Editor’s Note: Brother Carlson’s article on recent societal problems mentions the tragedies in Dallas, TX, in July, 2016. Since the completion and submission of his article for publication, other similar tragic events have taken place and made national news in Baton Rouge, LA, Tulsa, OK, and Charlotte, NC. These calamities and the similar afflictions which have taken place repeatedly in recent times show the relevancy of brother Carlson’s thoughts from scripture as expressed in this article. May we take these words to heart, and pray for our nation, the friends and families of all those tragically affected by these violent acts, and each other.
There are many sad and heavy hearts in light of the recent shooting deaths of two civilians at the hands of law enforcement and the murder of five police officers in Dallas, Texas. When these tragedies happen there is much debate as to whether anger at law enforcement or abuse of authority by law enforcement is justified. During these trying times, Christians must be proactive rather than reactive so we can bring about the positive change so many in the world desire. The following six points for consideration will now be proposed so that each of us as followers of Christ may live in a godly manner in this ungodly society in which we find ourselves. My prayer is that this may be of benefit to everyone who reads this article.
First, we must pray. Prayer is a given…but when one finds themselves in afflictions such as the Dallas shootings, for what are we to pray? We should pray that God comfort the loved ones of the victims (2 Co. 1:3-4). We should also pray for those who perpetrate these acts because God’s desire as stated by Paul is that “all people…be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Ti. 2:4).
These acts of violence sadden and anger us but we must not let our anger blind us to God’s love (Ep. 4:26-27, 31-32). It is easy to resort to calls for justice in these situations; certainly there does need to be consequences for those who commit acts of violence. Yet we must not let that blind us to the fact that Christ died even for these individuals (Mk. 2:17). We must remember that even we, before our conversion, were ungodly (Co. 3:5-7; Ti. 3:3-7). God’s grace is for all (T. 2:11-14). We must also remember the commandment of Jesus to love and pray for our enemies (Mt. 5:43-45). These are not optional matters. How can one proclaim the gospel but have animosity in their heart towards perpetrators of evil deeds?
Second, we must take action in a positive way. “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (Ja. 1:23-25).
James calls Christians to put faith into action. Listening is a good thing but one can listen to a sermon on loving our enemies and even agree with it…but it’s more challenging to put it into practice. This is what must be done. It goes beyond shouting slogans, hashtags, and updating profile pictures on social media. This is a call to put our beliefs into practice by helping our fellow man.
Third, remember the real issue. Violence against law enforcement or anyone for that matter is symptomatic of a larger issue. It is easy to treat outward symptoms of a disease, but more difficult to treat the disease itself, said disease being how societal issues are manifested in the public arena. Race or any issue which divides is used by Satan to his advantage.
We must heed Paul’s reminder to the Christians at Ephesus: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ep. 6:12). How sad it is that these matters may be used even to divide brethren! This is why it is imperative that we must be on guard and remember that Christ died for all…including the ungodly (Ro. 5:6). Remember that it is because of our own selfish desires that strife arises among the body. “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this that your passions are at war within you?” (Ja. 4:1)
Fourth, remember that the world needs the blood of Christ. We are redeemed by His blood (Ep. 1:7). If one wants society to change for the better, this is the message which needs to be proclaimed. Catchy slogans, demonstrations in the streets, politicians’ legislations and proposals…none of these will solve these issues.
Only the message of redemption through Christ will solve these problems. As the song we commonly sing with children says: Red and yellow, black and white, they’re all precious in His sight. Regardless of our outward appearances, His blood covers all. It is only through that avenue that true peace and equality will be achieved. Only when we all realize that everyone has value in God’s eyes and it’s only by Christ that this is made possible (Ga. 3:26-28).
Fifth, take note of your conduct while you react. There already has been and for the foreseeable future there will continue to be much debate regarding these matters. Emotions and tempers will be running high. This is why Christians who choose to engage in discussion on these matters must continually examine themselves and their conduct. If one chooses to participate in debate, regardless of which side of the issue you may fall into, God expects you to conduct yourself in a way which glorifies Him (Co. 4:6).
We can expect ungodly behavior from those in the world. It is for that reason we must be cautious to set a good example for them. Hateful, divisive rhetoric is no excuse for a Christian to stoop to that level; we’re called to put away things such as that (Ep. 4:29, 31; Co. 3:8; 1 Pe. 2:1, 21-23). It’s easy for one to be carried away by inflammatory statements made by others, but Christians should be careful that we don’t do the same thing.
Apply the “Philippians 4:8 Test” before speaking, especially on the Internet, and ask before one verbalizes or writes for the world to see if what you are about to say is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, or worthy of praise. If there is any doubt, then simply find another way to say it or discard it completely. There’s a reason we’ve been given two ears and only one tongue (Pr. 14:29; 15:1; Ja. 1:19-20). There is a right way and a wrong way to speak, and at times it is even best to be silent altogether (Ec. 3:7).
Sixth, learn to listen. Another problem which arises is the refusal to open our ears and listen to others. This is due to either pride or the stubborn desire to be right in what we believe. Paul gives Timothy attributes which the Christian must possess: “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2 Ti. 2:24-26).
We’re not always going to agree with thoughts or ideas put forth, but we must take the time to listen to other viewpoints. This is not to say we must accept everything that’s said, but we should also not be quick to dismiss opposing viewpoints.
It’s easy to become angry and disillusioned when we see our society crumble before our very eyes at the sight of evil. The prophet Habakkuk struggled with this very scenario as he questioned God about how ungodly Babylon could seem to get away with what they were doing: “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise” (Hab. 1:2-3, emp. added).
Many today join him in struggling with this question. In time the prophet learned to trust God and learned that God was using Babylon for His purpose: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places” (Hab. 3:17-19, emp. added).
As mere men we won’t always fully understand…yet we must trust. Faith must be learned. We must remember that God can and will use all things, regardless of how evil it is, for the purpose of His will. Everything we do is to be done according to His will (Co. 3:17). May everything which we do be done in a scriptural manner!
Adam preaches at the Valley Church of Christ in Kingsport, TN.