Someone asked me recently why I don’t take a stronger stand against evil. “All that’s needed for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing,” they said. “If you keep talking about grace without warning about compromise with sin you can be held responsible for the consequences.”
Lately I’ve been hearing from a lot of folks who are sure we are about to be judged for the sins of our countries. “We’ve gone too far,” they say.
We do reap what we sow. If our pleasure or comfort comes at the expense of someone else (or even our future selves) eventually somebody’s going to get hurt. I watched the escalation of the squirt gun wars amongst my grandchildren this summer. If you squirt someone with water they have the right to shoot you back. You have set a precedent. How long do you think the fun lasted until there were tears and Grandma had to confiscate the toys? I can tell you the scenario was repeated often enough to establish the character of human nature. (Bless their hearts.)
The escalation of conflict in the world goes way beyond squirting each other with cold water. It’s a dark, ugly, scary place sometimes where even a child in his momma’s womb is not safe.
Sometimes I get the feeling some people think our countries are working on some sort of group project that is about to be judged by God’s big red pencil. The “achievers” are really ticked off with the “slackers.” The ones who feel responsible for doing everything right are running around yelling, “Now we’re all gonna fail! Aaaargh!” What if the test is not about a good mark on a paper about blood moons and calendars and court rulings and not being passively complicit in giving approval to sin? What if the assignment is all about learning to love?
I had to ask the Lord, “Am I a slacker? Have I compromised on speaking out about the consequence of defying Your orders for the way things are meant to be done in Your creation?
As I prayed I was reminded of a vision I had a few years ago. A picture flashed in my mind’s eye. A runner on a dark road in the night carrying a torch like we saw during the winter Olympics in Canada. It was a like a detailed short video and lasted only a moment, but it looked very real.
“Was that from you, Lord?” I asked.
“I miss the people of the flame.” I recognized His voice.
“What people? What flame? What happened?”
“It was buried under the bridge of compromise,” He said.
That was it. That’s all I heard. I pondered this event for some time wondering who the people were and what the flame represented. I couldn’t understand. Was this about having more fervency, more zeal? But I know plenty of amazing people striving to make the world a better place so who are these flame carriers you are missing? It didn’t make sense to me so I left it on the shelf for a while.
This week, as the memory of the vision came up again in the context of taking a public stand against sinful practices, I continued to talk to the Lord about it. I remembered a verse I learned as a child, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” (Psalm 119:105)
Pointing to the darkness and saying “This ought not to be!” is like being the kind of doctor who can diagnose a complicated case, and may be able to treat some symptoms, but offers no cure. It’s like a physician who says “Those spots indicate a serious disease process. If you didn’t have those spots you wouldn’t be sick!” We walk away thinking about how to get rid of the spots instead of how to treat the root cause.
I wonder if a type of disappointment has been growing in our communities. Like yeast that fills a lump of dough I’ve noticed a pervasive cynicism has crept in. I see so many who have experienced disappointment in the ability of hard work, religious observance, law-abiding life-styles or the false charm of political promises to make lasting deep heart-change. I wonder if disappointment is an indication that we have replaced God’s priorities with our own. We are still working hard but it’s not going the way we envisioned. We have been striving to remove the spots in ourselves and in others in the hope it will lead to a healing of the heart. But the more we try the worse the spots get.
I wonder if the flame in the vision is about true hope. Perhaps the lamp, “the Word,” does not refer to more Biblical injunctions to quit sinning. The Bible tells us that the Word is Jesus Christ Himself.
Today I asked the Lord again if I have been in error by not standing up against sin more publicly. Have I been lazy, avoiding conflict, compromising? His answer to my heart: The people of the flame carried the light. They carried hope, they carried good news. They ran into the darkness, unafraid, because they carried the flame.
After Jesus died the people who had expectations that he would deliver them from the oppressors felt profound disappointment. “But we had hoped that he was the one…” said the two followers as they walked dejectedly to Emmaus, not recognizing the person who joined them was the resurrected Jesus. They did not understand that God had much bigger plans than improving their living conditions. These were the same people who, after the Holy Spirit came with wind and tongues of flame at Pentecost, abounded in hope in the worst possible circumstances, under severe persecution. They were not concerned with “preserving their way of life.” They did not point to encroaching darkness and announce God’s judgment on a place, nor did they sit down awaiting rescue from the planet. They did not deny the darkness. They picked up their torches and ran right into the darkness. The message they carried changed the world.
They carried hope. They carried the light. The light of the world is Jesus Christ.
We each face challenges of Olympic proportion. Will circumstances become more difficult in the future? I don’t know. All I know is that in my own small way, right where I am in this little corner of the world I can run into the darkness carrying the light.
I pray that God, the source of all hope, will infuse your lives with an abundance of joy and peace in the midst of your faith so that your hope will overflow through the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)