This past weekend, I had the privilege of being invited to preach at Omaha Memorial Church, a very diverse church community (over 30 different countries represented) from the Seventh-day Adventist...
“and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?””
“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?”
On days like this it’s so hard to see hope for humanity.
I’m talking about yesterday, March 22, 2016, when I woke up to witness horrific terror attacks on innocent civilians in Brussels. Such horrific acts done in the name of evil ideologies, blind religious faith, utter disregard for life overall. I pray for the victims and their families to find comfort and helping hands among this horrible chaos.
Then, it was rhetoric and empty words like “utterly destroy ISIS” from politicians (and how exactly is that done in a way that won’t spring even worse things than ISIS anyways?), and to completely ban Muslins from entering the USA and Europe.
Later in the day, I witness a video surfaced of a technology that can record a person and allows that person to override footage of say a person on TV (even live TV) and change their expressions, mouth-movement to pretend it’s the person talking when instead it’s another person manipulating it from behind the scenes. Think of the ways media or governments can manipulate information to make us believe anything they want.
Finally, I hear about corruption scandals affect my hometown’s professional soccer club in association with former Brazilian president Lula da Silva and his corruption charges.
And to top it all off, the Supreme Court secretary over there orders investigation documents made about Lula and all the legally-obtained wiretaps to transfer from the lower court where it is being investigated to the Supreme and be investigated in secrecy. It just so happens that the Secretary in charge of the Supreme Court has, not coincidentally, dropped charges of many allegedly corrupt government officials.
There is only a sentiment of sadness and anger that this world is offering. What seems to rule the day is greed, evil, power and money.
Especially in light of the Brussel attacks, there’s a narrative which seems fitting to reflect upon today, it reads:
“When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.”
Eventually, there is victory for the anguished souls, as God will triumph over evil and, “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” Rev. 21:4
Even in this highly symbolic book, we can examine the narrative that plays out against injustice. When these souls are martyred because of their testimony and the word of God, they rightly cry out to God in anguish asking for God to move, to step in and to do something, like avenge their blood. Yet, even more remarkable then letting this first group of martyrs die, it appears that God doesn’t give in to their rightly justified anger, and astonishingly they hear that there would be more people killed and numbers had to reach completeness before something else would happen.
The book goes on to narrate scenes of destruction, with mighty earthquakes, large manifestation in the skies and, it seems to me, a great number of other fearful things.
Understandably, pretty much everyone (from every social strata and class) wants out of this great apparent retaliation from “the Lamb”.
Yet, this Lamb (which represents a baby sheep in case you forgot) isn’t scary. In fact many have argued that despite the graphic/retaliatory language from Revelation, it is not a book about violence or retaliatory revenge, but about a God who uses imagery such as the slaughtered lamb (Rev. 5:6), his robe dipped in blood (Rev 19:12), the sharp sword (v. 15) to do a twist on the typical violent understanding of “avenging our blood”.
Paul said to the Romans,
“Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Jesus himself said,
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
My hope is lifted that I can see a God who looks above greed, evil, power and money and acts mercifully toward my enemies.
And yet, I am hopeless to think this world will become a better place without intervention to stop evil, no earthly leader or government will be able to solve this. No amount of bombs will be able to eradicate evil. No amount of hate will bring peace.
I’m also perplexed and somewhat horrified that the narrative seems to be that God won’t act violently toward those who have done so to us. At least going beyond the surface reading of Revelation and the Bible suggests that.
In my own personal studies and conviction, I argue that Jesus wouldn’t all the sudden change His character of love and compassion into one of unspeakable evil and violence. He would act consistently how he acted back in Jerusalem toward his enemies. He chose to die, to let the evil, corrupt leaders and soldiers “have a go” at him, and allowed the crowd to mock him repeatedly, and instead he chose to not retaliate, not punch back, I believe to teach us how we should pursue the course of laying down our lives rather than retaliate and avenge our blood.
If you’ve had a similar experience finding yourself utterly hopeless trying to navigate this world, I have bad news and good news. The bad news is that it will probably get worse and worse before it gets better, but in order for it to be better, God is asking us to act and behave in a way that seems illogical, irrational and counter productive, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Rom. 12:21 and “Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back…Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:35-36
And just like the Psalmist I hope we can declare:
“But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.