I am starting to dread that first look at Twitter each morning. After all, Twitter is my morning newspaper. It is where I get my headlines, and frankly this last week I have not wanted them. It is one thing when your headlines are filled with the dronings of political punditry and the cartoon-like shenanigans of our ridiculous presidential candidates. I do not like that much either, but it is another matter altogether when every morning you wake up to the news of death.
It started with the early morning news of a bombing at the airport in Istanbul. Some 45 people were killed and another 230 injured. That one hit close to home, because I travel through that airport regularly. As I looked at coverage, I recognized blast-damaged halls that I have walked. It was only a few days later that news breaks of a hostage situation in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Gunmen had raided an upscale restaurant full of expats and were holding dozens of them hostage. This one scared me, because I have friends there. Several from our church reached out, attempting to make contact and waited hours to hear of their safety. Another 28 people dead because of violence. On July 3, I wake up to the news of a coordinated bombing in Baghdad. The death toll from that is almost up to 300 at last count. And July 4, the morning scan of Twitter reveals bombings across Saudi Arabia, specifically at Medina, with four more deaths to add to the ridiculous tally.
Then fireworks. After all, July 4 is the day we celebrate American exceptionality. It is the day that we cheer for our success after we broke up with Britain. It is a day to be thankful for the blessings of freedom and safety. The world outside may be in turmoil, but this slice of land is different from sea to shining sea. That only lasted one day.
On July 5, the news arrives of the death of Alton Sterling by the hands of police officers. The video is crushing, twist up your stomach in knots crushing, and the country is reminded that we have some deep-seated issues of our own. July 6, my Twitter feed brings me another video. Philando Castile is shot down in a traffic stop over a broken tail light. This video is perhaps more gut-wrenching than the first. And today, I wake up to the news of police executions in Dallas. Men sniped during otherwise peaceful protests due to this week’s previous horrors.
I have no desire to pontificate on why these police officers were shot or who shot them. Furthermore, my goal in writing this post is not to go round about on the details of any of these killings. This is not the space for that. It is undeniable that our nation has some deep social problems. In fact, problem is too small a word to describe the evil behind all three of these killings. Racism is real. Terror is real. Hatred and fear are real. What is more, because of the curse of sin, those evils control the hearts of humanity.
Do not trust in human institutions to save us,
I do not write today to provide an answer but to admit that I am grasping for answers myself. What is clear though is that our world is in a hopeless condition. I have followed the hashtags just as you have. There is no end in sight to the proposed actions and the suggested solutions to racism and terrorism. For some, the government needs to step in and enact justice. For others, the government itself is the problem. Truth be told, both are probably right. But as those who have grasped the truth of the gospel, we know that neither will do. No amount of government action cleans the hearts of humanity. No social project, no compelling thought leaders, no amount of activism “fixes” this problem.
It is tempting to place our hope in human institutions, just like the rest of society. The church must know better. The Bible tells us that is a dead end, and that those human institutions are as cursed with sin as the evil actions people hope they will stop. While armies of Twitter soldiers line up to demonstrate how these issues are precisely why their candidate needs the office, the church must not fall for the idea that the right politician or the right social action will cure what currently ails us.
But do not use that as an excuse for inactivity.
However, the opposite danger is just as real. For some, the danger comes in expecting social action to fix our sin issues. For others, the danger is using the eternal as a means of escape from our responsibility in the now. No, human institutions cannot cleanse corrupt hearts and racism and terror will endure, but that does not mean the church should sit by and watch as it happens. Will there be another senseless killing? Are more places going to get bombed? Absolutely. But these are not numbers, they are people. The problem with escapism is that it treats the incident in Baton Rouge as merely that, an “incident.” That was not just an incident, he was a 37-year-old-man named Alton. The traffic stop in Minnesota was not just an “altercation,” he was a elementary school worker named Philando. And those cops we found out about this morning, well, they all have families.
Do not kid yourself. Your neighborhood has been impacted by this, and you should care about that. Your church should care about that, and it should do something about it. What else could loving our neighbor mean? The good samaritan bandaged wounds. He did not stop to give the man a lecture for being in the wrong part of town. When people are hurting, we do what we can to sooth the hurt. We stand with the marginalized, even when it does not jive with our political party. We must also be quick to admit when we might be part of the problem.
Learn to mourn,
In the wake of the Orlando shooting (yet another horrific recent event), Russ Moore wrote an excellent piece on mourning. In the light of this past week, I find those words even more important. I wonder if we have lost our ability to mourn. It is easy to point fingers at social media and the rapid-fire information streams as deadening us to catastrophic events, but passing the buck does not solve the problem. Christians should be first to understand grief and be models of how to grieve, and perhaps we should be the ones that lead out in it.
Do we mourn as we should? There are appropriate moments for grief, and this is certainly one of those. We should mourn the loss of life. We should weep at the effects of sin, even when it affects others. Jesus modeled compassion, and he wept over the curse of sin. I fear that many of us, and I include myself here, reveal how lightly we view sin with how few tears it causes us to shed.
But fix your hope on the things to come.
We do not trust in human institutions to cure evil, and we roll up our sleeves and bandage wounds. We mourn deeply, we grieve, over pain and death. Our hearts must break with compassion for those who experience the suffering of wickedness, but we are not without hope. In all of this, that is the greatest contribution the church can offer. Ours is a story of hope that these pains, these evils, are only temporary.
In his first letter, Peter tells his recipients, “Therefore, with your minds ready for action, be serious and set your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:13). He says these words while calling these believers to live in a manner worthy of the gospel. He tells them to be holy, because Christ himself is holy. This is an ethical passage, one that requires action in the now. There is no escapism here. However, the confidence to live the Christian ethic now comes from the hope of a different future. Peter calls his readers to set their hope completely on the grace that is to come.
As we bandage the wounded, as we weep with those that weep, and as we decry the evils of racism and terror, let us be the first to offer hope that death has been defeated, and that things will be different one day.