As we enter the season of Lent in the year 2022, we enter with a sense that our world is in desperate need of a Savior.
We have just endured a two-year global pandemic that’s killed over a million people, shut down the most robust economy in a generation, forced able bodied citizens to isolate in their homes, and cut off global travel and trade. Americans have endured years of violent protests, with both the left and the right descending into dangerous riots in our nation’s capital.
The aura of invincibility and continuing peace has been rolled back like a curtain over the past decade, as the world is beginning to see that the old lines of power are resetting and solidifying. Russia and China have both risen to push back against the dominance of the United States at the very time that we have pulled away from our international commitments due to a deficit of national confidence and a general malaise amongst our citizens.
We are a people of peace. We are a people who seek the ways of Jesus Christ in our lives. Americans, even those who reject the concept of God, believe in the basic tenets of Christ. We want to live in mutual self-respect and harmony. While we may disagree with what that might look like, the overwhelming majority of our liberal and conservative friends and neighbors live in ways that do not seek to impose violence or harm upon others. Yet while we desire peace, we have forgotten that peace is not the default setting of our world.
We have enjoyed peace and security for so long that many of us have forgotten the true muscular evil that has dominated our world for most of our existence. For the sake of maintaining the lie of a commonly shared respect for life and liberty we have ignored or denied the atrocities of the past and present. We have forgotten Mao’s purges, Stalin’s gulags, and the ongoing atrocities that are no longer newsworthy in places like Afghanistan and Syria. A media that is still doing occasional stories on the OJ murders, can’t seem to find the courage to investigate that biolab in Wuhan, China or to tell the story of slave labor facilities in North Korea.
For most Americans evil is an abstraction. It is something that is either underreported or overblown. Americans take the words of Whoopie Goldberg or Joe Rogan as evils. We fear the outcome of Presidential speeches or unkind jokes told to a paying audience. Perhaps someone might listen to their words and attack an innocent? Perhaps someone might grow unhinged and cause another to suffer?
This fear causes us to patrol the near occasion of evil. We have become 21st Century Pharisees, with our robes in a twist over perceived slights and thought crimes. We become infuriated over the appearance of tribal injustice while ignoring the daily violence that is unleashed against the poor and marginalized of all races and creeds. And when we get close to actually dealing with the crimes and violence surrounding us our tribalism allows us to hide our own horrific mistakes in real time. How wonderful to be able to blame Bush, Obama, or Trump for the circumstances that we have created and the decisions that we have made? How easy it is to blame secretly held beliefs and ridiculous conspiracies for the self-evident results of our own misguided folly? We no longer need to say that the devil made us do it. Now we can simply point to our ideological enemies and say that it was fake news.
Meanwhile back in the real-world, evil does exist.
Vladimir Putin is one of the richest men in the world. He is also palpably evil. A Bond villain. Every time I see him, I expect to see him stroking a cat while being served tea by bikini models in stiletto heels. Yet our leaders refuse to call him out. Our media refuses to say what they should always say about him. He is evil. Every aspect of his life has been bathed in blood. He was a member of the Soviet KGB. He has killed those who would deign to run in opposition to him in national elections. How many dissidents have to die from radiation poisoning before we realize that Putin is someone who should never be trusted, and should always be publicly repudiated?
But we don’t care because the people that he has killed are not on Dancing with the Stars. Why is it that the men he has eliminated are not famous? They are amongst the most decent dissidents that the world has ever seen. He has killed countless Stephen Bikos. He has killed dozens of Martin Luther Kings, but no one has made him infamous for these actions.
Do you want to change the narrative? Make Putin into the Afrikaners. Memorialize his victims in song and in movies. Go after his character. Call him out. Be bold. Don’t play nice with a monster.
The same is true with Chairman Xi. Those who disagree with Chairman Xi disappear for months at a time and sometimes never reappear. It is fascinating that our Olympic athletes easily switch over to Chinese citizenship in order to compete in international competition for a nation with a human rights record to the south of Germany. Maybe we should remind our young people that competing for China in 2022 is the equivalent of running against Jessie Owens for Germany in the 1936 Olympic games. Remind them that they are skiing for the largest slave labor nation that the world has ever seen. In a world in which reputation is status, perhaps it is time to flip the script in ways that remind us of what and who is righteous in this world.
But that is the problem; the power is in the hands of the evil. Standing against evil is not easy, nor is it cost effective. It is costly. You might lose business, money, or prestige. You will be attacked. You might even suffer with a loss of freedom or even your very life. But here is where this seemingly political discourse turns Biblical. We must remember that God Himself was willing to lose for the sake of truth and righteousness. God emptied himself of authority and power to stand against the evil of this world with no more power than we possess today.
Jesus was willing to lose his reputation and his life to stand against sin and death. He did it for you and me. To resist evil, Jesus was born a carpenter’s son. He lived as a dissident in the religious and political world. He lived the life of a travelling preacher; teaching and healing to show us the power of God’s agape and grace. He did this until the power of Jerusalem and Rome put him down like a dog. They slandered him, beat him, and nailed him to a cross until he was dead. And for most people, that’s the end of the human story. Another dead dissident. Another dead man of God. But in Jesus, and for us, there is a third day. Jesus was raised on the third day, and in that resurrection he transformed the nature of life against evil.
It often seems like one must make a deal with the devil in order to win in this life. We know better. Our baptismal covenant says that in Christ Jesus we reject evil and sin and its control over our lives. We are dead to the old ways and have risen anew. Living by the power of the Holy Spirit sanctified for God’s use. We are born again with a transformed purpose in Jesus Christ. To live in Christ. Paul said, “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” For many people these are just words. They need to be revived and renewed in every Christian.
Evil is growing stronger and more muscular. The Godly must respond, not by coopting evil means or making treaties with evil governments, but by living a true life in Christ. By sacrificing, loving, and living with Jesus as our King. We must choose whom we serve. I choose Jesus. The world would be changed if the Church in the West would do likewise. Let us give up our alliance with evil for the season of Lent.