Law, Gospel & our Longing for Justice in an Insane World
The Washington Post put it most succinctly: Two Cities. Thirteen Hours. Twenty-Nine Dead. The circumstances for each mass shooting could not be more different, yet, as I will argue, they could not be more similar. One assailant was a white nationalist motivated by his hatred for the migrant population in Texas while the other was believed to be a follower of an American Socialist movement in Dayton, OH. In a world where we have become all too accustomed to the regular news release of mass shootings, we need real help and healing for our restless and weary souls.
With each successive mass murder event, our society is left feeling more numb thanstunned by these kinds of events. And this might be the most frightening part of this whole situation. None of us feel safe anymore. As a father of three sons who attend public school, I am terrified by the thought that this could happen at any moment in my community. We are left with one looming question, “who will be next?”
On the other side of the news buzz is the partisan divide that quickly exposes itself after such tragedies befall our nation. We are prone to run to our safe ideological corners where we begin to assess what we believe are the reasons why we keep dealing with these tragedies. From one corner, we have the cry that we need stricter gun laws and in the other we need What we find ourselves in is one crazy mess.
The reality is that ALL of these issues are challenges that need measured solutions. Yet, I fear our banter and debate is far too one dimensional. I appreciate a quote from the American Journal of Public Health which states…
“Mass shootings represent national awakenings and moments when seeming political or social adversaries might come together to find common ground, whether guns are allowed, regulated, or banned. Doing so, however, means recognizing that gun crimes, mental illnesses, social networks, and gun access issues are complexly interrelated, and not reducible to simple cause and effect. Ultimately, the ways our society frames these connections reveal as much about our particular cultural politics, biases, and blind spots as it does about the acts of lone, and obviously troubled, individuals.”
If all of these issues are “complexly interrelated”, then where do we start the pursuit of healing and hope? I want to suggest that for the Christian, we must first point ourselves back to the Law & the Gospel. I fear that we can be so emotionally shaped by the latest media release that we easily jump from one quick witted judgment to another. Christians, like most people, can easily forget the foundation of our faith. We know these matters are far too complex and we cannot ignore them.
The church has a better framework on which to engage our hurting world if only we will use it. Forming our thoughts and responses to these tragic events in historical confessional theology REQUIRES us to remember four LAW-GOSPEL fundamentals:
THE LAW OF GOD GIVES FOUNDATIONAL ORDER TO THE WORLD
We need to remember that God has ordered the universe and it is therefore grounded in his nature as well as in his Law. The Bible says in Romans 1:19 and 2:14 that this Law is written on the hearts of humanity, yet it has been suppressed. Genesis 3 chronicles how our first parents, Adam and Eve, broke God’s Law and rendered all humanity to be born as Law Breakers. The curse was and still is pervasive and it poisons everything we know and see. The Law of God, written on the hearts of men, stands as only holy standard for the righteousness of God.
OUR OUTRAGE NEEDS TO BE LOCATED IN HUMAN SIN AND REBELLION
Living in a sin cursed world inevitably leads to sin, suffering, death and tragedy. These recent events are not the first tragedies in human history where we have been forced into these conversations and debates. There is a place for grief and holy outrage but our grief and outrage do not start with secondary causes, but the primary cause of curse of the fall, sin and rebellion. When the extent of our reaction is relegated to secondary causes, we render our influence and help no better than our unbelieving co-sufferers. We simply descend into the emotional dumpster fire of either outrage or utter despair. The outrage we see in our culture is a reflection of the world’s inability to properly grieve these tragedies because they have no true understanding of the extent of sin and death. As Christians, we need to give our restless and weary world a better way to grieve.
ONLY JESUS MEETS THE RIGHTEOUS STANDARD OF GOD
When the Law of God is clearly established, then we can offer a hope of the Gospel worth the world’s examination. But the Gospel of grace cannot stand alone. It must stand on the Law of God. The Gospel is founded on the work of Jesus to atone for the sins of Law-breakers. The hatred of the shooters is fundamentally rooted in their hatred of God. This innate lawlessness is the starting point. This means that the only antidote and true help is found in a God who is working his plan to redeem his people and the world. Simply put, our ultimate hope and help is only God himself. Paul tells us in Romans 3:21-26 that Jesus meets the righteous standard of the Law on our behalf and accomplishes the needed redemption we all long for but cannot attain. Our God has promised to establish a new people who live under his rule and blessing once again. That promise cannot be found in the malaise of contemporary ideologies or the political spectrum. As Christian we need to help our world to see the Kingdom that is established above all worldly principalities.
THE GOSPEL GIVES US OUR ONLY HOPE IN A BROKEN WORLD
When we preach a Law/Gospel vision, we give true hope to a desperate world. Some will say we are being naive and offering an ethereal gospel. They will say that a Gospel that is not motivated to social action is not a helpful nor hopeful gospel at all. But what actions does this God command us to engage in. Where do we start? Is limiting access to military-grade firearms the place to start? Perhaps. If so, what about all the law-abiding gun owners out there? On the other end, what kind of help are we ready to provide the mentally ill in these tragic phenomena? Do we truly understand the totality of human psychology? Can we truly diagnose the complexity of the human heart? In the midst of these questions, the Gospel helps us cling to the promise that our God is very much at work in the world and that our answers are not found in secondary causes but in the first cause... Christ our King! As Christians, we need to help our weary unbelieving friends find hope in the strong arms of Christ our King!
Even so, Micah 6:8 gives us a description to “seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God” yet we must be careful with the extent to which we are to apply these texts in contexts like these. The victims deservejustice. The assailants deserve punishment for their heinous acts yet mercyis available for those who repent and turn to Christ. The watching world needs the humilityto depend upon God as they grieve these events together. What if Christians led the way in this Micah 6:8 vision? Certainly, conscientious Christians will arrive at different conclusions on some of the secondary specifics but in the end, only the Gospel gives us the framework to live in hope that things will not always be as they are now.
So as we stumble forward seeking answers for this complex cultural moment, the confessionally rooted church provides three fundamental helpsthat can be found nowhere outside of Christian faith.
- A better way to grieve. As people with outrage and despair try to grapple with their grief and fear, we can offer them a profound way to grieve that is rooted in the human story itself as revealed in the Scriptures.
- A better rest for the weary soul. As people learn to rightly understand the nature of these tragic circumstances, we can offer them a Savior who is strong enough to bring rest to their weary souls.
- A better hope that transcends the political and social spheres of our world. In a world where the political pendulum swings sharply from moment to moment, the church offers a Gospel that is bigger than Washington or blue vs. red political platforms.
May the church in our day find the grace and gumption to lead with confidence from the Law and the Gospel and there provide true hope, help, and healing for a weary and restless world.
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