Something is wrong.
Each day’s headlines bring forth new evidence of a crumbling culture spinning wildly out of control.
From once great and thriving cities now in utter chaos – innocent people being beaten in Portland, hundreds murdered in Chicago, civil unrest running rampant in Seattle, and street upon street of businesses in high-rent districts of New York City now boarded up out of fear – what has come of America in this COVID-19 summer of 2020?
More importantly, what can be done about it?
A friend and colleague of mine, a psychologist, says the current madness has been painfully predictable – even formulaic.
He says if you take common human emotions like “hurt” – disappointment and sadness – and combine them with “worry” (anxiety) you’ll almost always get anger.
I don’t disagree – but I think the breakdown is not only emotionally based but also spiritually derived.
Nobody would deny that we have great hurt throughout our country today. Over 170,000 deaths are attributable to COVID-19, hundreds of millions of other people have had their livelihoods and lifestyles upended and horrific scenes of racial injustice have seared the nation's collective conscience.
This hurt has elicited great anxiety, and when anxiety touches hurt in an emotionally and spiritually fragile or broken society, anger and riots eventually and inevitably break out.
What’s the solution or antidote to our current sickness?
I believe the answer or cure to our malady can be found in the nearly two-thousand-year-old writings of a man from Tarsus – an ancient city in modern-day Turkey.
His name was Paul, and he was an early follower of Jesus. Paul wrote numerous letters, or epistles, of encouragement to his fellow Christians throughout the region in which he lived and traveled, including the city of Rome.
In fact, I think Paul’s writings to early Christians in the “Eternal City” give hints as to why it feels like evil and wickedness have been unleashed in recent months.
“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,” Paul wrote. “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.”
Paul was describing the first century – but he may as well have been predicting the twenty-first.
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Debased-minded men mercilessly kneel on the neck of a man like George Floyd, ignoring pleas for air, refusing to find an alternative way to apprehend a suspect.
Debased-minded men murder innocent 5-year-old boys like Austin Hinnant, a North Carolina youngster who was reportedly quietly riding his bike outside his home when he was shot and killed by a neighbor.
Debased-minded men assault people like Adam Haner in Portland, pulling him from his truck and kicking him unconscious.
Debased-minded people attack an elderly woman in Portland, throwing paint on her and yelling, "This isn't your world anymore."
The apostle Paul knew “debasement” all too well, having once persecuted and murdered followers of Jesus before his dramatic conversion from sinner to saint.
But Paul also knew what it was like to suffer. He was beaten and imprisoned himself, enduring great hardships. Yet, he never wavered and never gave up.
Nor should we.
“On Him we have set our hope,” wrote Paul of Jesus, “that He will continue to deliver us.”
I think it’s important to note that Paul wasn’t saying God or Jesus would prevent all trouble or suffering – but that with divine help, we could endure it.
Secularists scream and rage at the suggestion of spiritual solutions in this day and age, but I have a question for them:
How is this push and obsession towards a Godless culture working for you so far? Just look around. Please tell me.
Paul’s personal turnaround demonstrates that redemption is always possible and that people who are filled with the good qualities Paul constantly upheld – faith, grace, hope, joy and love – can serve as beacons toward a future pathway to peace.
In every letter, Paul always ended with prayers for those same qualities and characteristics — virtues that sustained those who struggled and suffered back then – and virtues that remain the answers to our problems today.