We Are Bothered by Injustice Because God Is Bothered by Injustice

Kiev_Jew_Killings_in_Ivangorod_(1942)
Photo Public Domain via Wikapedia

Nazis were not nice people. In their quest for world domination, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party intentionally caused the deaths of well over 50 million people. We are not talking just about soldiers killing soldiers. The ultimate goal of Hitler’s “Final Solution” was to annihilate every Jew across the globe. The photo above is from the Ukraine in 1942. A woman is futilely trying to shield her child as Nazi soldiers take aim.

The severe danger of the Nazi aggression is why the U.S. government executed Herbert Hans Haupt for high treason on August 8, 1942. Although a U.S. citizen, Haupt conspired with the Nazi regime to sabotage military installations in the U.S. Had Haupt been successful as a traitor, the toll in human lives could have been significant. The United States government has always been far from perfect, but, in light of other human governments throughout the course of history, it stands a shining model. The comparison between Nazi Germany and the U.S. government at the time is almost as extreme as night and day.

What does all of this have to do with the God of the Old Testament? It is virtually impossible for us to understand God’s judgment without first grasping the nature of His rule. Every human government ever to exist was (is) colored by corruption when compared to the benevolent nature of God’s eternal kingdom. There simply has never been anything like it.

The government of God’s kingdom is defined by freedom but motivated by love. Those who wish to participate voluntarily seek the benefit of others, thereby producing a deeply rooted peace that no human effort can seem to duplicate. Since it is so profoundly good, it would only make sense for a loving God to tenaciously guard the integrity of such a government.

Some of us struggle to envision the beauty of God’s kingdom rule because our vision is corrupted by the pain, sin, and injustice of this world. Two acts of high treason, in particular, have led to a most unfavorable state.

Fall of Satan - Paradise Lost
Gustave Doré – Public Domain

In a somewhat cryptic scene from heaven, the prophets Isaiah (Isaiah 14:12-14) and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 28:11-17) paint a picture of the day when Lucifer, the greatest of all angels recruited a third of the angels (Revelation 12:3-4) in an ill-fated attempt to overthrow the King of Glory.

Having failed miserably, Lucifer—in the form of a serpent—later ensnared Adam & Eve and, consequently, the entire human race. Although once created in His image, since that fateful day in the garden of Eden we have sought to recreate God according to our own desires. Some of us may hate to admit it, but within every human heart beats a desire to subject the Creator of the Universe to plans of human design. In failing to recognize our own short-sightedness, we rail against the most magnificent government ever to exist. How do we know all of this to be true? Look what the human race did to Jesus when He walked this earth! Not only did we reject His authority; we mercilessly nailed Him to a wooden cross. In totality, our rebellion was the ultimate act of betrayal.

All of this leaves us with two terrible problems. We are each guilty of high treason–of  participating in rebellion against God’s benevolent rule. Each has, in his or her own way, contributed to the pain, suffering, and death of the human condition. A loving God—who so values all that is good—could never turn a blind eye to our rebellion. Worse still, our hearts are continually plagued with rebellious desires. Unless our human nature is somehow rewritten (so to speak), we will always be at war with the kingdom of heaven.

The reality of a loving God judging people makes little sense apart from an understanding of human rebellion. We’ll dig deeper into the story, but I find the idea of a malevolent God capriciously destroying innocent people to be thoroughly misguided.

Egyptian Solidarity Protest
photo credit: Takver via photopin cc

Ironically, the judgment of God as displayed throughout the Old Testament wouldn’t much concern us if it were not for the sense of justice that remains in our hearts as a result of being created in His image. If not for God’s existence, why would any of us care about justice beyond ourselves? We’d be concerned only about the survival of the fittest–not right and wrong. We are bothered by injustice because God is bothered by injustice. I’ll show in future posts that God does indeed judge people for their actions, but the foundation of our understanding must be built upon the reality that God judges out of necessity rather than desire. 

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The Mystery of Violence Revealed

Wet Dog
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World peace! It is a vision long held by many. Each New Year, it seems, we try to cast off the violence of the previous year like a dog trying to shake off water. Unfortunately, dogs are much more effective in their drying off efforts than we are in our quest to eliminate conflict between humans. Why is peace so elusive? Either we don’t understand the root issues of conflict, or we don’t care enough to change our behavior.

Did you know that Cain’s murder of his brother Abel was not the first act of violence recorded in the Bible? Somewhere in the recesses of time–or perhaps before time began–the greatest of angels, the one we call Lucifer, attempted a violent coup against the Creator of the Universe.

How you have fallen from heaven,
O star of the morning, son of the dawn!
You have been cut down to the earth,
You who have weakened the nations!
But you said in your heart,
“I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God,
And I will sit on the mount of assembly
In the recesses of the north.
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.” Isaiah 14:12-14

Three particular aspects of this attempted coup are extremely relevant for our purposes:

Pride
Photo by SfMe Ministries Inc.

1. Lucifer repeatedly uses “I” to define his self-centered quest. Mysteriously, while God willingly receives worship, He is not self-centered. Always motivated by love and compassion for others, the life of Christ serves as evidence of God’s other-centered heart.

2. Lucifer also adds the word “will” to each of his five uses of “I”. Thus, one of his primary goals is for power and control.

3. Lucifer’s ultimate goal is to be like the Most High (the King of Glory), to lift himself up above all others.

When Adam and Eve fell prey to the serpent’s temptation in the Garden of Eden, they inherited the same  three tendencies which collectively form what we call pride. (I sometimes call it “C-pride” or “collective pride”.) It should stand as no surprise, then, that Cain, the firstborn son of Adam and Eve, murdered his younger brother due to nothing more than jealousy. The rest, unfortunately, is history. Since that fateful day in the Garden, human activity has always been beset with violent sexual assaults, murders, and wars of all kinds.

I have written about much of this in the past, but it bears repeating in light of recent mass shootings in the U.S. When someone mercilessly kills 20 first-grade children, as happened at Sandy Hook Elementary, something is desperately wrong. But something has been desperately wrong almost from the beginning of time as we know it. Even societies that have all appearances of peace are not that far from being immersed in conflict. Like a virus waiting for an immune system to be compromised, the violent tendencies of human nature need only time and opportunity to fully run their course.

Really, only two options are possible for the violence to cease:

Fidel Castro
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1. We remove various layers of freedom until an authoritarian government removes all potential weapons of resistance and forces its citizens to get along. Of course, the very real danger is that the authoritarian regime will itself be violent, subjecting its people to all sorts of cruelty and injustice.

2. We provide people with freedom but change their hearts so that they are motivated by love rather than selfish hatred. Herein lies the foundation for a truly prosperous society, but eliminating the selfish, self-exalting tendencies of the human heart is no simple matter. Real change requires much more than wishful thinking.

Unfortunately, in our self-absorbed world, freedom eventually leads to moral decay, giving way to violence in the end. At the other end of the spectrum, those revolutionaries who rise up to break the grip of an oppressive regime will almost always become the oppressors themselves.

In prophesying the birth of Jesus, Isaiah called Him the “Prince of Peace”. As a revolutionary, Jesus rebelled against the oppressive, self-absorbed establishment, but He broke their power in a thoroughly mysterious manner. By suffering unjustly Himself, Jesus Christ provided the antidote for each of the root causes of violence. We call that antidote the Gospel.

Happy New Year!
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I, too, really would like to see world peace. In my upcoming posts I will highlight how the Gospel truly is the only lasting cure for deadly virus of violence, but until then, I want to wish you all a happy New Year! My hope is that it won’t be a year that goes to the dogs!

Is God Really In Control?

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Heartbreaking is probably the best word I can use to describe the aftermath of superstorm Sandy that ravaged the eastern coast of the U.S. this week. But the use of this word is by no means limited to recent events. We could also speak of what seems like a relentless assault of hurricanes, monsoons, tornados, droughts, earthquakes, tsunamis, etc. that continue to extract a heavy toll of human suffering.

Heartbreaking could also refer to the pain and emotional distress that humans inflict on each other. The sex-slave trade prospers, as does that of forced labor. Even in civilized countries, the word injustice can be used with increasing frequency. And then there are the wars. O the wars! How many untold millions have suffered and died over the past 100 years? The toll of war is staggering—especially when innocent children are caught in the crossfire, or displaced into refugee camps.

I understand that the phrase “God is in Control” is comforting for some, but not for me. When I think of control, I envision God pushing the buttons and pulling the strings to make all that happens, happen. I do not believe that this is an accurate (or Biblical) way to describe the source of all that is heartbreaking. Ours is not a world in which God is in control in this sense of the word. If He is, then the Creator of our Universe would be uncaring at best, and mercilessly cruel at worst.

Psalm 24 describes God as the King of glory. As the sovereign ruler of the Universe, God reigns as the highest possible authority. No one can tell Him what to do or question His actions with any authority. Every created being is ultimately accountable to the King; and the Bible makes it quite clear that all words and actions will one day be judged.

photo credit: AndyWilson via photopin cc

Sovereignty does not mean, however, that our Creator somehow incites or guides all child molesters, for example, to do their dastardly deeds. God certainly possesses the ability to influence human decisions, but He has willingly chosen to limit Himself in this area.

I am not saying that our world is completely out of control, however. Any limitations on God’s part are entirely self-imposed, and evil does have its boundaries. This is all very difficult to grasp, but our inability to thoroughly understand these things does not make them any less real. God is somehow able to take our choices and work them toward His sovereign purposes. That is what makes Him God.

God reigns as the sovereign King of glory! Every Christian can stand on the promises that He is indeed the ultimate authority, that every evil deed will be accounted for, and that God will work all that hell throws at us to our benefit. He can do that. He is God.

Others often attempt to do what God can do, but their methods are very different. There was a time long ago when Lucifer and one third of the angels staged a coup in a futile attempt to ascend to the throne of glory (Isaiah 14:12-14). Their plot was easily defeated, and having been thrown to the Earth, they then ensnared the entire human race in their quest to establish their own kingdom of supremacy. But humans and demons do not have the power and authority to reign in the same manner as God. Thus, they are compelled to resort to methods of control, manipulation, and intimidation.

This is where Christians too often fall prey to the tactics of our fallen world. In seeking what we think is right—or simply what we want—we are prone to employ the same political arm twisting tactics of the demonic kingdom. In essence, this involves a continuous quest to wrestle dominion from God, seeking to rule our world independently of our Creator. In the long run, such methods serve only to further promote the heart-wrenching suffering of the human condition.

What is the answer? The advance of the kingdom of God—that domain where the sovereign King of the Universe reigns over His willing subjects. Far from possessing the passive, apathetic mindset which embodies much of our world, those who fully participate in God’s kingdom are motivated by extreme measures of faith and love to do amazing deeds, as the advance of His kingdom always brings with it healing, wholeness, and hope.

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The line between seeking to control people (and circumstances) and facilitating the coming of God’s kingdom may at times appear to be very fine, but it is a well-defined line nonetheless, and not simply a matter of semantics.

The human condition is indeed heartbreaking, but we can take comfort in knowing that our God reigns (Revelation 19:1-6)! And if our God reigns, we can act and pray with the authority of His kingdom to make a very real difference in this broken world. Let us seek to influence the world of politics through faith and love without falling prey to its controlling methods.

How to Catch a Crustacean

Original Photo by Kevin Connors – morgueFile

Are you a fan of lobster? It is without question a delicacy in many parts of the world, but such hasn’t always been the case. Early settlers to New England found lobsters to be so plentiful that at times they could wade into the ocean and capture them by hand. An overabundance of lobsters actually served as a common staple for prisoners. Can you imagine a law in which New World colonies restricted the number of times per week a penal institution could feed lobster to its inmates? Prisoners could be heard making statements such as, “It’s horrible in here! All we get to eat are these stinkin’ lobsters!” Of course, things are much different today; with an amazing increase in transportation and a bit of skillful marketing, lobster has essentially become the steak of seafood.

Interestingly, lobsters are negligibly senescent, meaning that they don’t show the normal symptoms of aging seen in the majority of life forms. No dimming eyesight, loose antennae or creaky claws for these guys. If not for the pleasure to our palates and the benefit to our stomachs, a lobster might live for 100 years or more. The primary downfall for the lobster, it seems, is the lobster trap.

Photo by Hartmut Inerle – CC BY-SA 3.0

A working lobster trap consists of three main parts: a combination wooden and wire frame, a rope and buoy to mark the location and bait (i.e. something that appeals to a lobster’s tastes). Mr. or Mrs. Lobster smells dead fish (or some other convenient bait) and is drawn to investigate. Access to the trap is easy as the oblivious victim races toward an easy dinner. Once the pleasant meal is consumed, however, life becomes rather unpleasant as the design of the trap turns freedom into a distant memory.

When Lucifer launched his zombie conspiracy we can image he spent considerable time designing a trap that would be effective in capturing and binding the human race. Humans are smart you know, so he had to get it right the first time. Any stupid mistakes and the opportunity to open Pandora’s Box could be lost forever.

More cunning than The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, old slewfoot determined that the most effective bait would be the very same temptation that led to his precipitous fall from glory—the desire to be as God; or more appropriately put—the desire to be like God apart from God. And the plan worked, perhaps beyond even his twisted imaginations. In eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, humanity found itself not only separated from God, but also under the devil’s crooked thumb, entrapped by a power called Sin from which no human could ever escape (or so Lucifer thought).

Thus began what we call the human condition. Upon the once peace-filled and pleasurable Garden of Eden, pain, suffering, violence and death descended like darkness—the full scope of which is yet to be seen.

Photo by Miles Teg – CC BY-SA 3.0

Christ came to deliver us from the zombie conspiracy, not only freeing us from the trap of sin, but systematically working to eliminate the three tentacles of the temptation (self-centeredness, self-sovereignty and self-glorification) that captured us in the first place. For us to experientially know true and lasting freedom, it is imperative that each of those ensnaring tentacles be thoroughly severed from our hearts.

Humans were intended to be non-senescent–unaffected by time or age. But unfortunately for us, separation from God unleashed torrents of death. If only we can get back to abiding in God’s grace, no power in hell will be able to squelch the power of the life He imparts!

Era of the Living Dead

Evans City Cemetery – Photo by Willjay – CC BY-SA 3.0

The film begins with Barbra and Johnny visiting their father’s grave in rural Pennsylvania. Barbra is afraid to be in a cemetery at such a late hour. Johnny teases her, as any brother would, totally unaware that a zombie–a reanimated corpse–is about to knock him unconscious against a headstone. The rest is history. Night of the Living Dead proceeded to become one of the most revolutionary horror films of all time.

Until Night of the Living Dead came on the scene, horror movies were mostly innocuous—nobody took them seriously. But genuine fear dripped from the frames of this particular flick. Parents who naively took their kids to the theater reeled with regret as their unnerved children squirmed in genuine horror.

Exactly what was so scary about Night of the Living Dead? I think perhaps it was the sense that the evil inescapably was us. It is one thing when evil is out there, or when monsters can easily be identified as alien creatures from planet X. But the potential (and fear) for us and our loved ones to become the source of evil is a game changer.

Fear and death have always been closely linked. The potential for death, or loss, powerfully grips the human heart with various forms of fear–especially anxiety. It all points to a zombie-like existence in which we find ourselves longing for life, but beset by fear; for fear in and of itself is a form of death.

The intent of Lucifer’s zombie conspiracy was to usher fear and death into a world once defined by peace and life. The plan worked to the point that death and fear now characterize unredeemed humanity.

Many centuries before Night of the Living Dead was filmed in Evans City, Pennsylvania, the Apostle Paul wrote of another sort of living dead. In speaking of widows he stated, “But she who gives herself to wanton pleasure is dead even while she lives” (1 Timothy 5:6). Imagine that, a seemingly harmless widow proclaimed to be a sort of zombie long before film was ever conceived. Now that’s truly scary!

Photo by Joe Shalbotnik – CC BY 2.0

Paul’s words remind me of a lobster pound a traveler might find along the coast of Maine. Right there, in full view for patrons to see, is an open tank with live lobsters crawling around. I mean, technically they are alive, but in a greater sense those lobsters are already dead. They repeatedly circle the tank (what else is there to do?), their once powerful pinchers banded shut as they jostle for meaningless advantage. The finality of death is inevitable, and unless a savior of sorts purchases those crustaceans and releases them into the ocean, it is only a matter of time until they are boiling in a pot and then lying on a plate.

Since Lucifer initiated the zombie conspiracy, death and fear have continued to hold captive the general population of the human race. Like the lobsters in the tank, like the widows of 1 Timothy 5:6, ours is the Era of the Living Dead. Powerless, hopeless, and beset with fear, we scurry about, jostling for meaningless advantage, pursuing only momentary pleasures; doing what we can to forget about the giant hand of death that will, in its season, tear us from the only world we’ve ever known.

If this all sounds very morbid and repulsive, that is only because it is very morbid and repulsive. The Gospel of Jesus Christ isn’t simply a nice, optional message. The Gospel is our only genuine hope.

Photo by Ted Van Pelt – CC BY 2.0

the zombie conspiracy

“Night of the Living Dead” by George A. Romero – Public Domain

Zombie movies. Vampire films. Crime shows. Violent video games. What’s the common thread? It appears that our culture is increasingly preoccupied with death. Somehow, I don’t think this is a good sign.

There are those who would tell us that the real zombie conspiracy involves government authorities covering up the coming zombie apocalypse, but I beg to differ. My concern is with the seeds of death that have been planted in the hearts of people who deep down inside desire life.

This current resurgence of our illogical fascination with death is but another rotten bite of the fruit from the proverbial apple. The serpent’s goal was to separate mankind from God, the one true source of life. Separation from life propels humanity in only one real direction—toward death. Not only did the human race die spiritually, not only do we die physically, but death becomes an unhealthy preoccupation.

Over the next several posts I’m going to explore the zombie conspiracy and its far reaching impact upon the human race. By recognizing the plan of death we are better able to orient ourselves to the true life of God.

Photo by Eitan f – Public Domain

Two trees grew in the center of the Garden of Eden—the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That there were two trees rather than one speaks loudly of the importance of freedom and choice in our relationship with God. But love wasn’t the only reason those trees were there. For God to create a truly harmonious society, an essential issue had to be dealt with: God is so amazing that all who look upon Him are tempted by the desire to be Him.

It was through such a desire that perhaps the greatest and most beautiful angel of all time fell to such morbid depths as to be called the devil, the embodiment of evil, the very presence of death. How it all began, we can only guess, but the Bible provides us with some prophetic imagery illustrating what came down:

“How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, you who have weakened the nations! But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’” Isaiah 14:12-14 (NASB)

Illustration for John Milton’s “Paradise Lost“ by Gustave Doré, 1866 – Public Domain

Many scholars believe that the star of the morning, Lucifer served as the worship leader in heaven. Standing near the throne of God, adorned in magnificent beauty, he led the entire host of heaven in glorious worship of their Creator. Somewhere along the line Lucifer looked at God’s beauty and preeminence, gazed over the myriads of angels bowing low in worship, and then riveted his attention on his own beauty (a beauty given by God). Immersed in the glory and majesty of it all, a simple seed thought began to grow until it consumed Lucifer’s entire being. He, and he alone, should be sitting on the throne of the universe, basking in the worship and adoration of the angels.

For His part, for reasons perhaps beyond us, the King of the universe remained silent as Lucifer schemed and plotted, recruiting a third of the angels for a planned coup against the one true source of life. The zombie conspiracy had begun.