We Have a Spiritual Problem
JULY 5, 2022
As I write this, it’s two days after the tragedy in Uvalde, Texas, in which 19 children and two teachers were gunned down and killed. s
It’s now just days before Memorial Day. And you’ll receive this in July, with the Fourth on your mind.
There is a connection.
Sometimes evil is so dark, vicious, and destructive that it leaves us almost speechless. That doesn’t mean people aren’t saying things. It’s wall-to-wall media coverage with “experts” pontificating. Hollywood celebrities are lining up to put in their two cents’ worth. Politicians are taking sides and politicizing the tragedy. The self-righteous are throwing rocks at the police, the town, and the school. Social media is on fire. It seems like everyone has a solution to what happened and how to keep it from happening again. Frankly, most of that feels like a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.
This has happened before, and it will happen again, and the same people will say the same things. We have been here so often. I know their speeches by heart, and I’ve even made some of them myself. I suppose some things could help, but we don’t have a gun problem, a psychological problem, or a political problem. Those are the results of something far deeper.
We have a spiritual problem.
In Ecclesiastes 3, the writer said, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: . . . a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; . . . a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” This is a time for tears, grief, and silence. And I’m praying that the silence and tears will result in an attack of sanity and insight. If not this time, maybe the next time, or the next, or the next.
We quote 2 Chronicles 7:14 so often that most of us know it by heart. It’s become one of those “but, of course” verses. The verse often loses its power because of repetition and familiarity, but it’s still true. God says, “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.”
What if Donald Trump and Joe Biden got down and honest in a July Fourth speech? What if former President Trump said, “I have said and done some hurtful and wrong things. I’ve divided the country and created an ‘us and them’ culture of rage and hatred. I’m so sorry, and I ask you to forgive me. I will try to do better.” Or what if President Biden said, “I’ve blamed others for things that were my fault, and I’ve taken credit for things I didn’t do. I’ve made some wrong decisions. I’ve divided the country and created an ‘us and them’ culture of rage and hatred. I’m so sorry, and I ask you to forgive me. I will try to do better.”
They won’t, of course.
What if radio, television, and podcast hosts said, “I’ve been insufferably self-righteous, and in the process, I’ve used only ‘facts’ that supported my self-righteousness and condemnation. I’ve fanned the flames of condemnation and hatred and made a lot of money doing it. I’m so sorry, and I will try to do better.”
What if those who desperately want to be accepted by the “cool kids” said, “I’m not doing that anymore. I’ve sold my soul and paid way too much for my whistle. I’ve betrayed all I know is right to be accepted, and I’m sorry. I will try to be more faithful to what I know to be true and do better.”
They won’t, either.
What if the rich, elite, and powerful academic and business leaders in media interviews repented and said, “I’ve been driven by greed, ego, sex, and power. I’ve hated those I thought were cretins beneath me—the Walmart shoppers, truck drivers, and beer drinkers. I don’t like myself much anymore. Please forgive me. I will try to do better.” Or what if the Walmart shoppers, truck drivers, and beer drinkers (my group, by the way) said, “I’ve judged, made fun of, and demeaned the elite and the famous, and I don’t even know them or where they struggle. I’m sorry. I will try to do better.”
Don’t hold your breath.
What if the protesters on the left and right—from Washington to New York, to Los Angeles, to Portland, to Seattle, to Minneapolis, etc.—put down their bullhorns and signs? What if they stopped shouting and said, “What am I doing? I never talk to anyone different from me, and they won’t talk to me, either. Something is wrong. I will try to change, listen, and understand sometimes. I will try to do better.”
You’re kidding, right?
What if the gang members, “real” racists, pimps, pornographers, abortionists, etc., somehow saw the death and destruction they had caused, were shocked, and said, “I never considered the pain and misery. This has got to stop. I will try to do better.”
When a hot place freezes over.
None of that will happen because, if it did, they would be canceled, lose their positions and power, and have no friends left. I’m not going to do anything like that either. I’m not stupid.
But then I think of the Uvalde parents who will never again welcome their children home and the murdered teachers’ loved ones who will yearn for the sound of their footfalls, footfalls they will never again hear. I think of those who have been killed on our city streets, the businesses and homes that have been burned and destroyed, the poor who can’t make ends meet and live unprotected and in fear, and all the moral decay, racial division, anger, and hatred. And I think of Jesus weeping over the city of Jerusalem and saying with great pathos, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, . . . How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37).
He still weeps.
In that 2 Chronicles verse, notice to whom it is addressed. It wasn’t meant for Joe Biden or Donald Trump, the protestors, the arrogant who have money and power, or the poor, envious, and haters. God isn’t speaking to the unbelievers who sell their souls for a “mess of pottage,” the politicians looking for votes, or the cool kids and those who want to be cool. God has no message for the morally corrupt and those who have leverage.
Please note that God says, “If my people . . .”
The key to the healing of our land is us. We are the only ones who can. Our nation has a spiritual problem, and it isn’t “them.” It’s “us.” When unbelievers act like unbelievers, it shouldn’t surprise anyone. They believe and act like unbelievers because, well, because they are unbelievers. So, God has given us the solution.
And that solution isn’t what most of us think. It doesn’t require setting aside our convictions, changing political parties, or no longer being in one. It’s not about being weak, fearful, or pretending. The solution isn’t backing off from God’s truth or withdrawing from the world to which God called us. It is an attitude seen in Jesus’ tears.
It’s hard to cancel someone who is already canceled (“I am crucified with Christ”). It’s hard to condemn someone who has already pleaded guilty (“I am the chief of sinners”). It’s hard to demean someone who has already been humbled (“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit and a contrite heart”). It’s hard to debate someone who doesn’t care if they’re right (“I resolved to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified”).
There are enough of us to make days like Memorial Day and July Fourth different and even holy. Is that because someone will finally do it right . . . as we live as the canceled, forgiven, humble, and gentle servants of Christ? Are you crazy? We’re sinners, too. The difference is that we know the way, the truth, and the life, and it’s Jesus. Besides, when it gets dark enough, even a little light will do . . . as long as we’re willing to shine our “little” light. When we fail to live what we know is true (and we all do), the message becomes one of forgiveness, mercy, and grace. Everyone knows deep down that that’s their real need. We’re just the ones who know where it’s met.
On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the great philosopher and theologian Elim Garak said, “Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.” After the Texas tragedy, a lot of people are talking a lot because they have to say something. Christians have something important to say . . . as long as we say it with tears in our eyes.
He asked me to remind you.