“Truth is an arrow and the gate is narrow that it passes through,
He unleashed His power at an unknown hour that no one knew.
How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?
Can I cast it aside, all this loyalty and this pride, will I ever learn?
That there’ll be no peace, that the war won’t cease
Until He returns.”
- Bob Dylan – “When He Returns” (1989)
For the past month or so I’ve been focusing on events in the Middle-East. As I have folks occasionally comment that I need to put things in perspective and get my feet back on the ground. Here in the Flint Hills I think that means focusing on things closer to home. I believe there’s some truth in that. There’s plenty going on here in Emporia, for sure. There are other needs I could focus on besides getting wrapped up in events taking place half a world away. I think the driving philosophy of the commentary is that my attention to events in the Middle-East is really unprofitable. After all, what can I do about these things in this world that seem to be spinning so madly out of control? Armageddon is coming, like a Burlington Northern freight train and there’s nothing I can do about it. Perhaps it’s best to just eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we all will die.
I believe in a sense they’re right, but I believe I’m right too. I know that things close to home are important, but I also know that the history unfolding in the Middle-East is important. And, it’s important not because it’s dead letter, facts layered on facts, but because my life and the lives of millions of others are mysteriously bound together with the events and people living so far from me.
You see, there’s more to the Middle-East than geopolitics, oil, and tribal hatred. There, in that small corner of the world where three of the world’s great religions were born, war is being waged on a battlefield seen only through the eyes of the heart. Beyond the dead letter there is, as the German theologians say, high history being played out. The world is, and has been, witness to the great struggle of the ages, testing whether, when it’s rolled up into its final scroll, history itself will have a good or an evil outcome.
I’m convinced that when the last trumpet sounds good will prevail over evil. But while I believe that to be true I also believe that there will be tremendous birth pains that precede the triumph. There will be upheaval, war, calamity, enmity, and all the forces of hate fighting a desperate battle to stave off the inevitable victory of good.
Earlier this evening Nancy and I were talking about the conditions we see all around us. While there’s no doubt that there’s a lot of good in the world and many things to be thankful for, we also recognize that there’s a lot of pain as well. In fact, it’s just about pandemic. It seems that here in America that as wealth and prosperity explode, pain explodes exponentially along with them. As Bob Dylan said back in ’89, there’s:
“Broken hands on broken ploughs,
Broken treaties, broken vows,
Broken pipes, broken tools,
People bending broken rules.”
Given that, it seems to me that this is not the time to be self centered. Christians, of all people, should be focusing on more than just themselves, as if God’s sole purpose is to bring them to some mystical state of self-actualization.
I’m sometimes amazed at how aware some people are of their own pain, yet so oblivious to the pain of others or the birth pangs of the age Jesus promised us would one day come. They feel nothing but their own need, and as long as those needs are met nothing else really matters. God’s agenda must be them above all else.
I’m also amazed at the amount of pain some people seem to be willing to inflict on others to further their evil aims. Just last week I read the following words, words that are being taught to a new generation of young Muslims. They’re being handed down to children not much younger than my grandchildren and they in turn have picked up the mantle of hate:
“I am decisively announcing to the whole world that if the world-devourers (i.e., the infidel powers) wish to stand against our religion, we will stand against their whole world and will not cease until the annihilation of all them. Either we all become free, or we will go to the greater freedom which is martyrdom. Either we shake one another's hands in joy at the victory of Islam in the world, or all of us will turn to eternal life and martyrdom. In both cases, victory and success are ours.”
- Ayatollah Khomeini – From an 11th grade Iranian textbook – As cited by Bernard Lewis on August 8, 2006
And so it is. The seeds of evil sown to one generation have exploded like the double portion of grace willed from one prophet to another.
My critics are right about one thing. I’ve become increasingly aware of the pain in the world, and it’s causing me to cry out for the coming of the One who will fix things once and for all. I see the world around me, both close and far off, and I feel a hot, searing pain being blown through my soul by some sort of cosmic bellows. The weight of it is causing me to cry out to the Great Blacksmith of the Ages to hammer out justice and righteousness on the rails of history. I know He’s done it before, as He did seven score and five years ago when He trampled out the vintage where the grapes of wrath were stored. I long for Him to do it again.
Some of my critics say I’m being melodramatic. They maintain I’ve lost my focus. All I can say is that I am seeing very clearly. Everything is broken, in desperate need of repair. Things here in idyllic Middle-America are broken. Our marriages are broken. Our families are broken. Our institutions are broken. Things in our halls of power are broken. And, things in the Middle-East are broken. Knowing that, I pray that the days of travail will be shortened.
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