Trophimus I Left Sick (Blocher On Why More Aren’t Healed)

Paul healing DujardinI’ve had occasion to write about the problem of healing, or lack thereof, before on this blog. There are a number of challenges for modern Christians when they read reports of miraculous healing in the Scriptures. First, trained as we are to think in largely physicalist parameters, conceiving the universe as something of a closed continuum, there is our initial skepticism that the miraculous is even possible. Of course, there are formidable arguments against this view, and we appear to be less hostile to the miraculous than we have been in generations past.

And so for many of us, the problem is far different. We admit that if there is an omnipotent God, it’s easily possible for him to heal. The question for us is “why doesn’t he do so as he used to?” We read the New Testament and find a wealth of reports of physical healing on an extraordinary level. The blind gain sight, the lame walk, the deaf hear, and even the dead are raised. And this is not only Jesus in his ministry pulling off fantastic feats like this, but in that of the apostles.

Indeed, so much healing was going on it verges on the ridiculous:

And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. (Acts 19:11-12)

Paul could blow his nose, drop his handkerchief, and God would use that rag to heal people of diseases and cast out demons. If that’s the case, then why not more? Why does it seem relegated to then and there and not here and now? We’re just as sick as they were in the 1st Century. We know people who would come to believe if they saw someone healed, so why don’t we see more? Is it, as so many faith-healers and their like teach, simply a matter of our weaker faith? Do we remain ill because of our faithlessness?

This last week I had the honor of sitting in a small Q&A discussion with theologian Henri Blocher as he’s in town giving the Kantzer lectures in Revealed Theology at TEDS. His topic his been related to the problem and possibility of evil, so naturally some of our questions turned there. One fellow student asked him just that question. He responded with three general lines of thought, which I’m going to relay in an artificial order and much more poorly than he originally articulated it.

First, he pointed out that we’re often victims of optical distortion when it comes to our reading of the New Testament evidence. While it’s true that there are many instances healing in the early the Church, we often ignore the evidence that points us in the other direction. For instance, while it’s true that Paul had a powerful ministry of healing, we also read him write in his final greetings in his second letter to Timothy that he had “left Trophimus, who was ill, at Miletus” (4:20). Now, if healing was as automatic and plentiful as all that, it seems that Paul–handkerchief healing master–wouldn’t have left his co-worker for the gospel sick, now would he?

Second, Blocher pointed out that, while not restricted to this situation, miraculous signs and wonders seemed to accompany the inbreaking of the gospel into a new mission ground as a sign of its truth. Then, upon the establishment of the Church in that area–miracles may not die out entirely–but Christians themselves, in their holy living, are to be the chief signs of the gospel. Depending on how charismatic you are, you’ll find that one more or less convincing.

Finally, humble and cautious as he tends to be in any area of theologizing that isn’t closely grounded in the text, Blocher reminded us that we are ultimately dealing with the wisdom of our free God. Our God is personal and supremely so–Father, Son, and Spirit–and so he responds to our prayers with the discretion and care of one who can say yes and–at times-no, according to his own good plans. Any theology that expects God to act on command has forgotten that it is dealing, not with a dispensing machine, but with our saving Lord.

We must, for these reasons, be careful about speculating about the faithfulness of our brothers and sisters who pray for healing and yet do not receive it. Nor should we be quick to doubt the infinite goodness, power, and love of our God who has healed us of our most grievous ills–sin and death–by suffering these ills himself, on our behalf, in the man Jesus Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria

Uniting Body and Soul, Truth and Righteousness, with Ireneaus

apostolic preachingI recently had the pleasure of revisiting St. Ireneaus’ brilliant little work The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching for a course. It’s this magnificent little summary by Ireneaus of, well, the apostolic preaching through the Scriptures. It’s an account of redemptive-history, the work of God in salvation through Christ and the Spirit, to redeem his cosmos. Sort of like a less-polemical, little brother to his massive work Against Heresies. It’s really one of the classics of the patristic period and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

In any case, I was struck by a passage in the introduction, where Ireneaus is commending the importance of having a unified approach towards truth and life. He roots it in the nature humanity as a compound of body and soul. Humans are necessarily composed of both; we are not just souls with bodies nor bodies with souls, but soul-and-body-wholes. As such, sin and impurity can come by way of both routes. We can defile ourselves in spirit as well as in the flesh.

This leads him to this brilliant little bit:

For godliness is obscured and dulled by the soiling and the staining of the flesh, and is broken and polluted and no more entire, if falsehood enter into the soul: but it will keep itself in its beauty and its measure, when truth is constant in the soul and purity in the flesh. For what profit is it to know the truth in words, and to pollute the flesh and perform the works of evil? Or what profit can purity of the flesh bring, if truth be not in the soul? For these rejoice with one another, and are united and allied to bring man face to face with God.

Irenaeus highlights two dangers we face in our walk with God. We can err in pursuing truth at the expense of righteous living or in pursuing righteous living at the expense of truth. The two cannot be separated.

The first seems particularly threatening to me as I begin my program at Trinity, diving headfirst into academic texts, lectures, and the bowels of the library. It’s easy to become impressed with a knowledge of the ins and outs of the history of theology, or be tickled by the latest, new idea about God, and become confused into thinking that’s actually a growth in holiness. But the reality is that you can add more books to your shelves and not an ounce more of moral character or depth in your actual communion with God.

And this is part of how you get that seemingly inexplicable moral failure that haunts so many pastors down the road. Some build up academic theological knowledge or practical ministry know-how in seminary while bracketing it off from a growth in the spiritual disciplines of prayer, gathering with the people of God, submitting yourself to the ministry of the preached Word, and so forth. That leads to a top-heavy, shiny theological structure without the foundational character that can support it. This is why Barth warned that prayer is the main attitude with which to undertake the study of theology.

The flipside of this is the sort of pursuit of righteousness that tends to downplay questions of doctrine and truth in favor of “just living like Jesus”, or “doing good.” Of course we want to live like Jesus and do good, but there is a way of pursuing it that cuts it free from their deepest logic and motive power—the reality of the gospel. Paul talks about this when he condemns those who have the “form of godliness while denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:5).

Of course, this easily falls into soul-sucking moralism. One form devolves into a Pharisaic self-righteousness because this righteousness is cut off from the gospel of grace. Or maybe it turns into a hopelessness that eventually robs us of our moral energy because “doing good” has been cut off from the hope we have in Christ that all things will be put to rights. The extreme at the end of this road is not the failed pastor, but the social worker who retains Jesus as—at most—a cipher for their own best moral aspirations.

Here’s the irony: Both approaches turn Jesus into something less than a Lord. In the first, he’s treated as an object to be studied. In the second, he’s a model to be followed. But neither treats him as a person to known, or loved, or obeyed.

This is why only when the two are united—the pursuit of truth as well as the pursuit of holiness—are we led to the face of God. Only as we acknowledge Jesus’ Lordship over soul and body, truth and practice, do we encounter him as whole persons, given over in worship.

Soli Deo Gloria

Mere Fidelity: What is Christ-Centered Hermeneutics?

Mere FidelitySo, we’ve all see that phrase “Christ-centered” pop up on the blogosphere before. “Christ-centered preaching”, “Christ-centered theology”, “Christ-centered dog washing”–but what does that even mean? Especially when it comes to interpretation, what does it mean to have a truly Christ-centered hermeneutics? Does that just mean doing typology all day long? And is there a right way or a wrong way to do typology? Do we stick to only the types authorized explicitly by the apostles, or can we expand? And if we expand, how do we stop before we fall into typological excess? And what about Tim Keller?

Alastair, Andrew, and I go into all this in this week’s episode of Mere Fidelity. It was a fun one. I hope you enjoy and pass it along.

By the way, if you’d like to review and rate us over at iTunes (if and only if you like us), please feel free to do that here.

Soli Deo Gloria

Willimon: 12 Disciplines for How to Listen to a Sermon for Sanctification

listeningWe have a loquacious God. At least that’s what Will Willimon thinks (“Preaching”, Sanctified by Grace, 221-233). And it seems he’s on to something. The Scriptures give us the story of a speaking God. One who brings the world into being with the word of his mouth. One who restarts the human project by speaking a word to nomad named Abram. One who gives us a people his covenant in 10 Words. One who inspires prophets and poets to proclaim his coming wrath and salvation. One who comes to us as the Word made flesh. One who saves us by pronouncing words of justification and forgiveness. It should come as no surprise then, that one of the key practices of our ongoing sanctification should involve the ministry of the Word. Hence the need for preaching.

Indeed, faith is essentially a posture of listening, of trusting the Word of the Lord above all other words. As Willimon puts it:

“one might characterize the whole of the Christian’s life as lifelong training in listening to God more than we listen to ourselves, taking God a bit more seriously and ourselves less so.” (pg. 227)

But that’s difficult, isn’t it? We naturally tend to rebel against what appears to be the passive act of listening, of sitting and hearing the word of the Lord through the mouth of God’s appointed preachers and teachers in the church.  It’s not something that comes naturally, especially in our distracted, consumeristic, advert-driven, social media culture in which we’re trained by Twitter, Facebook, and the comment section on every article we read, that our voice is the one that matters.

So how do we learn to grow as listeners of the Word? And by “we” I do mean all of us, really. Preachers are not excluded. Indeed, Willimon says that “preaching begins with listening” (226), so preachers ought to be the most interested in learning to cultivate the habits and skills of listener such as “humility, attentiveness, self-knowledge…focus, patience” and so forth.

Well, Willimon gives us a list of disciplines or attitudes contemporary Christians ought to cultivate in their weekly, sermon-listening (228-232):

  1. A conviction that these ancient Jews and first Christians know more than we about the true and living God. We’re moderns who typically have trouble submitting to cultures and ways of looking at the world that are different than hours. Sermon listening requires us to humble ourselves and listen to the words of Scripture, which presumably form the basis of all good preaching.
  2. A weekly willingness to be surprised by a sermon’s revelation that God is other than we might have believed God to be, that God’s ways are not our ways (Isa. 55.9), and that part of the adventure of Christian believing is being corrected by a sermon. We don’t come to sermons asking whether we agree or whether it fits with what we’ve always thought. Sanctification is a process that requires and expects correction of our old ways of thinking and doing, especially about God. Sermons are a part of correcting those old ways with the joyful truth of who God really is.
  3. An expectation that, in listening to a sermon one’s life may be caught up into purposes grander and more dangerous than one’s personal projects, namely a life commandeered by God. Sermon’s not just explanation but application. Listening to a sermon opens you up to Jesus’ command to “follow me!”, not just “agree with me.”
  4. The expectation that a sermon could disrupt one’s received world by verbally rendering the coming Kingdom of God. Jesus told sermons precisely in order to disrupt and reorder our ways of understanding the coming Kingdom of God. He brought the kingdom to bear in the lives of hearers that provoked new understanding and new living, not a rubberstamp on what we’ve always known.
  5. A willingness not to receive an immediate, practical, pay off from the sermon. Sermons are first about God and what he’s done and then after that about us. We need to get over our pragmatic expectations about tips for living, personal happiness, and so forth, and understand that worship is priority number one. Willimon writes, “An always useful God, an instantly applicable sermon is often a sing of idolatry, making ourselves and our endeavors more significant than the Trinity.
  6. A patient willingness not to have every single sermon speak to you. Don’t be a narcissist in your listening habits. Maybe you have to sit there one week and listen to a sermon that speaks more to your neighbor in the pew than you. Your turn will come soon. And who knows when that sermon will apply to you?
  7. A vulnerability to the mysterious comings and goings of the Holy Spirit. Listening isn’t a natural work. We need the Holy Spirit to open our hearts to receive the Word. Pray for illumination and before the reading the Word and its preaching is essential for receiving God’s Word.
  8. An understanding that preaching is a communal activity. The Word bears fruit within the congregation over time. And the congregation is the natural habitat of the received word. We listen together, apply it together, understand it together, and worship in light of it together. This, incidentally, is one of the reasons a podcast in your living room can’t totally replace your church.
  9. A desire for a preacher, a pastor, who cares more for the right division of the Word of God (2 Tim. 2.15) than for the love or ire of the congregation. Pastors need to be more impressed with God’s opinion than that of the congregation. They need to love their people, but loving them in such a way that they’re able to tell them the truth of God even when it requires deep courage.
  10. A joyful submission to the language of Zion, learning how to use the peculiar speech of the church, rather than demanding that the preacher attempt to translate our faith into language that is more acceptable to the culture. This one is fascinating since so many modern preaching theory puts a premium on “translation.” Willimon thinks there’s an element of strangeness that’s helpful in sanctification. The language of Scripture has a priority and a formative effect that is lost when we reduce words like “sin” to “brokenness”, or “error”, or “mistake.” While we should explain, we can’t replace Scriptural language.
  11. Joy in a preacher who attempts, on Sunday, to help us pay attention to matters we try to avoid all week long. Preachers are there to get you to think about things like meaning, righteousness, faith, grace, and death—stuff we’re usually too busy or distracted with “real life” to focus on. “By God’s grace, we can stand more truth, and put up with more reality than we think.” We need to be ready to hear about the Reality behind our everyday reality more often than we’d like.
  12. A relinquishment of our prerogative to talk about what we are obsessed with discussing (sex, family, security, health) and a docile willingness to engage in a conversation with a living God, talking about what God wants to talk about. This one is fascinating. When we listen to Scripture or preach Scripture, we need to be ready to let Scripture itself—God himself—set the agenda of what we talk about. God always gets around to the things that matter to us, but usually we need the urgency in our heart reordered and our eyes opened to the issues that are pressing to God first.

These are the sorts of attitudes and disciplines that, if cultivated regularly, will lead to a sanctifying impact on our practice of listening to sermons week in and week out.

And if you want more thoughts on the sermon, the Mere Fidelity chaps discussed the future of the sermon without me a couple of weeks ago. You can listen to that here:

Soli Deo Gloria

Does Jesus Judge the Wrong People? Or is it Still A Bit Silly to Disagree With Him?

disciplesWas Jesus overly judgmental? Did he ever look at someone and condemn them when ought to have welcomed and affirmed them? Did he ever call something evil, which was really good? Did he say that some things were unacceptable in the sight of God that really were acceptable in the sight of God?

To most orthodox Christians (Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant), the confession of Jesus as Messiah, the Son of God, the only-begotten of the Father, would rule that sort of thing out. I mean, Scripture clearly says he is without sin in a number of places. Beyond that, it’s part of the logic of the Gospel itself and a key to the salvific efficacy of his representative humanity on our behalf.

I bring this up because of an interesting post by J.R. Daniel Kirk on ‘Disagreeing With Jesus.’ It’s apparently a follow-up to Robert Gagnon’s piece at First Things piece praising Fuller’s decision not to offer Kirk tenure because of some of his views about Christ, as well as his evolving views on same-sex marriage. In it, Gagnon basically says that had Fuller done otherwise, they would have been allowing and opting for a position on sexuality squarely at odds with Jesus’ view on the matter per Mark 10:2-12 and Matthew 19:3-9.

Kirk’s response is basically to point out that we all disagree with Jesus on a number of issues:

I disagree with Jesus about some of the opinions of Jesus that he stated:

  • Moses wrote the Pentateuch
  • The truly final eschatological judgment would arrive within a generation of his life
  • My divorced and remarried friends are living in adulterous relationships

I disagree with Jesus about some of the opinions he probably had but didn’t state:

  • The world is flat
  • The world is 3,000 or 4,000 years old (in the first century)
  • The earth is at the center of the universe and the sun revolves around it

I agree with Jesus in some areas where many (or most) Christians disagree with us:

  • To understand Jesus best we have to understand his ministry as that of God’s faithful human representative (the son of humanity/the Human One)
  • Jesus didn’t know everything that God knows (like “the day or the hour”)

I also agree with the church about things that Jesus didn’t think or say:

  • Gentiles get to be part of the people of God without becoming Jewish
  • I’m not guilty of sin when I break the Sabbath every single Saturday

The idea, apparently, is that since many obviously disagree with Jesus on all sorts of issues, Gagnon’s argument is just a rhetorical ploy and not a serious, theological argument. Good disciples can disagree with Jesus at certain points without much of a Christological problem.

Now, I don’t really want to comment on the Fuller situation, nor even the same-sex issue. The Christological claims made in this short piece, however, seem very problematic. Since Kirk’s piece was brief, I’ll try to keep this as short as I can.

First, a number of the things Kirk says he disagrees with Jesus about assumes positions that are by no means foregone conclusions in Gospel scholarship. The old thesis about Jesus’ mistaken view of the coming, final day of judgment within a generation is one that is highly debatable. Another is his judgment that Jesus viewed divorce and remarriage as necessarily sinful, especially given the historic witness in Matthew 19:9 of Jesus giving at least one legitimate exception.

Second, that throwaway bit about germs is rather odd. As Adam Nigh pointed out in the comments, that’s just a historically focused version of the general problem of evil: why didn’t God use any number of supernatural or human means to tells us about germs or a half-dozen other medical insights Jesus failed to pass on? Quite frankly, bringing it up like it’s a serious, moral challenge is a bit silly.

Third, the idea of “disagreeing with Jesus” seems to suffer a bit when we get into counterfactual about what thoughts Jesus didn’t think and didn’t say. Kind of seems like we’re padding the list of disagreements for effect.

Fourth, and more importantly, Kirk mixes up a number of different categories of Jesus’ beliefs into a jumble. We’ve got Jesus’ (potential) views on the age of the earth thrown in with Mosaic authorship as well as his views on eschaton. But that’s really a questionable logical and “rhetorical ploy.” It seems plausible to make a distinction between Jesus knowing according to his human nature the age of the earth and a bit of geography, versus the onset of the coming kingdom of God, doesn’t it? Mixing all them up together just muddies the waters.

To sharpen this, let’s come back to the questions I opened with above. There’s nothing inherently sinful about Jesus not knowing certain cosmological questions. I’m fine with admitting a limitation to Christ’s total knowledge of random facts according to his human nature. That’s not sin. That’s just finitude. There’s nothing Christologically-riding admitting Christ was finite according to his human nature. Indeed, that’s Chalcedonian logic.

But what about his allegedly mistaken views about divorce and remarriage? In this case, Jesus is making a significant, moral judgment about the aims and intentions of the Creator regarding the most basic of all relationships. What’s more, given his own Messianic, self-understanding and his explicit statements about the binding authority of his own words as the Son of Man, making a judgment about this kind of thing isn’t a morally insignificant thing. Jesus getting divorce and remarriage wrong–saying it’s immoral when it really isn’t immoral–condemns as sinners those whom God doesn’t condemn as sinners. He morally binds those who shouldn’t be bound–the very sin Jesus criticizes in the Pharisees.

Let’s be clearer. The implication here is that the very Logos of God, sent to reveal the heart of the Father to the world, would be grievously misrepresenting God’s will for the world. That’s actually a lot more serious that Kirk lets on. For my money, I think we ought to be a bit less cavalier about admitting we disagree with Jesus on the aims and intentions of the one he called Father.

It’s a bit difficult to say, “Lord, you have the words of eternal life” with Peter and then add on, “except for on marriage, the eschaton, etc.” Seems like the sort of thing a disciple shouldn’t do.

Soli Deo Gloria

Mere Fidelity: Curiosity

Mere FidelityLast week I wrote a piece exploring and summarizing John Webster’s little essay, “Curiosity.”  Then we decided on Mere Fidelity to have a chat about what curiosity is and isn’t and how it plays into our lives as disciples, pastors, and students. Also, Matt, Alastair, and I get into a heated argument about the role and place of cat videos in the economy of God’s dealings with his created, redeemed, and fallen creatures. So, you definitely want to listen in for that.

Soli Deo Gloria

How Do We Stop Weaponizing Our Victims?

The victims most interesting to us are always those who allow us to condemn our neighbors. And our neighbors do the same. They always think first about the victims for whom they hold us responsible.

-Rene Girard, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning (pg. 164)

girardAccording to Rene Girard, our society, more than any before it, is obsessed with “the victims”–especially those of exclusion, violence, and social scapegoating. And he would know. The French literary critic and anthropologist is something of an expert on the idea of the victim. His works on the ideas of mimetic desire, scapegoating, violence, and their role in literature and culture as a whole are groundbreaking and influential (The Scapegoat, Violence and the Sacred, etc). In any case, according to Girard, you can scan the ancient literature down the generations, across societies, and you find nothing like the widespread concern for the victims in the modern and contemporary period.

You can chalk this up to any number of sources: the effect of the Gospel on cultures through history, the spread and transformation during the Enlightenment of the Christian concept of charity into one of universal benevolence (per Charles Taylor), our post-Holocaust sensibilities, or any number of other social movements. What you can’t do is deny its pervasiveness. As Girard notes, even if we’re hypocritical about it, we at least know we’re supposed to be concerned for the victims: whether oppressed social groups, races, sexes, orientations, or classes.

We are keenly aware now of the way that individuals and groups can be marginalized and kept down by the cruel, powerful, or simply dominant, yet apathetic social majority. What’s more, we know we’re supposed to do something about it in word or deed (or, more cynically, at the very least through a token acknowledgment of complicity via Facebook update).

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think this is a bad thing. In fact, insofar as it’s connected with and led to great movements of social justice (Civil Rights movements, advances in gender equality, the rights of the unborn, etc), I think it’s a good thing. Whatever the social roots, I think there are deep, biblical justifications for something like our modern concern for the victim.

Christ himself (among many other things) was a victim of violence and oppression at the hands of religious, social, and political powers. He not only atoned for our sins on the Cross but, among his many works, he exposed in concrete form the oppression and violence against the weak at the heart of a world in rebellion to its Loving Redeemer.

Weaponizing the Victim

All that said, as with any religious insight, sin’s pernicious power can twist and pervert it for its own uses. And, as the opening quote suggests, the modern concern for the victim is no different. In a phrase: we’ve learned to weaponize our victims.

Girard elaborates:

We could use our insight discreetly with our neighbors, not humiliating those we catch in the very act of expelling a scapegoat. But more frequently we turn our knowledge into a weapon, a means not only of perpetuating old conflicts, but raisng them to a new level of cunning, which the very existence of this knowledge and its propagation in the whole society demand. In short, we integrate the central concern of Judaism and Christianity into our systems of self-defense. Instead of criticizing ourselves, we use our knowledge in bad faith, turning it against others. Indeed, we practice a hunt for scapegoats to a second degree, a hunt for hunters of scapegoats. Our society’s obligatory compassion authorizes new forms of cruelty.  (pg. 158)

I suppose I could just remind you of your Twitter or your Facebook feed on Tuesday and you’ll see where he’s going. Think of the vitriolic discussions and finger-pointing around abortion, #BlackLivesMatter, the Syrian Crisis, bullying against LGBT kids, religious liberty infringements, and any number of other important instances of victimization and the importance of Girard’s comments should become apparent. Still, I think it’s worth commenting on in this passage and a number of points to add beyond it.

Secret Substitutions and Weighing the Victims

First, there is the danger of second-order scapegoating brought on by our awareness of our tendency to scapegoat others. As soon as we identify a victim and their corresponding oppressor, we are liable to turn the tables, engaging in “secret substitutions”, and vindictively turn the initial oppressor into a victim of even worse violence (physical, social, economic) than the original victims suffered. We see an instance of online cruelty and become a Twitter mob that doxxes and shames a person out of work and society as a whole, all the while convinced of the rightness of our cause. We’re not oppressors, we’re “allies”, or “voices for the voiceless.”

Then there’s the self-righteous posturing element. Girard points out the way we use the victims to prop up our own self-defense against shame and guilt, our own sense of righteousness. Or maybe it’s not self-justification, but a secularized attempt at penance or atonement that drives us to perform our righteousness before men. We prove and perform our righteousness in a couple of ways, at least.

First, we do so simply by publicly supporting the right sort of victims. Girard speaks earlier about the “weighing of victims” that goes on in society. And we’ve all seen that, right? The comparative element in our online conversations: “How can you care about X, when Y is happening?”

Comparative judgments do have an appropriate place, at times. There are some issues that simply are bigger, more important, or more pressing at a given moment. Of course, the problem is that knowing how to rank them can be a difficult judgment call to make and it’s not always obvious. What’s more, my concern isn’t always a zero-sum game. I can care about more than one victim at a time, or acknowledge the importance of one justice issue while realizing that my voice is needed on this other issue over here.

The devious, second dimension to the comparative judgments, though, is the self-justification that comes with knowing my victim matters more. It’s not just that we want to be righteous by caring about victims, it’s that I care about the right victim, while you care about the wrong one. We want to appear righteous, but we also want to be more righteous than she is.

Which brings us to weaponizing the victim. That opening quote is so devastating because once you open your eyes to it, you see it everywhere–especially your own soul. It’s a mirror that exposes to light some of the ugliest impurities in our righteous crusades. Because haven’t you seen that in yourself? No? Well, I mean, I’m sure you’ve seen it in your enemies, right?

Haven’t you been agitated by that progressive who is always taking every chance they get to share a devastating story about some victim and immediately tacking the moral on that “this is what Republicans/Evangelicals/Fundamentalists views lead to” or some such statement? Or on the flipside, the way that some legal absurdity just shows the moral bankruptcy of the progressive/Democrat/Post-Evangelical capitulation? Doesn’t this latest tragedy (beautifully) highlight their horrid lack of concern? (A concern which, quite admirably, you have). Don’t these tear-stained faces cry out for the merciless prosecution of our enemies? (Oh, and yes, maybe some aid as well, of course.)

I Am A Danger To Myself

Here’s the thing, I don’t for a minute claim that I escape this, nor, again, that there aren’t situations where that kind of stock-taking and comparison needs to take place. I’ll come clean and say that I have been there in this last month. I mean, with all the Planned Parenthood videos coming out, I’ve sat there appalled at the perceived inconsistency of some of my progressive friends who will trumpet every (in my view) piddling social faux pas, yet remained quiet about it, or whose knee-jerk reaction is to defend the abortion giant. Or be more incensed about Cecile the Lion than tens of thousands of infants butchered. And I honestly think my opposition to abortion and prioritization of it is justified.

But has that been my only concern? Haven’t there been moments where I’ve prided myself on having that sense of proportion? Have there been times when my legitimate concern for these helpless victims hasn’t been edged out my desire to score righteousness points and use that evaluation as part of a broader argument against “deluded” progressives? Am I quieter about other moral issues because they’re not an opportunity to score points against them? Am I more concerned with victims I can hold my neighbors responsible for?

I have to ask myself these questions if I’m going to be honest and avoid running the risk of hunting the hunters, or crassly weaponizing the already-victimized, turning them into objects for my own self-justification. And here’s one of the most pernicious elements of the whole thing: I used myself as an example here, simply to avoid using this post as a third-order exercise in weaponizing the victim against those who weaponize the victims! But I know I’m not the only one here.

Think through the issues, the victims that burden you, and the opponents who anger you. I don’t know what it is for you or who it is for you. Maybe it’s abortion. Maybe it’s racial injustice. Maybe it’s gender or sexuality. Maybe they are friends who’ve gone progressive. Maybe they are Sunday School teachers who stayed Evangelical. Maybe they’re Anabaptists, Calvinists, Roman Catholics, or whoever. And maybe you’re really actually right and they’re really actually wrong. My point here isn’t to say that there aren’t priorities, or a proper place for righteous anger against others on behalf of the victims. Clearly these things actually matter.

My question is this: is your first instinct for the victim or against your enemy? Is it to seek justice or secure righteousness? To bless the hurting or curse the proud? I honestly don’t know sometimes. And that scares me. I remember Paul’s words:

“Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.” (Rom. 2:1)

We pass judgment on others in this fashion, only at a danger to ourselves.

Our Hope–the Victim is the Judge

It’s at that moment, though, when I remember my only hope is that one day the secrets of men “will be judged by Jesus Christ” according to the gospel (Rom. 2:16). That Christ Jesus–the One who was the Victim at our hand and on our behalf–is the Judge is my only hope to stand on that final day.

Christ’s gospel is also my only hope to escape this cycle. Only as I continue to recognize my own sin–my violence against God and my neighbor–that put him there is my pride humbled before others. I know that I myself “practice those same things”, in a million different quiet ways. What’s more, it’s only as I continue to trust that his atoning death for sin and resurrecting justification is mine through faith, can I move beyond the self-justifying desire to performatively prove my righteousness against my ideological opponents. My identity isn’t at stake, nor is my need to cover my own guilt and unrighteousness.

Neither of these movements should undercut the motive to seek justice for the victim.

Instead, we are set free to care for the victims as people, for their own sake and the sake of the One whose Image they bear, instead of as pawns in our schemes. Indeed, it opens us up care for more than we had before, since we’re no longer caught up in weighing the victims, making sure we’re working for the “right sort”, the respectable victims who pull up their pants and have don’t have the wrong kind of past. We don’t have to be moralistic advocates. We don’t have to worry about whether or not admitting the evil they’ve suffered plays into our opponents’ hands because, in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection, it’s not about winning anymore.

It even serves as a curb against our worst, vindictive excesses. Since we know that beyond the temporal justice we rightly seek in this world–stopping bullying, ending police brutality, saving the unborn–ultimate, divine judgement will either be served at the last day, or has already been handled at the Cross, we are less likely to vindictively fall into victimizing the oppressor and continuing the cycle of violence.

Everything changes in light of the Victim who is the Judge.

Soli Deo Gloria