. That is to say, we are to desire the ultimate good of our enemies; that they come to know and love God. 

That is the very radical thing we as Christians are called to do with the evil we face: We love our enemies and we pray for those who persecute, or as Paul puts it in Romans 12:21, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

For that reason, while people I am praying for defend their homes, and people are dying, and I am advocating for our countries help to end this injustice in Ukraine, I am also praying that God would grant repentance to Vladamir Putin and his inner circle. I do think he will have to face justice for what he has done, but I am praying that God would be merciful and that this war would end, not merely with the withdrawal of troops, but with the surrender of Vladamir Putin to the love and mercy of God, as he then orders Russian troops to withdraw from Ukraine.


Christianity, Politics

Wars and Rumours of Wars

I didn’t do my little list of things to read on the internet today, mostly because something else is taking up a lot of the news. There’s nothing like the invasion of a formerly fairly stable country (though admittedly one with lots of problems itself for people who were watching) to suck the air out of the room. It does kinda cause self-reflection, especially since I know people living in Ukraine, and I’m presently praying they’re safe.

As a Christian that has been trying to live the Christian life for a couple of decades now, though, I’m finding my heart is doing something different than the last couple of times major wars happened. It might be because as a much older man, I’ve been through the drill a couple of times. I was a child of 5 when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in support of the communist government there, I remember when the soviet union then collapsed, and hardliners later tried to overthrow the democratically elected government, I remember both Gulf wars, the Balkan conflicts, and obviously the most recent war on terror.  I’ve even been to a few countries that were in the past ravaged by war, or are sadly now failed states. 

Where once I was scared and nervous about what would happen (and don’t get me wrong, the present war in Europe may get a lot worse, and I know it), I’m now sadder than anything else. The fact is that as one of my more secularist friends put it today “I don’t know what I can do, so I’ll change my War UkraineFacebook picture frame”. Well, I do believe that prayer does things and that the prayer I give can have effects on things because the God I pray to has control of everything, but I’ve also read the book of Job. I know that God can have plans for the suffering I’m now watching on the internet, and if He does, His purposes will be ultimately served (even if those purposes include seeing God work through the prayers of His people). Jesus even warned us that such things would happen, and not to be alarmed by them:

“And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.”

Matthew 24:6–8 (ESV)

So why am I sad? People are suffering, and suffering hurts. In one of the most famous passages of scripture (partially because it includes the shortest English verse in scripture) Jesus wept for the death of His friend Lazarus, even as He knew that in mere moments, He would be calling His friend forth from the grave. So even if I know that God can work things together for good, and even if I know that ultimately things work out for the best, that doesn’t change the pain on the journey, and nor does it change the fact that I weep for friends and strangers who will be devastated over the next however long this war lasts. I will pray, even pray in faith, but by God’s grace, I will weep with those who weep.

As Christians, these are all things we can do on a day like today.