My youngest grandson Jakson is goofy cute. Jakson is 6. He is snaggle toothed with the teeth that are there too big for his little mouth. His hair is so blonde that you can see through it and it spikes up most of the time. He has a way of making faces that just cracks you up. But there is something about his smile that lights up a room. And when he walks through the hall of his school heads turn to enjoy him going by. Everybody yells, “Hey Jakson.” I know I am anything but objective about this but Jakson has a beauty at the heart of all of his goofiness that captures your attention. I see it, as his PoppyC.
Sunday evening, Doris and I sat in front of the TV as the news unfolded of the shooting at a church in Antioch, Tennessee, a suburb of Nashville, about 20 miles from us. You know the story, a lone gunman walking into a crowded church and opened fire. At least 8 people were shot with one fatality. Like too many times before, I wept for the families of those senselessly traumatized. I prayed for the soul of one so depraved that he could unleash that kind of inhumanity on his fellow human beings. And I groaned for the brokenness of a fallen world that created the backdrop against which this all too familiar tragedy played out. A cafeteria in Texas, a high school in Columbine, a theater in Aurora, CO, a classroom building at Virginia Tech, a church ins Charleston, SC; over the last 30 years in our country alone we have rehearsed this gruesome and grotesque scene until we can describe the players almost before the gunfire ceases. Yet, as often as we have experienced it we are each time in utter shock that this would happen again. Horrible. Ugly. Terrifying.
If I am not careful I can succumb to the horror and hopelessness of those stories. I begin to see only dark, demonic, destructive forces at work in my world. I recoil from the anger and awfulness that surely must possess an individual to drive him to such an act. I begin to look at everyone around me with suspicion and fear. And I only see the ugliness that we have become as a people, as a planet. The cruelty of one human being to another has been a theme of our reflection since Cain slew Able. We are no longer surprised at the capacity within our own kind to unleash damage and devastation on, well, on us. And it is no consolation to remember that this kind of nightmare is not exclusive to America. Mosques and churches, busses and embassies all around the world have witnessed such hellish moments. There seems to be no limit and no end to the atrocities that we commit. It is all I can see. If I am not careful I go there. But I can’t.
For one thing, I don’t believe we can survive as a culture or as individuals if we allow ourselves to sink to that level of despair. King Solomon came close to that point when he wrote in Ecclesiastes 1, “Meaningless, meaningless, utterly meaningless. Everything is meaningless.” To begin to believe that this is all there is, that the world is now populated and permeated only with death and destruction, that all that is good about life is either gone or so overwhelmed by evil that it is irrelevant is to leave no space for hope or a willingness to work for change. I think the purpose of chaos is to cause us to quit, and to only see the horror makes me want to do that.
Secondly, more importantly, it just isn’t true. When I begin to only see the awful, terrible, ugliness I am seeing a false image. God is good. His creation is good. There is redemption still at work and “greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world.” The wanton wickedness that we see is the exception and not the rule. In fact the very shock and sadness that it brings up in us is proof that this is not who we are, this is not our nature. We are better than this as a people and as persons. The lie of the enemy is that what happened at Burnette Chapel Church of Christ last Sunday is symbolic of all of society today. Not true! Not true! Not true! Good not only still exists but it still reigns, and always will because the One who reigns is good. Like the goofy beauty of my grandson, there is still something good and right and noble about the world we live in. The positive still far outweighs the negative. We, the people of God, must, we must, proclaim there is still Good News and not surrender our message of redemption to the violent, viral You Tube clips, or the scandalous sound bytes of the evening news.
So, how do we find hope in the hopeless? How do we avoid the doom and despair that screams at us from the headlines and from our hearts? Where is the beauty buried beneath the bloodbath of last week or the terrorism of tomorrow? Jesus said in John 16:33, “I have told you these things so that you may have PEACE. In this world you will have trouble, but TAKE HEART. I have overcome the world.” How do we find the peace that Jesus promised?
First, we step in to look closely at the miracle moments of the event in front of us. Several years ago we had the widow of Todd Beamer speak at our church. Todd was one of the heroes of Flight 93 on September 11, 2001 who apparently charged the cabin of that doomed flight and caused the terrorists to divert in to a rural field rather than the supposed target of the White House. At Columbine, Cassie Bernall was praying out loud. One of the shooters reportedly asked her if she believed in God and she said, “YES!” At the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, Tywanza Sanders dove in front of the shooter in an effort to block the hail of bullets from other worshippers. Sunday, a young, twenty-one-year-old, usher, Robert Engle, wrestled with the shooter, probably saving the lives of many. Out of almost every story of murder and mayhem arises an even more powerful one of heroism and sacrifice. It is as if the good is saying, “You cannot win. I will use your blackness to illuminate the fact that people are still good, that love still triumphs.” In fact, in some ways the more atrocious the evil the more brightly shines the good. That’s what we hold on to in moments like these.
Secondly, we step back to look carefully at the context of our faith. We live in a fallen, frightening world but it is undergoing the “birth pains of redemption” as Paul says in Romans. God is victorious over evil from the Garden to the Grave. At the fall of Adam and Eve God clothed them and gave them a promise. When Cain killed his brother God gave him a mark to protect him. All through Old Testament history God works for the redemption of His people. Until finally in the New Testament, at the Cross and that horrible, ugly moment when even His Son is the victim of evil, God raises Him from the Grave and gains the ultimate upper hand over the darkness. These awful moments in time remind us that this is the very reason Christ came, so that we could “overcome the world.” The wickedness of the world only serves to prove the significance of the Savior. The event in Antioch, and all the other mind numbing, hope shattering events of our day, focus our faith like a laser beam on to the only One who can make a difference. As someone said, “A messy world like ours obviously needs a messiah.”
When it gets right down to it, we see in these horrific moments what we are looking for. If we are looking for hopelessness and despair, it is certainly there to be seen. But if we have our “eyes fixed on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith,” we see God still at work, still redeeming even in the darkest of nights. It’s like Jakson. You might see a goofy little guy with snaggled teeth. I see the most beautiful kid in the whole world. That is what I am looking for. Today, even in the horrible headlines and the numbing nightly news, I choose to see Jesus.