I am hesitant to post this for today. In light of the bombing in Boston yesterday, I expect that anyone reading this may misinterpret it in a couple of ways. The first way is that I am trying to capitalize on human suffering, which I certainly am not. One thing I have found as a series-type preacher is that current events weave their way into the story and cannot always be run away from. So, I will go ahead and engage the passage and the situation.
The second misinterpretation will develop as we go through this. I hope you see it, and do not jump onto that train. It goes only in circles.
Leviticus 26 is our passage for today. This is, in a way, the closing argument of the Levitical Law. There is one chapter left in the book, and it reads more like an appendix of details. This one summarizes why the Law matters and the consequences for violating that Law.
The consequences are dire: defeat by enemies; climate change; crop failures; wild beasts that kill cattle and children; destruction to the point of cannibalism; fear; terror; conquest; deportation; refugees for life….
It’s a bad list. Horrible things will happen to the people of Israel for neglecting God’s Law.
Because He is their God. He brought them out of Egypt. He provided their land, their food, all that they need. Having done so, He also established the laws of the land regarding morality, business dealings, and worship—and if you think those three things can be separated without damaging all of them, you’ve missed the point of Leviticus.
Now we come down to today. Every disaster that we face, be it an attack by our enemies or a natural disaster, someone wants to step up and explain why it happened. And generally that starts with the declaration that this happened because of specific sins committed by people.
Planet getting too hot? (Or too hot so that we have weird winters and bigger hurricanes and snow storms and such?) The sins of the industrialized nations, visited upon us all.
Storms here or there? God is striking down evil people. Or, conversely, proof that there is no God because random disasters happen.
Violent attacks by evil people? God removing the protection of America because of sin. Or, again, proof that there is no God since evil people do evil things. Or our own sins revisited upon us as a nation because of how we treated people: maybe this was religious terrorism on behalf of oppressed people, since we backed the other side. Maybe this is the fruit of years of sexual repression or racial oppression or….
And it goes on.
Too many people wanting to pick up the prophet’s mantle and tell us exactly how the modern events fit with what they have been saying for years. Or fits how they plan to make a living or why we should vote for them or back their laws or….
The real issue, though, is that we live in a world filled with people, and some of those people are willing to do all sorts of evil. They may not even have a reason for it: often, evil is done simply because evil is in the heart. There may be claims of purpose, but really they are a smokescreen.
What do we do, then, when these things happen? I will speak to this question the only way I know how: as a Christian minister. If that means you do not think it will be helpful, I am truly sorry. Here it is:
1. Pray. What should go without saying should not go unremembered. God alone can heal hearts. There are hurting families and hurting people and unless you’re a trauma nurse, surgeon, or other medical person in Boston (for the current one), you cannot really fix that. So pray.
2. Hug your kids. Your spouse. Someone that needs it. At current count, three people will never get home from a marathon. Every day many more step out of this life. Why not alleviate the loneliness as best you can?
3. Listen more. There will be lots of shouting in the coming days, as there always is. Shouting for various new laws. Shouting against alleged perpetrators, then against probably perpetrators. Your voice yelling may not help with anything, really. Listen more to the people around you.
4. Find something else to talk about. No, it does not mean you are forgetting, but the odd thing about any disaster is that life keeps going on. Oil pipeline rupture? Does not stop everyone’s life. Bombings? Fires? Hurricanes? It is an odd reality, but if we all stop for everything, we will never start again. Dwelling on it does not help you or those in the midst of it. We may all be in solidarity, but this will always be different for the people who walk that street every day than it will be for me.
5. Find something else to talk about. Why twice? Because there is something else here: eventually, the children in your life will lose their naïveté and realize that the world is a terribly scary place with evil people. Do they have to know that now? Does your four-year-old need to fear the crowd at her T-ball game? Let children be children. (This includes you: supposedly family-friendly radio. Got it?)
6. This is practical and seems counter to the above, but seriously: consider your situations. Where are the threat areas for your life? One news commentator said something that struck me as dumb about Boston: “Nobody thought of this.” Really? Nobody thought that a crowd of people in an age of terrorism could be targeted? People shoot up elementary schools. Evil is real. Think. Be aware of your surroundings. Don’t lock down and be agoraphobic, but think.
7. Skip forwarding that conspiracy or political post. Until you see the government trying to link this to you in guilt by association, let it go. (Yes, I know CNN already leaned that way, but let’s give it a few days before we go nutty about that.) Until there is proof that this was stage 3 of someone’s plan, let it rest.
8. Resist the urge to over-interpret. I am not saying that there is no sin in America or that God does not judge anyone anymore. I am saying this: Biblically speaking, almost all of the instances of nation-wide judgment are Old Testament or in the true midst of the End Times. And if you go jumping into that water, you risk some major problems, because if you’re wrong, you are toast.
One cannot assume to know exactly why these things occur, and we only embarrass ourselves when we make those proclamations. Was this because of God’s judgment on our nation? Or was it because evil people are free to do evil, even though no one likes that? I would posit the latter.
I know that we cannot say definitively one way or the other, but we know this: Modern America is not Old Testament Israel. Our need for God has certainly never been less than theirs, but His covenant is with people here, not with the government of this nation. And looking at that, we would be wiser to see an opportunity to demonstrate the love of God and proclaim His faithfulness in tough times than to grab hold and proclaim His judgment.
There is a time for that, but it is not now.