This week, which began with the 240th anniversary of this nation’s independence and celebration of the various freedoms in which our citizens enjoy, has unfortunately seen the escalation of senseless violence and tragic loss of life in a number of incidents across the United States. Communities and individuals are overwhelmed with anger, and despite calls for calm and unity, hostility and divisiveness grows.
Unfortunately, the United States is not the only country seeing a marked increase of hate and intolerance. All around the globe, individuals and groups bent on destroying those they deem as inferior to themselves commit egregious acts of violence against their neighbors. Responding to these atrocities, many communities and nations succumb to fearing the unknown, the stranger, the immigrant, the people who are not “like us”, and despite calls for calm and unity, hostility and divisiveness grows.
Many of our political and social leaders seem to be instigators of the fear-mongering by issuing statements of intolerance coupled with bold and sweeping generalizations. The numerous media, eagerly embracing the adage “if it bleeds, it leads”, push out story after story, report after report, video after video, opinion after opinion. Many seem intentionally designed to continue feeding the hate, intolerance, and fear of the people, and despite calls for calm and unity, hostility and divisiveness grows.
Whether at home or abroad, these attitudes are the very embodiment of the solemn warning Christ gave so long ago: “And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. […] And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.” (Matthew 24:10,12, NKJV)
Christ’s warning is echoed in the writings of the apostle Paul.
“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.” —2 Timothy 3:1-5, KJV
Why is this happening? Why are so many people, both within our own communities and around the world, losing their moral compass and feel emboldened to commit such heinous acts of violence and hate?
Grieving the Holy Spirit
The unfortunate answer is that many individuals the world over have decided in their hearts and minds to embrace prejudiced, abominable ideology. They have so filled their minds with hate that they have become blinded by the lies they hear or tell to themselves and perhaps even feel justified in their violence. Their moral compass has been so twisted and warped that they have come to believe that evil is good.
Some might even say that these individuals no longer have a conscience, and if you believe in the Word of God, the conscience — the voice in your head that helps you differentiate between right and wrong — is none other than the Holy Spirit Himself. The Bible warns that if you continue to ignore the warnings of the Holy Spirit, of your conscience, eventually He will no longer be able to reach you.
Ephesians 4:30 says: “And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.”
Even men and women that we would consider “good people” can be lulled into a false sense of security, let their guard down, and end up committing evil.
One notable example from the Bible is King David. He committed a series of loathsome acts against his loyal subjects. The entire account can be found in 2 Samuel 11-12.
David severely abused his kingly authority by coercing, and some theologians believe from the language of the original Scriptures, raping Bathsheba, the wife of one of his most loyal mighty men, Uriah. When a pregnancy resulted, he tried to cover his crime by calling Uriah back from war and enticing him to enjoy intimacy with his wife. Uriah was of such noble character that he refused to go home while his men were still on the battlefield and away from their families. Desperate to keep anyone from discovering the truth, David gave orders to have Uriah sent back to the front lines and intentionally placed where he would face the worst of the fighting. David wanted Uriah to die, and Uriah was killed in battle.
With Uriah dead and after her period of mourning had ended, David took pregnant Bathsheba as one of his wives. To those looking on from the outside, it might have appeared magnanimous for the king to graciously take in the wife of one of his most loyal soldiers killed in the line of duty. Yet his actions were not due to compassion but a selfish desire to cover up his evil deeds, and David continued on with his life fully confident that his secret crimes had been sufficiently hidden.
God, however, was not fooled. He sent the prophet Nathan to the king and warned David that if he did not repent and turn away from the evil he had committed, he would die. “Why have you despised the commandment of the Lord, to do evil in His sight? You have killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword; you have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the people of Ammon.” 2 Samuel 12:9
When David came to the realization of just how terrible his crimes, his sins, actually were (for before, he had justified his actions in his own mind), he pleaded with God: “Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.” Psalm 51:11.
As horrible as his crimes were, David had just enough of a conscience left to realize his wrongdoing. Though he was most definitely heading down the wrong road, he had not reach the point of no return. He was still able to turn from his wicked ways. Even today, not everyone is beyond the reach of God if they are but willing to heed the call of His Spirit, the conscience, and turn from evil.
So if even the “good people” can find themselves committing evil, that begs the question: How do we respond to the despicable incidents and acts of violence that happen in our world without becoming tainted by fear and hate ourselves?
The simple answer is: love.
This is not the love that is characterized by fiery passion nor yearning lust nor even a shallow fondness. No, this love is something much more that goes beyond ourselves. It is not governed by our vacillating emotions nor bound by our circumstances.
We are told in 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.”
The phrase “perfect love” here means a full-grown, mature love. It conveys the completion of a process of character development or a spiritual journey. In essence, what this verse is saying is that as we grow in Christ, allowing Him to perfect our characters, we will develop the kind of selfless love that casts out fear and all that comes with it.
This godly love goes against the engrained urges and compulsions of our selfish humanity. It is natural to show love to those who love you in return and to hate those who hate you. Yet love perfected in a relationship with the Lord empowers us to do what is impossible to do on our own. Jesus Christ commanded His followers to both “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39) and “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44).
When we allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives, developing our characters into the likeness of Christ, everything changes. What we think and say, how we view other people, our responses and reactions to situations, everything will be different, governed by the love of God.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8 is a well known passage of Scripture, but really take a moment to contemplate the meaning of each point it makes.
“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” —1 Corinthians 13:4-8, NKJV
This is the kind of perfect love that followers of Christ are called to have for both our neighbors and our enemies. When your heart and mind are filled with this kind of love, there is no room for fear, no room for hate, no room for prejudice.
Depart From Evil and Do Good
This is how we respond to the atrocities that occur in our communities and nations! Not reciprocating hate with hate and violence with violence. No! We are to humbly yet boldly return love for hate, peace for violence, justice for injustice, and mercy for wrongdoing. In 1 John 3:18, we are encouraged to act on this godly love: “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.”
In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul further explains:
“Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.” —Romans 12:17-19
The Scriptures provide us even more insight into the responsibilities of a follower of Christ towards God ultimately but also to our neighbors and communities. Micah 6:8 says: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?” And Psalm 34:14 clearly states: “Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.”
Love One Another
So even while hostility and divisiveness grows around us, stand firm in the love of God and allow His Holy Spirit to mold your character into His likeness. Guard what thoughts and attitudes you put into your mind, put away petty prejudices and biases, and steer clear from the fear-mongers and those instigating dissension and strife.
Go about your everyday lives doing good whenever and wherever you can. Help those who are in need of help and comfort those in need of comfort. Show kindness, patience, and courtesy even if you do not receive anything in return.
When faced with adversity, tragedy, or even persecution, remember that our Savior died not just for those who loved Him or would come to love Him, but He also died for those who hated Him and killed Him! None of us deserve His love and forgiveness, yet “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8, NKJV)
And He calls us to do the same. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34, NKJV)