PSALM 28:1 To you, O LORD, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me, lest, if you be silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit. 2 Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to you for help, when I lift up my hands toward your most holy sanctuary. 3 Do not drag me off with the wicked, with the workers of evil, who speak peace with their neighbors while evil is in their hearts. 4 Give to them according to their work and according to the evil of their deeds; give to them according to the work of their hands; render them their due reward. 5 Because they do not regard the works of the LORD or the work of his hands, he will tear them down and build them up no more. 6 Blessed be the LORD! For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy. 7 The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him. 8 The LORD is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed. 9 Oh, save your people and bless your heritage! Be their shepherd and carry them forever.
In just the last few hours, I’ve begun to notice a common theme emerging in Facebook posts, mainstream news reports, and statements from politicians and celebrities in which Boston, its inhabitants, and those who empathize with us are described as “defiant,” “strong” and/or “resilient”. The picture below, recently gone viral on Facebook, illustrates this emerging meme in a semi-humorous way:
The gist: They may be strong, but we’re stronger. They are surely bad, but we’re baaader.
The only thing missing? God.
1st CORINTHIANS 1:20 …Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
2nd CORINTHIANS 12:7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations,a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Most of you are likely familiar with the following graphic which served as an early flag of this country and thus has deep roots in Boston:
The flag is the emblem of American patriotism, born in rebellion. (Monday was Patriot’s Day here in Boston.)
Has anyone ever stopped to contemplate that the “me” in this graphic is a serpent?
How can a nation come to Christ (who crushed the serpent’s head at the cross; Genesis 3:15) when the very root of its self-identification is the image of a serpent, and its associated slogan is a direct rejection of that redemptive and costly work of crushing?
I do not come to these conclusions lightly, but they are inescapable. They must be wrestled with: prayerfully, scripturally, honestly.
Some of the other recent expressions in reaction to Monday’s bombing take grand form, as when the president used the latter two adjectives in a speech (‘strong’, ‘resilient’). Many take much smaller forms, e.g., runners who are determined to run next year. Illustrating the latter, here’s a Businessweek article which a friend who ran Monday posted on his Facebook page a few minutes ago:
Carmen Brahim, a 40-year-old Ironman triathlete from Alpharetta, Georgia, said she is now searching for a race to enter to try to qualify in time [for Boston 2014]. She compared the Boston race to the pinnacle of triathlons, the Ironman World Championships held annually in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. [Note yesterday's post.] “To me, Boston is like Kona,” Brahim said. “Long term, I definitely wanted to try, but this year it was not something I was thinking of doing at all. After yesterday, I just decided that would be my goal for the year… One of the things that attracted me to come here was the fact that I always saw the United States as a place you can go to make your dreams come true,” she said in a telephone interview the day after the bombings. “What attracts us all to running is that you have your freedom. You feel that you own everything around you. Yesterday, it felt like a threat to what I feel when I’m running. I’m not going to let them think they can take that away.”
Now, on one level I get this — completely. I’ve lived this mindset, and deeply. We feel violated. We want to do something. On the surface, this is attractive, in that it carries the sense of defying evil. (Against the antichrist cultural back-drop of dualistic, yin-yang, New Age pagan theology wherein the forces of good and evil wrestle perennially, such sentiments tend to go unnoticed. Few even think about Christ’s victory on the cross.)
Yet that begs a question: How?
How shall we defy evil in any efficacious or permanent sense?
‘We all most do our part,’ some might reply (and have, in e-mails I have received from unbelieving friends). ‘We must begin with small things,’ others might quip. ‘We must begin with ourselves.’ There is much truth in such statements, yet also a great deal of poison in that God is ignored.
We have all heard reports or observed many touching acts of selflessness in the scant 48 hour since this went down. Such things are laudable and we cannot and should not bother worrying too much about motivations. Yet to rely on such things without Christ, imagining that we human beings can triumph over evil itself in our own strength is to ascend to the pinnacle of pride.
Such an impulse is the very thing which gives rise to evil itself.
The essential problem which required the atoning death of the God-man, Jesus Christ on the cross (living the perfect life in our place which we never could; dying in our place for what we all deserve), is that of how one can defy that which lurks withing oneself in one’s own power and expect to succeed.
(It has always fascinated me, since I’ve become a believer, how this is the same dynamic which plays out in a physical body suffering from an autoimmune disease or cancer. It should not be thought a sleight to those suffering from such diseases that they are living parables of the dynamic of sin operating in all of us. Repeat: ALL.)
As I wrote yesterday, filthy rags can’t wash filthy rags.
The human heart is desperately wicked and sick at its root; who can understand it? (See Jeremiah 17:9. The answer, of course, is Jesus who can and does see everything in our heart and judges us on that basis.)
The very fact that we think we can ‘handle’ evil in our own wisdom and power, while saying ‘no thanks’ to the cross and all it entails, provides evidence of what it seeks to refute, condemning us even as we give it voice. Such an impulse is at the very center of the scene in the garden in which Satan lures Eve, convincing her she can handle God-like power for good without God who defines good.
Conspicuously absent from nearly all of the sentiments emerging through various media sources the last few hours is any mention of God or his righteous judgment on sin. Aside from one iconic photograph of a woman kneeling in prayer with hands clasped and eyes sky-ward, at the scene of the blast seconds after it (preposterously labeled as ‘reflecting’ by the Boston Globe), I have seen scant mention of the Divine purpose in such a horror.
Some would deny that there is any purpose, or that in the interest of compassion, we must avoid talking about it or reflecting on God’s view on the subject. (Luke 13, which I quoted yesterday provides the universal antidote to what such folks often worry about in that such tragedies are not precision tit-for-tat reflections of the sins of the victims — not at all!!! — but the natural state of a world which wants to operate without God.)
Such anti-purpose sentiments degrade God to the role of hand-wringing undersecretary of positivity and warm feeling, dethroning Him from his unchallengeable role as Sovereign, All-Knowing, Omnipotent Creator who redeemed His creation at great cost to Himself through the cross.
Painful as it is to contemplate, all things work together for good for those who love God, meaning that all things (even ‘nice’ things) work together for bad (i.e., damnation) for those who reject Him and His offer of grace — something the human heart finds very easy to do; rebellion against God is often ordinary, even boring.
The sad, sad thing is that the sentiment of defiance I’ve seen emerging in the past few hours is much the same as that which emerged after 9-11 — chronicled by those such as Jonathan Cahn who has popularized the Isaiah 9:10 meme. Defiance in human strength is the Biblical sign that one has not received the essential message which judgment is supposed to convey, namely that repentance before God is the first step.
May God forgive us each and grant us repentance. May God have mercy on our nation for its sins heaped so deep as to obscure the Son in our national reaction and conversation, plunging us ever deeper into the valley of death. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. We need you for you and you alone are good. You are our strength. You are enough.