SUCH A TIME AS THIS – ORLANDO AND BEYOND
I awoke Sunday morning to hear the news of the tragedy at Orlando. There were reports of dead and wounded that later numbered 49 people dead 53 wounded. Our heartfelt sympathies go out to friends and family of the victims. As Christians we comfort all in their grief.
Such tragedies come from sinful behavior. And we must continually remove ourselves from evil – hatred of those who differ from us in their thinking, feeling, and beliefs, who are of different color, religion, sexual orientation and political persuasion. Orlando is another gruesome reminder of the need to follow Jesus. He requires we love our enemies, even murderous ones – whether they target us or those with whom we sympathize.
We Christians recognize that this is at heart a spiritual battle, with what the apostle Paul calls the “principles and powers.” The crucial hour is upon us as it was with Esther when Mortdecai advised: “… and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this (Esther 4:14). Such a time as this! Matthew asks, “Whereunto shall I liken this generation” (Matthew 11:16). I shall liken it to the image described by Plutarch in his Lives of Great Greeks and Romans. It seems this particular Roman had passed away, had been placed on his funeral bier, and was observed by two of his former friends who came to pay tribute. Upon viewing his remains, they remarked, “He can’t be dead, his feet, legs, arms, head, body – they are all here.” So they proceeded to prop him up to a sitting position, and when they released him; he slumped back. Then one of the Romans commented, “There must be something missing inside!”
Indeed, “such a time as this” comes equipped with impressive credentials. First, it is a time of exploding knowledge. Eighty-seven percent of all the scientists who ever lived are alive at this very moment. We live in an era of abounding knowledge which doubles every eight years. We are caught up in an explosion of knowledge which has led to an unprecedented scientific-technological revolution.
The ancient enemies of polio, T.B., malaria, typhoid and scarlet fever have been conquered by medical science. Television, supersonic jets, Telstar communication and instant transmission of news have shrunk the earth. Yes, the body comes equipped with the arms, the legs, the head.
And yet, “There must be something missing inside.” Nine people are murdered at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina; six people are killed and three injured at a Wisconsin Sikh temple; December 9, 2007, two people are killed at Youth With A Mission training center in Arvada, Colorado, and another two at New Life Church in Colorado Springs; Jews have been regularly subject to a number of murderous rampages since 2000, with fire bombings at synagogues in the Bronx and Syracuse New York in October 2000, the LAX shooting at the El Al ticket counter on July 4, 2002, the Seattle Federation shooting on July 28, 2006, and the Overland Park, Kansas, attack on April 13, 2014; and while Mexican Americans have not been murderously attacked, on May 1, 2007, five members of an anti-immigration militia in Birmingham, Alabama, were arrested for planning to mow down “Mexicans” with machine guns.
And I’m only referring to what’s happening in the United States, International attacks on specific groups are even more horrific.
I would not endorse simplistic solutions to such hateful targeting. There is certainly a matrix of political, social, and psychological issues that must be addressed, but this I know - loving our enemies does not come naturally to us. I read about a preaching professor who used to take his students to a cemetery every semester. Standing on the perimeter overlooking scores of headstones, he would ask his students in all sincerity to speak over the graves and call people from the ground to rise up and live. With some embarrassment and an awkward chuckle or two, they would try it. Of course, one by one they would fail. The professor would then look at his students and remind them of a core truth of the gospel: people are spiritually dead, just as those corpses in the cemetery were physically dead, and only words from God can bring them to spiritual life. The something “missing inside” of us is God.
This is the reality about humanity. We are each born with an evil, God-hating heart. Genesis 8:21 says that every inclination of man’s heart is evil from childhood, and Jesus’ words in Luke 11:13 assume that we know we are evil. Many may say, “Well, I have always loved God,” but the reality is, no one has. We may have loved a god that we made up in our minds, but the God of the Bible, we hate. Until we respond fully to the gospel we are incapable of being Christ’s loving, forgiving presence in the world
How then shall we respond in “Such a time as this?” The issue is shall be God’s chosen people, or God’s frozen people? In “Such a time as This,” let us “Press on toward the high calling which is in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).