Ever had a time, when time seemed to stand still … your stomach churned within you and all you could feel was the heaving of emotions, like waves pounding a seashore? Your voice impeded by a clump in your throat, your mind reeling with “This cannot be happening!?” When the simple gracefulness of the feather-like aspects of life succumb to gravity as if it were made of lead.
I am not talking about the teacup ride at the Fairgrounds. I am talking about what we too often fluff off as off-limits in our social self-examinations. The unspoken deep issues of the heart that keep rising up across the world, and here “in the land of the free.”
For all the silly, nonsensical, and light-heartedness of life that abounds, there is the lament of what sorrows, burdens, and evils do dwell here. For the believer, there is the weight to be “in the world, but not of it” (John 17:14-19; 1 John 2:14-17). The face of evil is a shift-shaper that haunts even the dimmed conscience of the “right, just, and good” standards of society. But, when evil consumes, when evil seems to dance its victory tune, I want to hunker down, plot my vindication and seethe against what is not even mine to conquer. Anger. I feel its lure rising up. I can begin to see and act through the gauge of social philosophies that bear the enlightenment’s tease, “to do and be what is right in my own eyes.”
Every time I cringe at evil’s birth, there is a raw reminder that pierces through to make a channel for the “light to shine” in the darkest corner of my soul. Could I sometimes hate that “light,” scorn its illuminance, and seek to quench its flicker? Dastardly, I fear I do. Vindication is no virtue, but there are times I want its deceitful justification to be so. What greater, or more brilliant light shines than “love?” Yes, the light of love is inconvenient to my moods that feel cold against love’s warmth. But, love alone is powerfully poised to rebuke my wayward heart’s call to shout for justice without offering redemption. Me, void of redemption, I am prey to the “devil prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour?” Love tastes horrid to that lion of evil, and without love, I am a scrumptious, easy target.
Is not this why Love came to us? The divine condescending Himself to a world of hate. Even to mongering haters of a Holy Love. God is Holy (1 Samuel 2:2; 1 Peter 1:16; Revelations 4:8). God is Love (1 John 4:8-11). Oh to let the words of James 1:17-18, not get stuck on my lips, but be swallowed into the deepest crevices of my inner being.
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. By His own choice, He gave us birth by the word of truth so that we would be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.”
And joined to these truths, Lamentations 3:22-24, gave inspiration to a poet Thomas O. Chisholm who gave lyrical flight to the well-known hymn Great is Thy Faithfulness.
“Great is Thy faithfulness, “O God my Father.
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.
“Great is Thy faithfulness!” “Great is Thy
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
“Great is Thy faithfulness,” Lord, unto me!”
My love is not faithful. So far is my love removed from the Lord’s faithfulness. My love changes and my actions sink away from being motivated by a love willing to lay down myself for the sole sake of another’s good. Especially for the good of an enemy. “Love my enemy?” My love is cowardly. Not so with God. God is no coward; He possesses a holy courage beyond my natural power and nature.
Even in the presence of evil, God will not allow His nature and power to be left unveiled. What about lament? Oh, yes, love laments! Think of how all creation groans, until Jesus Christ returns and this world’s evil is restrained forever (Romans 8:18-26). What a day that will be?! Truly, it is Love that restrains vengeance for the salvation of many souls.
2 Peter 3:9 (CSB)
“The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.”
When Jesus replied on how to truly live, with loving God and your neighbor, a sassy question was posed to Him, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-29). Jesus Christ answered the man’s self-justifying sarcasm with the famous Samaritan parable (Luke 10:30-37). This is how love transforms one’s perspective.
Concerning who to love, Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, gave the hard eulogy of a love “not of this world.” In Matthew 5:43-45,
43 “You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.
What is hard for you to love?
Consider the fate of a current case.
The bitterness of racism. Think Ahmaud Arbery. Think father and son duo, Gregory McMichael and Travis McMichael. Heart check, how do you respond to it? Such a case is not the first, the world experiences this cold-hearted, senseless fatal act against fellow image-bearers of God all the time.
God sees it. God hears it. God laments its. God is wounded by it, and was wounded for it. (Isaiah 53:5-8, 11-12).
Kind David struggled with his gut-wrenching emotions to trifle with repaying evil for evil. Psalms 109 is an example of a vindictive prayer by a man capable of acting on his emotions, but instead casts them at the feet of God to plead for divine intercession. David’s prayer is raw and hard to read. However, if we are honest have we not felt that same toward another who has wronged us? This human King’s prayer points us to see the depths of need within humanity for a divine nature and a divine power of Holy Love to transform the lifestyles we live in order to escape evil demise (2 Peter 1:3-11). To do so, requires a miracle within the soul, the Holy Spirit working in our unholy spirit to cast vengeance and vindication at the feet of Christ and put on His love (Colossians 3:14; 5-17).
We are not called to neglect the carrying out of justice. We are to perform justice, be loyal to kindness, and walk in careful consideration of who God is (Micah 6:8). King David’s prayer should make us feel uncomfortable with the harsh reaction of what it means to be human and wounded. Take time to read Psalm 109 carefully below.
At the end, I close with excerpts from two of Dr. Martin Luther King’s sermons that challenge the cowardice lurking in all of us to rise up to the divine calling of a courageous love. I needed these sermons this week. I needed to be reminded of Dr. King’s own days of struggle in seeing his people oppressed, while standing up with a courageous love for humanity. He possessed a love greater than this world’s comprehension. Would that we, as Dr. Martin Luther King chose, raise the cup of strong determination and repeat, “I would rather die than hate you.”
1 God of my praise, do not be silent.
2 For wicked and deceitful mouths open against me;
they speak against me with lying tongues.
3 They surround me with hateful words
and attack me without cause.
4 In return for my love they accuse me,
but I continue to pray.
5 They repay me evil for good,
and hatred for my love.
6 Set a wicked person over him;
let an accuser stand at his right hand.
7 When he is judged, let him be found guilty,
and let his prayer be counted as sin.
8 Let his days be few;
let another take over his position.
9 Let his children be fatherless
and his wife a widow.
10 Let his children wander as beggars,
searching for food far from their demolished homes.
11 Let a creditor seize all he has;
let strangers plunder what he has worked for.
12 Let no one show him kindness,
and let no one be gracious to his fatherless children.
13 Let the line of his descendants be cut off;
let their name be blotted out in the next generation.
14 Let the iniquity of his fathers
be remembered before the Lord,
and do not let his mother’s sin be blotted out.
15 Let their sins always remain before the Lord,
and let him remove all memory of them from the earth.
16 For he did not think to show kindness,
but pursued the suffering, needy, and brokenhearted
in order to put them to death.
17 He loved cursing—let it fall on him;
he took no delight in blessing—let it be far from him.
18 He wore cursing like his coat—
let it enter his body like water
and go into his bones like oil.
19 Let it be like a robe he wraps around himself,
like a belt he always wears.
20 Let this be the Lord’s payment to my accusers,
to those who speak evil against me.
21 But you, Lord, my Lord,
deal kindly with me for your name’s sake;
because your faithful love is good, rescue me.
22 For I am suffering and needy;
my heart is wounded within me.
23 I fade away like a lengthening shadow;
I am shaken off like a locust.
24 My knees are weak from fasting,
and my body is emaciated.
25 I have become an object of ridicule to my accusers;
when they see me, they shake their heads in scorn.
26 Help me, Lord my God;
save me according to your faithful love
27 so they may know that this is your hand
and that you, Lord, have done it.
28 Though they curse, you will bless.
When they rise up, they will be put to shame,
but your servant will rejoice.
29 My accusers will be clothed with disgrace;
they will wear their shame like a cloak.
30 I will fervently thank the Lord with my mouth;
I will praise him in the presence of many.
31 For he stands at the right hand of the needy
to save him from those who would condemn him.
Sermon delivered at Dexter Baptist Church
“For the person who hates, the beautiful becomes ugly and the ugly becomes beautiful. For the person who hates, the good becomes bad and the bad becomes good.
For the person who hates, the true becomes false and the false becomes true. That’s what hate does. You can’t see right.
The symbol of objectivity is lost. Hate destroys the very structure of the personality of the hater…. Jesus says, “Love your enemies.”… But if you love your enemies, you will discover that at the very root of love is the power of redemption…
There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. …
There is a little tree planted on a little hill and on that tree hangs the most influential character that ever came in this world. But never feel that that tree is a meaningless drama that took place on the stages of history. Oh no, it is a telescope through which we look out into the long vista of eternity, and see the love of God breaking forth into time. It is an eternal reminder to a power-drunk generation that love is the only way.”
Sermon delivered at Detroit Council Churches‘ Noon Lenten Services
“And finally we come to see that there is within every man the image of God, and no matter how much it is scarred, it is still there.
And so when we come to recognize that the evil act of our enemy neighbor is not the whole being of our enemy neighbor, we develop the capacity to love him in spite of his evil deed …
For you see in a real sense, if we return hate for hate, violence for violence, and all of that, it just ends up destroying everybody. And nobody wins in the long run. And it is the strong man who stands up in the midst of violence and refuses to return it. It is the strong man, not the weak man, who stands up in the midst of hate and returns love.”
No matter where you come from, no matter your history, culture, political alignment, or philosophy, there is only one cure for senseless acts of hatred to stop. That answer is simple, but not easy. Love is hard. Love requires truth, and truth to act with love. Jesus Christ did not come to earth just to be an anomaly from the masses. He came as “the Way, the Truth, & the Life,” because He is a loving, faithful, Redeemer who transforms what is evil into what is good, what is dark into light, what is ash into something beautiful.
Love and truth are stronger than any evil in this world for the heart willing to be guided and strengthened by them. 1 Peter 3:11-12 turns our world upside down, “let him turn away from evil and do what is good. Let him seek peace and pursue it, 12 because the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do what is evil.”