Thursday, October 23, 2014

Sleeping Well in a World Gone Mad





"In peace, I will both lie down and sleep;
for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety."
Psalm 4:8

            It is not often that there is a great deal of Canadian news dominating the headlines in the United States. Other than the antics of former Toronto mayor Rob Ford, Canada tends to be the sleepy, easy to ignore neighbour to the North. We ship many of our best hockey players, comedians, and theologians south of the border, but most people just assume that they have always been from America. Canada typically remains out of sight and out of mind. It is only on a rare occasion such as yesterday that Canada is thrust into the spotlight. On October 22, 2014,  all over the U.S., and the world for that matter, major news networks covered the unfolding events surrounding the deadly attack at the Parliament buildings of Ottawa by a Quebec man who had become radicalized into an extreme and violent Islamic ideology.
            What made this event capture the attention of the world is that the actions of this one man represent what many people have been anticipating. It is the fear of the spread of radical religious and political violence into places previously sheltered from what large portions of the world's population regularly face. This "lone wolf" threat is exactly what several nations now fear. Police and military agencies have the formidable task of trying to keep the general population safe from self-radicalized individuals who come from the inside rather than the outside.
            For many people in Canada, yesterday feels like a huge loss. In addition to the tragic loss of the life of a young reservist from Hamilton, Ontario, there is a heavy sorrow over the unshakeable reality that Canada will not and can not be the same as it once was.  This may not be as clearly appreciated outside the country as it is inside the nation. It seems very strange to other nations that anyone could even get that close to our nation's leaders unchecked. I don't know how many times that question was asked on CNN yesterday. How could anyone run right inside the House of Parliament with a loaded rifle?  Yet, back home, that is what we loved about being Canadian. I remember the humorous conversation when my American born and raised wife locked our house when we were at home. Canadians have loved that they can leave their doors unlocked and that our military presence has been largely ceremonial and symbolic on home turf. While feeling safe is not the universal experience of all Canadians, especially among our First Nations families, it has been part of Canadian's identity and self-perception. Canada is a safe place to live. So we thought.
            From a Christian perspective, our peace has never been anchored in a real or imagined sense of "safety" based upon the place and time in which we live. We actually need to be careful with this because we may simply find ourselves sucked into the panic of the populace and the politics of fear. As Christians, we need to pray for our leaders and pray for peace but earthly safety is not on the top of our priority list. If it was, our ability to go, to love, and to serve wherever God had called would be severely curtailed. I don't know how many times that people questioned how I could let my youngest daughter live and serve in a country that is regularly noted in the news for its dangers. She has seen first hand what it is to live with a people who never assume that they are safe because of police, military, or politics. She could, better than I, explain where a true sense of safety comes from for her Honduran brothers and sisters.
            For many Christians around the world today, the choice to follow Jesus Christ is to forgo any earthly sense of safety. It is to embrace danger and the possible loss of life in exchange for the hope of Christ in eternity and the beauty of life and community with Christ and His people now. When the gospel truly "radicalizes" a new Christian, they become like the great radical Jesus who laid down His life for His enemies and called His disciples to do the same. If people professing to be Christians move primarily to politics or military force or other more extreme measures to advance their cause, you will know that they haven't taken Jesus seriously enough.
            So, where does our peace come from if it isn't from politics and military and police?  Psalm 3 reads "O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying of my soul, there is no salvation for him in God. But you, O God, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the Lord, and He answered me from his holy hill. I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me. Arise O Lord! Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked. Salvation belongs to the Lord; your blessing be on your people!". Now, granted, a few of those verses don't fit our modern sensibilities. When David writes of God, "For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked. Salvation belongs to the Lord", we may momentarily cringe. However, what we must recognize is this: that God is just and will deal with evil justly and thoroughly. It is what offends many about our Christian faith but at the core, the crucifixion tells us that God will thoroughly deal with all wickedness and He has dealt with ours in His Son.
            Why is that important? Well, in Psalm 4, the psalmist writes a similar song and he includes the words "Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your own beds, and be silent. Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord." What keeps Christians from becoming radicalized in the wrong way (becoming violent and hateful rather than self-sacrificing and forgiving) is to put their trust in the Lord. There is a time to be angry over injustice but our response must be that which is pleasing to God ("offer right sacrifices.") We move into a world filled with hostility and in which every party feels justified in their hatred and violence based upon the evil that some other has done. We, as Christians, are called to love our enemies. We can only do this when we realize that God has loved us when our hearts have been unjustly hostile to Him. Our hatred of what is good and our contribution to the racial and relational evils of the world are deeply offensive to Him. Yet, God has taken that upon Himself and satisfied the just penalty for our sins in the actual historical death of His perfectly righteous Son. This is radical love and true justice meeting.
            So, if your mind feels distressed and disturbed by the evil of the world knocking at the front door of our homes, what should we do? How do we sleep at night? We cry out to God. We trust in Him. We believe that He alone is our safety in this life and in the next. Psalm 4 reads "There are many who say, 'Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!" (That is why we as Christians are to be here in a dark and difficult world, to shine with the glory of God as a bright light of hope and peace in the midst of it all.)  "You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. In peace, I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety." God gives more joy than the world gives us when it is filled with abundance. God gives greater peace than armies and police when the world is filled with grim violence.

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