Here are some reflections on the troubling events happening in our world. In light of the emergence of ISIS in the Middle East, and of Ebola, this post offers a reflection on a Christian point-of-view towards life, death, and being afraid. But first, I invite you into our PDF fall newsletter. This will keep you up-to-date on what is happening here through October. A newsletter archive is found at the tab Church Newsletter:
War and Disease and the Christian’s Hope
There are rumors of war as terrorists for “Islamic State” (ISIS) are alienating most of the world with their tactics. It is a blasphemy to the Muslim faith to call such an organization “Islamic State.” They have been responsible for the murder of aid workers — an egregious breach of the ethics of the Koran. One way to think about this issue is that ISIS can call themselves “Muslim” only in the same way that the Ku Klux Klan could call itself “Christian” as it did back in its hey-day of violence, murder, terror and intimidation. The vast majority of Christians rightly distance ourselves from the hate, violence, tactics and general world-view of the Klan.
At the same time there are also fears of a widespread outbreak of a deadly disease called Ebola. This comes in addition to food-safety scares, and employee terrorism and mechanical failures in components of our infrastructure such as air traffic control and water treatment. The Fall of 2014 hardly needs a Halloween to strike fear into the hearts of many, including believers in Jesus. How do we respond in such scary times? Does believing in Jesus help?
Believing in Jesus certainly helps me, and I believe it helps millions of people, because our faith keeps these frightening things in perspective. Jesus said, in Matthew 10:28, that rather than being afraid of those who can only kill the body, we should be afraid of God, who is also in control of the state of our souls for eternity. Trust in Jesus Christ means that we keep faith with God who will rescue us from death as a permanent state — a terrifying condition–, and turn turn death into a doorway into eternal life of peace and glory. So what can ISIS do to me? Only hasten my arrival in the loving arms of God, while they meanwhile heap wrath upon themselves. What can Ebola do to me? As the Apostle Paul writes, to live is Christ, and to die is an upgrade into eternal glory!
Some want to find in these events a hint that Christ might be coming soon. Of course I agree that this is a possibility. I am also convinced that Christ might not roll the skies back like a scroll for another ten thousand years. Each generation tends to think of its own crises and issues as the harbinger of God’s final promises to end history. But friends, if Rome fell, the United States can also be eclipsed as a world power without the world ending. This is not unpatriotic. This is a Christian statement backed by both Biblical and historical perspective.
The “Black Death” scourged Europe throughout the 14th Century; throughout the late middle-ages Christians thought their world was ending, and this view was taken by many of the leading Reformers through the 1500′s. Several evangelicals in the 1600′s and 1700′s charted Biblical time-lines to point to the climax of history in their own generation. One very compelling argument saw the French Revolution as a harbinger of the Return of Christ. World War I was followed by an Influenza epidemic — those who lived a hundred years ago had much more compelling reasons to believe their world was ending than we do today.
The Church over time has developed other ways of looking at the crises and realities of war, disease, and death. Trying to teach believers to keep things in a godly, biblical perspective, the church developed holidays to celebrate various saints who, following Matthew 10:28, gave their lives even to death for the sake of their witness to Jesus Christ. The Church in the West selected November 1 as a Feast Day to celebrate “All Saints,” to commemorate all those who had died in the Lord and for the Lord. Halloween is a contraction of “All Hallowed’s Eve,” the evening of the celebration of All Saints.
As with so many other things, a solemn reflection on the reality of death and the memory of the departed took on other meanings. Reflection on fearing only God turned into a morbid fascination with what Hell might look like, so rather than saints being esteemed, many costume themselves as the undead — ghosts, zombies, vampires and the like.
Kept in perspective and within the boundaries of health and safety, these things can be fun. I take my daughters out for trick-or-treating. I see skeleton costumes and the like as human beings making a satire of ourselves — we think we are high and mighty in our world, but one day a year we and our children remind ourselves that we are dust and we shall return to dust. If we would remember such things soberly throughout the year, our reflections should turn us humbly toward God as our source for hope, meaning, and peace.
Meanwhile, this Fall, take the visceral frights that you have from Ebola scares and ISIS terror, and make that fright productive in faith: Pray for the persecuted Church around the world, and for the Christians being added to the Company of the Martyrs by the insane hatred of terror groups and hostile, paranoid regimes.