That seems to be the new American solution to everything. “It’s simple.” After a Muslim extremist shot up a gay night club in Orlando, there were essentially three reasons brought up for the carnage. An editorial in The Week noted the three most common: (1) Our failure to keep weapons of war out of the hands of terrorists (2) President Obama’s refusal to take ISIS seriously (3) Hatred and intolerance for the LGBT community. The reductionistic arguments repeated over and over by commentators, and others like them, became combatant and a bit odd when CNN’s Anderson Cooper went on the offensive against Florida’s Attorney General because she didn’t Tweet enough about Gay Pride.
Then after the unjustified killing of several black men by the police in Minneapolis, MN and in Banton Rouge, LA and the killing of five police officers in Dallas during a peaceful protest, the blame game started. “It’s simple,” we were told, The problem is the Black Lives Matter movement, Donald Trump, the Democrats, the Republicans, the Church, and so forth and so on.
I’m thinking these simplistic solutions to complex problems aren’t helpful. And they are really unhelpful when they take on religious overtones. But I have my own simple solution. It’s the human heart. Our hearts are hard. All of our hearts; not just the hearts of people like the guy shooting up the gay bar in Orlando or the people shooting up the café’s and dance hall in Paris. And not just the hearts of right wing conservatives who naively seem to think that our only real problems are economic and big government and we should become isolationists to protect ourselves, or left wing liberals who can’t seem to tolerate anyone who disagrees with them and believe the best rules are no rules except the rules they want.
Our hearts are hard. And people do what they do for reasons we are unaware of. In fact, based on my experience, people do what they do for reasons they themselves often don’t fully understand! Why? Because their hearts are hard and its complex. Who can know the human heart?! It’s not really that simple.
As a follower of Jesus I’ve been struck by how the early church addressed issues like this. Christianity was birthed, and thrived, in the midst of a cultural cauldron that didn’t include CNN, smart phones, multiple political parties, and democracy. The King or Emporer could have a commoner killed for doing virtually nothing wrong. Work was hard. Oppression of the lower class was rampant. War and terrorism were common occurances. Violence was the norm. In Greaco Roman culture, sexual promiscuity was common which included abortion, adultery and long term gay relationships. And yet over time, over decades actually, the church thrived and grew and became powerful in the midst of it all. How?
Here’s a couple of ways I believe that happened: (1) People in the churches loved each other. Christians were known for their love. (2) They did the politically incorrect thing in a gracious compelling way. They served and supported those society rejected. (3) They policed themselves. That is, not everyone who claimed to be Christians were allowed to call themselves Christians. This separated the wheat from the chaff and allowed the true church to emerge. (4) They valued marriage, family, and sexual purity. It set them apart from the culture as a whole. (5) They sacrificed themselves on behalf of their neighbors and others. They’d adopt little girls exposed to the elements after birth by the Romans who didn’t want baby girls. They stayed in cities during the plagues and cared for the sick at their own risk, when everyone else fled. (6) They valued everyone—especially women and children, who had little worth in the minds of many in that day. (7) They rejected the violent entertainment of the day and didn’t support it.
In short, they didn’t run away. And best I can tell, they didn’t blame. They didn’t stop living out their faith every day. They continued to worship. They fought for the true faith and celebrated everything Christian because Jesus, the God man, gave everything for them. As Keller puts it somewhere, Christianity fights the individualistic, autonomous consumerism of modern culture because Jesus gave himself for his enemies. Shouldn’t we do the same? The gospel fights the simple reductionistic solutions to difficult problems and provides us with the tools to live humbly, simply, and generously in cities and communities that are often troubled. Life is messy. Lets get in the mess and realize the solutions aren’t simple but they point us to the ultimate solution—a relationship with Jesus Christ that addresses the hardness of the human heart by repentance from sin and faith in his work on our behalf. There is no other world religion like that!