overcoming evil with good

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:21

There seems to be nothing more natural to us than responding to that which is not loving, or maybe even hateful with that which is less than love. We want to hold our ground, or at least protect ourselves. And besides, what right does anyone have to act the way they did? How in the world are we supposed to “overcome evil with good”? And just what does that mean? To understand, we have to look at the fuller context.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:17-21

We’re to do good to others, even when it may seem to make no sense. What makes sense to us unfortunately is tit for tat, if you do me wrong, than I need to at the very least hold you at arm’s length, and likely I need in some way to retaliate. But what does Scripture say? Something quite different.

I don’t think it’s an accident that Romans 13:1-7 follows, the passage on God’s command to us to be subject to the state, governing authorities, who are obviously accountable to God to carry out their duty for our good, and for the good of society or people in general. So those who do evil are accountable to God in part by being accountable to the governing authorities, which in turn are themselves accountable to God.

But back to the main point: We don’t have to become best friends to those who are mistreating us. And this is not at all referring to abusive relationships where even our lives might be at stake, and certainly our well being. We need to get out of them, and look to the governing authorities when that’s needed. We can love from a distance through prayers, but keep our distance at the same time.

But in many cases our enemies will be those we have to put up with day after day, whether at work or someplace else.  We may not win them to Christ, but maybe we can win them to ourselves, and help them become open to the gospel message. Their incredulity might turn into something of a friendship during which they will see our lives, and the fact that our love for them is genuine. So that instead of God’s judgment, they might eventually receive his salvation. In and through Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

misplaced confidence

For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. According to alamoth. A song.

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the LORD has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Psalm 46

Fear seems at the forefront of much thinking today, even in Christian circles. There’s no end to what we’re afraid of. We could say often it’s fear about everything, but that would be a hyperbole. Actually those who are motivated significantly by fear have confidence in some things which not only alleviate their fears, but give them a sense of security. But when we get to the bottom of it, it can end up being a misplaced confidence.

In the United States we say, “In God we trust,” but when it comes right down to it, is that really the case? It’s too easy to slip into confidence in ourselves, our military might, our know how, our vision of how things ought to be, etc., etc. This besets people on every side, be they moderates, progressives, conservatives, whatever.

This can be subtle, hard to discern and uncover. Again, it’s not like we can’t profess confidence in God. Note that this psalm is written to God’s people, Israel, and by extension, to us all. Part of it is addressed to the nations, which might include Israel at a given time, to “be still” or “cease striving” as if everything matters on human effort and might.

True dependence on God does not mean security and at times even force is not needed. In a world of evil, there are times for such. It does mean that our dependence should not be on such to see us through, but only in God. Military action should be used as a last resort, and hopefully to help promote peace, certainly not war.

What if Christians actively took a role of advocating peacemaking, and reticence toward any military action? Instead we ought to be known as those who stand for peace, are opposed to war, and make that known at the ballot box. But in the United States neither major party can claim the high road here. This is not at all to dishonor those who have served and serve in the military. They deserve our honor, support and prayers. But it is to acknowledge that our ultimate dependence is only on God, and nothing else. Our hope is always and forever only in God. Who will judge what is done now, and finally put a stop to it once for all. In and through Jesus.

for this July 4th

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

May the Lord answer you when you are in distress;
may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
May he send you help from the sanctuary
and grant you support from Zion.
May he remember all your sacrifices
and accept your burnt offerings.
May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.
May we shout for joy over your victory
and lift up our banners in the name of our God.

May the Lord grant all your requests.

Now this I know:
The Lord gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
with the victorious power of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.
Lord, give victory to the king!
Answer us when we call!

Psalm 20

Here in the United States today we celebrate Independence Day when officially our nation began. What this nation stands for in principle is good, even though we’ve never lived up to it. Such is the human enterprise. We can’t reach that goal entirely apart from God’s grace and enabling in Christ. And that’s really at the heart of the fulfillment of the psalm quoted above. Only when Jesus returns when heaven and earth become one will that be fully realized.

But in the meantime, the United States should aspire in humility before God to occupy its own space for the good of all humankind. Realizing that it’s not in its own might or weaponry that it will succeed. But only by God’s mercy. As we know victory resides only in the King of kings, and Lord of lords, Jesus. And the United States should always be ready to acknowledge wrongs done, and try to make them right and do better.

This should temper our expectations, and help form our prayers, even as we thank God today for the good of the United States.

the war we’re in, the Christian and violence

There is the “culture war.” And we know of actual wars, right now honoring the last of the veterans of World War II. What about the Christian? What warfare can or even should we be part of?

Jesus taught the way of the cross, that we’re to love our enemies and pray for them, that we’re to bless those who curse us, and when struck, turn the other cheek, as well as go the extra mile. There’s no question that Jesus resolutely refused all physical warfare. The Messianic way fulfilled in him would not become embroiled either in the world’s wars, or in physical warfare at all.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5 and Ephesians 6:10-20 are the two passages which come to mind when speaking of spiritual warfare. One also thinks of Daniel’s praying, and the angelic and spiritual forces behind the scenes as he did. For the Christian the gospel meaning good news in Jesus is the armor and weapon we’re to use  in God’s mighty power to resist the enemy. And particularly for those called to proclaim, but for all of us as witnesses, we do indeed have authority in Christ to share the life changing word, above all in how we live, in word and deed. And this must be a part of what we’re about as Christians, regardless of anything else, certainly including all who serve in the state.

I know devout Christians have served in the military and police force. Of course that in itself does not prove the legitimacy of such. I was raised in a denomination that teaches Christians should not participate in such. And I am empathetic to that position, and to this day read a portion of the Sermon on the Mount (or the Sermon on the Plain) as part of my daily Bible reading.

One needs to step back and consider war in general, the just war theory proposed by Christians, actually derived from another thinker. And the evil in the world. It is said that peaceful efforts which refuse any violence actually change the tide, whereas using physical force only keeps the chain going of retaliation going, essentially taking vengeance when God tells us that we’re to leave that in his hands. And directly contradicting our Lord’s words when he said that an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is not what we’re to live by, but rather, love for our enemies.

There’s no question that we should love our enemies, and that we should be willing to give up our lives for Christ and the gospel. And that should be our heart and soul, that we love in the way of Jesus, even doing so in a way that might cost us our lives.

That said, my own position now is that as a last resort when there’s simply no other alternative, Christians can use weapons within the role of the state. I say this sadly, remembering the worthy witness and position of Martin Luther King, Jr. and believing that such a witness is not only needed, but indeed called for in the way of Christ and against evil. There’s no question that he faced death both as a threat to himself and his family. And of course in the end was assassinated.

For me it’s an open question with no answer which completely satisfies. But I have to side with Miroslav Volf, insofar as I actually understand his position, that given the brutal, incorrigible evil present in the world, which as a matter of course kills and rapes and brutalizes, that there is a place for force. And that such measures lie with the state (Romans 13), not that there’s a given outline of what the form of government is to be in Scripture. There isn’t.

For me there’s no easy answer to either defend Christians ever using violence as part of the state, or never using such under any circumstances. I just don’t know.

My position now is that we’re to take the way of the cross in following Jesus. That just like the Amish have received protection with thankfulness, we too can receive such from the state. And that we can serve in such positions in the state. But always with the hope to resolve all matters and conflicts peacefully, or with as minimal force as possible. And that where need be, we can and should conscientiously object when what the government is ordering us to do is unjust.

Above all, and always, we need to be those who are marked as belonging to Jesus, taking the way of the cross. That even if we do participate in the force of the state, that we do so with the same gentleness and meekness, that of the Lamb. Realizing that we’re in a broken existence within the already/not yet continuum when peace won’t occur until the Prince of Peace returns. In and through Jesus.

for Memorial Day

We are thankful for all who put themselves in harm’s way for the good of others, and really for the good of all. Of course we recognize and acknowledge the limitations of any nation state of this world, and regret that all too often what is decided is the best for national interests does not necessarily have the best for all in mind, and actually often ends up detrimental to the national interest it professes to protect.

At the same time, even given the inevitable limitations of the state, we are thankful for all those who serve in the military and police for the good and protection of others, and especially for those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in doing so. We want to remember them on this day.

May God give the governmental leaders of this world the wisdom to look to him, to be reticent, even wary of violence except as a last resort. A deep respect for the life of all, beginning with those under their command. And all of those serving a heart to be present for the welfare of their own nation. As prayers are offered that all conflict will end once and for all in the petition, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

dealing with difficult people

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:17-24

If you live, you’ll have to deal with difficult people, who at times can make life more difficult. As Christians, we turn to the pages of Scripture for help. And I find Paul’s words here in Romans (click link for fuller context) helpful.

In a nutshell, Christians are simply to do their part. I think we can confront or challenge others, but we’re never to repay evil for evil. I think that includes using violent means, though if someone were attacking someone else, then I think you should do what you can to stop them. The Christians’ dependence on the state as a God-given institution against evil is in play here (again, click link above to see that).

To go into much detail beyond what is written here for me becomes murky. As Christians we should simply try to stick to the basic words of Scripture. But inevitably differences will arise as to whether “if it is possible, insofar as it depends on [us]” means that Christians could ever resort to any kind of violent resistance. I personally have changed my view in leaning toward the position that the Christian can participate in the state, and thus bearing the (small) sword as a police function. And in that, violence should be used sparingly, only as a last resort. There’s no question in the text, that the state in its God-ordained role, does end up resisting evil for the good of Christians and of all society.

The big watchword for me here is simply the directive to live at peace with everyone insofar as that depends on us. That means we might have to put up with things that are not helpful. We’re to leave any vengeance in God’s hands, instead of seeking to exact it ourselves. The state actually ends up being part of God’s exacting of justice, so it seems, when they function correctly. Although sadly to say in too many places in the world Christians and even society in general is left with corrupt governing officials.

The directive is clear whether we like it or not. We’re to do good to our enemies, or to those who make life difficult for us. But I’m not for a minute referring to cases like a woman being beaten by her husband. She needs to separate from him, seek protection from authorities, and I believe she can divorce and remarry on the grounds of desertion, because in effect that’s what he’s done.

This is not a nice comfy part of life. We’d rather avoid all such things together. But it does happen. We do well to go back to the words of Scripture, God’s word, and seek to live by that. To even bless those who persecute us, as the text tells us just before what is quoted above. At the same time, living in peace with others doesn’t mean letting them run roughshod over us. We need wisdom from God to know what that will mean in any given situation, as we seek to remain wise as serpents, yet harmless as doves. In and through Jesus.

more than a persecution complex

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’

John 15:18-25

Couched in Jesus’s Upper Room Discourse (John 13-17) the eve of his crucifixion, is some words of warning to his disciples. In our own culture we’re hard pressed to make much sense of them, but in the world at the present time persecution of Christians is as bad as ever. We do well to keep track of it and help by prayers and giving (see Open Doors).

In this present age we live in the realm of the world, the flesh, and the devil. All are directly opposed to Christ, often subtly in my own context. Oftentimes what can happen is a kind of getting along which amounts to compromise and a watering down of the message of the cross. If the ideal of the separation of church and state is maintained, then neither will interfere with the other. The church strictly speaking is a separate entity, a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9). At the same time the church is a people in exile from the heavenly Jerusalem, and wants to see the nation blessed in which it resides (Jeremiah 29:7).

So like life itself, it’s complicated. But straight up, as followers of Christ, we should expect persecution. In my own context again, more or less subtle. Though we who are blessed to live in a space in which significant religious freedom remains should be aware of other Christians who do not, and are more or less suffering real persecution, perhaps in the loss of property, and even life.

Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

Hebrews 13:3

We dare not carry around a persecution complex, ready to jump at the slightest provocation, always thinking the worst. But as followers of Christ, we need to remember that our lives are to be a small picture pointing to Jesus and his cross. We’re to take up our crosses and follow. In the love of God for the world. In and through Jesus.