Our nation is reeling in response to the latest instance of lives being ended in a horrific display of hate, as hearts not yet recovered from ravaging storms try to make sense of what happened in Las Vegas. Political activists spout rhetoric, religious “leaders” trot out the same tired platitudes that people stopped believing long ago. Bible verses get quoted, sometimes accurately, but frequently not and all too often are taken grossly out of context and twisted to itch the ears listening. You probably hear family, friends, co-workers, or maybe your children asking how God could allow things like this mass killing to happen, and the very nature of God as a good God is called into question. How do you answer questions like “How could God allow this to happen?”
As I reflected on this, God brought me to two passages of Scripture. First in Romans Chapter 1, Paul goes through a series of choices made by sinful men and the response to these choices by God. Then in James 1 we find a progression described that parallels Romans and, in a very sobering way, describes the United States of America as if it was written today.
In Romans 1:18-32 we see it starts with “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth(vs18)”, then the passage goes on to list some of the ways that all men can know about God, and how they are without excuse. Then in verse 21 “For although they knew God they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him..”, in verse 22 “claiming to be wise..”, vs 23 “exchanged the glory of the immortal God…”. Now in verse 24 comes the first response from God.
Romans 1:24-24 “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen!”
As Paul goes on, this line of “God gave them up” is repeated in verse 28.
Romans 1:28 “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.”
If you carefully read the listings of what God gave them up to, you will see that He gave them up to what they wanted, the lusts of their own heart. Now if we look at James, chapter 1 we will see the word “desire” which, when used in a negative connotation such as this is very closely related to lust.
James 1:13-15 “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot tempted with evil, and He himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”
Sin when it is grown brings forth death. We see this principle on display all through our culture. Every overdose you read about in the paper, every suicide, every murder, when sin is fully grown it brings forth death. This is true on a cultural as well as an individual level.
Back in Romans we find the description of what happens when God gives a people up, and if you read through this list you could clip examples of most if not all of it right out of our newspapers.
Romans 1:29-32 “They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”
Here in America the very law of God that was the underpinning for our Constitution and judicial framework, the laws of God that declare “Thou shalt not murder.” are no longer allowed to be displayed in most schools, or in some courthouses. You cannot sit with a classroom of children and read them. “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up..”
Our culture has been actively suppressing the truth for decades, and the progression described here in Romans and in James should not be surprising to us. A culture of increasing depravity, where evil is not only allowed, but applauded and yet we are surprised when the sin takes it natural progression and death results?
You see the problems in America can not be solved in Congress, or in the White House, or the local courthouse. The problems in America are spiritual. It was spiritual evil that led every person who has committed mass violence whether it was with a gun, or a pressure cooker filled with shrapnel, or a plane flying into a building. So what is our response in the face of evil? How do we process 59 people (at the time of this writing) who went to a concert looking for no more than an evening of fun only to have their lives snuffed out?
Friends, events like this should be a call to the church of God to wake up! Those 59 people will never have another chance to hear the gospel, never another chance to hear that their problem is sin, that a life lived in separation from God, while a horrible thing, pales in comparison to an eternity spent separated from all the goodness of God and left with only the wrath of God poured out on their sin. The people who loved them will never get another chance to tell them the gospel. Maybe there was someone one of those people was waiting for the right moment to talk to them about God and their need for a Savior, and now that moment will not come.
Events like this should instill us with a sense of urgency. We do not know the day or the hour when Jesus will come again, we do not know how long anyone has until their soul will be required of them. “It is appointed to man once to die, and after this the judgment.”
After Solomon, the great King of Israel, finished building the temple and dedicated it to God, the Lord spoke to Him.
II Chronicles 7:13-14 “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by My name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
Please note that it is God’s people who must humble themselves, God’s people who must repent and turn from their wicked ways. It is not the culture that needs to repent and turn for the promise, but rather it is God’s people.
So what do we do in the face of tragedy?
First, we pray. We should weep with those that weep, we should pour out our hearts to God, death and misery should break our hearts.
Second, we must be the incarnation of the love of Christ. By this I mean that as it says in James 1:19-20 the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. So we should be the hands and feet of Christ to show love to a broken, dying world.
Third, we must live with an eternal perspective. We may never again interact with the person standing in front of us. We may never again get the chance to tell someone about their need for a Savior, that they need to flee the wrath that is to come. We need to make sure that we never compromise on the gospel of Jesus Christ, for there is no other way by which men can be saved.