Pastor’s Perspective – September 2020
There are some arguments you never forget. The ones that led to a breakup. The ones that left scars. The ones that changed your path.
I will never forget the summer that I spent arguing with my father about Western civilization and logic. I was at that point in my education where everything that my family had taught me was wrong. My professors had dutifully deconstructed my world. They tore down the idols of my mind and heart seeking to replace them with the truth. My problem in that moment was that they had drained the pool but had yet to share anything that would fill my soul.
I still feel terrible about what I put my parents through that summer. They had sacrificed to send their son to a private Christian college, ostensibly to make me a better man, yet I returned angry and empty. Filled not with new ideas but with old grievances. I had become an expert on what was wrong, with little idea of how to fix it. Those who have walked in this path know the deep feelings of anger and animosity that you experience in those moments.
Those who are empty show significant anger toward those who seem full. People who seem confident in their faith and place are the most despised; parents, teachers, anyone in authority. The Bellavia household spent a summer in conflict as the enthusiasm of disaffected youth clashed with the age and wisdom of productive adults. Though I am sure I taxed their generosity and grace, they continued to love me and most importantly my father continued to engage me with questions, wisdom, and love.
I am remembering these conflicts as we are experiencing a national disruption that in many ways mirrors my adolescent fury. As protests have become riots, as fires and violence threaten to overtake our cities and encroach upon Midwestern suburbs, we are bearing witness to the age-old clash of values. Thirty-five years ago, I would have been tempted to take to the streets; angry at the injustices and fueled by my own sense of hopelessness.
Few understand that it is hopelessness that fuels the rage. It is not a progressive ideal. Nor is it a vision for the future. No one throws a Molotov cocktail because they want to establish a new green water system. They throw the incendiary device because they passionately believe that all is lost, and nothing can be redeemed.
This was the fire that we played with over the past few election cycles. We stoked the outrage of the young. We told them that their way of life was in danger, and we told them who was to blame. We attacked the police. We attacked our intelligence gatherers; our doctors; our pharmaceutical companies; our educators; our farmers; our entertainers; our churches; our history; and our heroes.
Politicians used whatever wedge they could establish to manipulate the 30 percent of the population who still engaged in elections. They told us that everything was wrong. That everyone was evil. That everything we had been told was a lie. And then, when the election was over, they promptly went on with their lives. The political class never contemplated the results of their manipulations. They never bothered to give us a solution, something to rest in or believe. Instead they stacked grievance upon grievance and eroded the trust and faith of a population that is inherently fragile.
Which has led us to this moment. This dangerous moment of violence and impending collapse.
The nation’s political parties are unwilling or unable to muster up a defense for their own actions, so they are resorting once again to blaming the other side. Of course, the blame is rightly deserved. The problem is not that the grievances are incorrect. The problem is that they are not enough. Burning down the restaurant because you did not like the burger is not a reasonable or effective solution. It is a tantrum that only guarantees that no one will be able to eat.
So then, what do we do? How do we move forward?
In this time of emptiness and rage, it is important for the Church to remember that we were created to walk with God. In the New Testament this walk with God was articulated as being ‘filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Simply put, if our emptiness is filled by anyone or thing but the Holy Spirit, then we are putting ourselves at risk of being filled by anger, hate and violence. This is no less than demonic, a possession of sorts, and it is what is transpiring in our nation today. It is not accidental that this season of rage occurred while the Churches were closed or crippled by COVID-19. Our absence from the world is playing an active role in this crisis.
We face a crisis of emptiness. A crisis of absence. A crisis of faith. Without faith there can be no hope, and without hope there can be no love. This is the ultimate revelation of I Corinthians 13. We must be a people of faith, hope, and love. We have faith in the salvation of Jesus Christ, hope in the providence of God in our lives, and therefore we can love other people. Once we are secure, then we can show the proper concern for others. But a people who are lacking in faith and hope will never be able to embody the love for neighbor that sustains a community.
So we must share Jesus with our nation. Kenosha, Portland, and Minneapolis are the new mission fields for the Church. We must surrender ourselves to Jesus Christ and find new ways to preach old truths. We must never stop teaching, preaching, and loving those who spit their anger toward us and actively seek to do us harm. No longer can the Church simply live in comfort and seclusion. We must be filled by the Holy Spirit and sent into the world to lift high the glory of God to the nations.
We must repent of the anger that is fueling the mob and encouraging the violence that burns around us. This means that we categorically reject the spirit of murder and destruction that is growing in our nation. This means that the Church must double our effort to share the salvation of Jesus Christ and the FORGIVENESS that He and only He can give us.
Repentance is necessary for reconciliation. You cannot force or compel true repentance. It is an act of the soul, not an act of the body politic. Forced show trials and genuflections do nothing to change the spirit of a nation. Slogans and hashtags are childish calls for attention and are incapable of bringing the reconciliation we desire. They are only a new delivery system for the ancient spirits of tyranny and oppression. Only the redemption found in Jesus Christ can change the hearts of people.
This is what we believe. This is who we are. And this is what we can offer to our world.
My mind and heart were not transformed by age. Many of my peers remain trapped in their adolescent anger and many of my elders have never been able to escape the rage that compels them to violence and condemns them to damnation. What changed in me was allowing Jesus to become my foundation. Fully embracing the call of Christ as my life’s goal has given me access to the Way, the Truth, and the Life that can direct my decision and has given me purpose.
I cannot fill the emptiness that rages against the world. I cannot cure the pain. But I serve the One who can. As followers of Jesus Christ we can seek to daily grow in love toward God and toward each other. We are not there yet, but one day we will arrive, not out of the strength of our group or due to the wisdom of our leaders. Our salvation will come when Jesus the Christ takes the throne and rules in heaven and on earth.
Pray for our nation and the world. The day is coming. Our salvation draws near. Bear witness to the love of God as you wait.