Pastor Glenn Parkinson of Severna Park Evangelical Presbyterian Church writes in his blog that he is starting to wonder whether the media is doing more than reporting on a culture in crisis. He suggests they are promoting a “culture OF crisis”. It’s a clever turn of phrase, and reflects, I think, a view that is quite popular among my Christian brothers.
“day after day, one horror after another works to emotionally tear us down and condition our response. An increasing number of these crises are forced upon us by the larger media and shepherded by a new priesthood of secular institutions…”
I emphatically disagree with Glenn. First, because he severely trivializes the importance and value of the lives of those who are not Christians, and who are not destined for heaven, according to Glenn’s concept of salvation.
In my view Glenn demeaned those lives, by saying that to them grief is merely the process of “getting over” tragedies, “coping” with them so that folks can get back to their personal dreams, which Glenn seems to think is the only real meaning in their lives. It would appear that in Glenn’s view, only those who are predestined toward heaven have a rational basis of hope in their lives. The rest are living on borrowed time, and pursuing a meaningless existence that the media attempts to bestow significance upon.
Glenn suggests that the media should be blamed for “taking on a ‘priestly role'” and “determin[ing] what emotionally stresses us”. He states that
“modern media…assures that selected crises can and will draw the attention of the entire nation. In other words, our own personal trials are no longer enough. Now, we must enter into the personal torment of others — others we do not know, and whose agonies are chosen for us by the whims of the larger media.“
It’s true that the troubles of people everywhere, people we once could ignore, keep invading our personal space. But is that the media’s fault, or a change in the world around us?
I’m sure that Glenn profoundly feels the pain of the victims and their families. I’m sure he disagrees with Cain, and acknowledges that we are indeed our brothers’ keepers. I’m sure his tears after Virginia Tech were no less heart-felt than mine were. But I think there’s a much better explanation than simply that the media is selecting crises, or choosing these agonies for us to pay attention to. It seems to me that the reason why the world has been drawn together to share each others pain is that God now wants it that way. I think the Biblical phraseology which refers to this is that God has “gathered the nations.”
Appropriate, is it not? Since, like Pastor Parkinson, I believe the Bible is relevant and reliable, and God is sovereign — ruling in the kingdom of men as Nebuchadnezzar came to see it — then could it be that the same God who chose to scatter the nations in Genesis 11 might now be choosing, as he promised he would in Zephaniah 3:8-9, to “gather” them? The scattering involved the introduction of multiple languages. The gathering that seems in evidence now involves mitigating the language differences, is accompanied by a lot of trouble, and finally results in a single-minded recognition of God by all people. Travel, communication, and knowledge are doing that. Computers are doing that, music is doing that, and visual images are doing that. Gathering the nations. From Caesar to George Washington there was one mode of travel, one means of communication. Then, in the blink of an eye, the skills and powers that created the modern age leaped into the human experience.
If God is behind the “global village”, the “time of trouble“, the “distress of nations with perplexity“, the “increase of knowledge“, the “trouble like a woman in labor“, then “the Media” is not what Glenn should be blaming for the gattling-gun of events that grab world attention. These things, in my view, “demonstrated the planet’s relentless march toward equilibrium”, as Greg Mortenson and David Relin write about the interplay of cultures in Three Cups of Tea. We’re seeing something global here, something organic, something bigger than Christianity, bigger than America, bigger than the world Media or all the negative forces on the earth. And though there are paroxysms of pain, the relentless march is making life better for the poor, rougher for the rich, and more egalitarian all around. In spite of the efforts of Christianity to retard it.
As Thomas Friedman and Isaiah put it, the world is flat. As Zephaniah put it, the nations are gathered. At Virginia Tech, a Korean raised in America buys a German gun to randomly-yet-willfully kill an Israeli Holocaust survivor, a French instructor, an Indonesian graduate student, etc. etc. Did the media decide we needed this tragedy, and thus play it up? To suggest this idea is to miss the point of the trouble.
Instead of nostalgically looking backward to a time when Churchianity supposedly had more power, and more people listening to its claims, I suggest that Christians like Glenn, or David Wayne, or other good and devout men and women who trust God, re-examine the hopes and explanations they draw from the Bible.
To Glenn, people need and deserve to hear what he calls the Gospel of rational hope. He doesn’t want folks just weeping over the waste of human potential that occurred a few days ago. He wants hope to emerge in the minds of those who somehow conclude that, despite all evidence to the contrary, God really is powerful, and really does love the human race. Glenn seemingly doesn’t want anyone consoling themselves with what he considers to be the false hope that every life has value aside from religious conversion, and that somehow things will work out for everyone. To Pastor Parkinson, things won’t work out for anyone except the authentic true believer… everyone else is in for sadness, separation, torment… for eternity.
[but wait? Don’t the U and L in TULIP say that God is the one who chooses folks for salvation anyway? If so, then why mourn for Cho’s unsaved victims? Oh well, that’s another discussion for another day. After tragedies like this one, most Calvinists find themselves sounding like Arminians in spite of themselves.]
The irrational hope, the liberal or secular-humanist assumption Glenn speaks of is the notion of personal autonomy: self-motivated dreams, earth-bound involvements as the be-all and end-all of life. The concept of self-will is, after all, repugnant to every well-schooled Calvinist. In his view (and I only partially agree) tragedies like this one give the lie to self-will, forcing folks to at least consider the words of Solomon: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity, says the Preacher”. I would argue that this view of life is only valid for those who, like the Christians Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 15, are called by God to choose a life that walks away from many of this life’s opportunities in order to participate in a higher resurrection.
Glenn has a different idea. He covets the opportunity to tell people his concept of the Gospel, what he calls a rational hope. Though he admits it would sound “foolish” to the masses if, suddenly, some Christian spokesman were allowed to explain the Gospel (the traditional Gospel that is), to the public…
What would that “good news” be? Let’s suppose that, miraculously, Glenn got his way and the masses didn’t change the channel, Again and again I hear Christians admit that most people turn away in disgust from “The gospel” — the one most of my friends, and Glenn hold to be taught in the Bible. Generally my Christian friends blame these skeptical folks for rejecting what to them is “amazing grace.” While it is indeed amazing that a Creator God would accept, adopt, and pursue a relationship with the likes of Glenn, or David Wayne, or me … but is that all the Good News the Bible has? Is there an additional gospel of grace that covers those who were not chosen from among men by a Sovereign God during the Christian age that is now clearly waning?
Or put another way, might there not be another explanation for the paltry size of this saved family than simply the Arminian “the others have hardened their own hearts?” or the Calvinist, “God in his sovereignty has made atonement limited”?
Here’s the mainstream Good News, put in plain speech as most Christians perceive the Bible to teach: A dark and tortured man just killed 32 people against their will. Of these, a few appear to be authentic Christians, confident that because they placed their faith in Christ as savior, they will next live with God in heaven. But for most of the dead — the Jews, Moslems, and non-believers among the victims — Glenn’s gospel says these folks all lack the thing that they would have needed to gain eternal life in heaven — “saving faith in Christ”.
In this view, they not only lost the rest of a life that Glenn feels is vanity (but which these poor unsaved souls were enjoying up to that moment); they now get to experience a hell created by God himself for those whose names were not written in a book of life before they died.
For Glenn, it would appear that these tragedies were meant as examples, goads, to be a lesson to the rest of the unsaved…. a warning to accept salvation through Christ. I’ll come back to that in a minute… because I think Glenn and the millions of authentic Christians who agree with his perspective are sincere, and are correct in believing that God is indeed loving and gracious toward all people.
If God is using troubles to remind the masses of their own impending loss, then the unsaved among the victims are a sad case indeed. They will be in some God-forsaken place, kept separate from those who “did the good deeds”… forever. Hmmm. I wonder what sorts of torments will they have to endure? Will they have to get shot again and again by multiple Chos? Maybe they’ll have to listen to that hideous Cho laugh.
Now, all of this awful pain — not only the Cho-inflicted pain but the God-inflicted pain that dwarfs it — a Christian commentator apparently would be able to tell us … would have been unnecessary if every one of the victims had first entrusted their life to Christ. If somehow the Jewish Holocaust survivor could have disregarded the religion of his upbringing, disregarded the religion of those who wiped out his family and almost killed him… and embraced Protestantism… well, if he could have done that he wouldn’t have had to go to hell for his unbelief. Yes, he was a hero, and saved the lives of his students by taking bullets for them while they escaped… but as one Christian radio commentator I heard recently said, “There are lots of nice guys in Hell.”
For my Christian friends who believe in a burning Hell because the Bible seems to teach it, please stay with me a little longer. I’ll stop insulting you now.
Let me suggest that you have missed something. That there is great value even in the un-Christian life of this age, strange as it may seem to you. Let me suggest that the Bible itself offers a better outcome than this, a truly good Good News, a truly rational Gospel of hope.
Here it is: the Judgment day is not for sentencing, but for teaching and correction. It is a time of learning righteousness. It is a second age of hope, with much broader results and a complete absence of the confusion and deception that has marked the Christian age. It is a time when all people learn who the true God is. It is a time when all people discover that God really is kind and loving and just. It is a time when the hereditary curses will melt away, and folks’ll be able to sort through what they did wrong to themselves and others, and learn from those mistakes. The Chos of the world will not be question-marks any more, and will discover what it’s like to feel love and to give love. Love from God, which most people NEVER knowingly experience now. And love from other people, which most people crave more of.
Think of all the victims of the Chos and the Hitlers and the Saddams. Yes, and the victims of the Christian nations and the Christian crusaders and the Christian popes and emperors. Think of the recent past and near future — the victims who suffer from man-made environmental disasters caused by the misuse of world resources… they’ll come back and join in a process of restoring the earth into a global paradise.
Think of the victims of “acts of God” — those who died in tornadoes and earthquakes and tsunamis and blizzards and lightning strikes. All of the dead, the Bible says again and again, will come back. If they were in the earth, or the sea, it doesn’t matter. They are coming back from their graves. And in every case, they will find a new government, made up of merciful, fairminded peers who know what they feel, understand their struggles, and can enforce the high standards of love and justice with mercy, patience, and kindness.
In this view, Christians and Jews alike have been learning precise principles of right and wrong throughout the past two ages. Many of these have actually been prepared for servant-leadership and teacher-priesthood among their fellowmen. The folks God has been working with — the relatively small handfull who experienced and responded to God’s grace up till now … will have the heart of a mediator, and the skills of a wonderful counselor.
And the rest of the world, whom God has barely touched at all in a personal way, nevertheless have many, many lessons of life engraved in their characters. Think Ghandi, Einstein, Gorbachev, Sagan; God will not throw away these souls, or the billions of anonymous people who have lived and died in the shadow of God’s hereditary “wrath” on the human race. (Notice, Christian believer, that “wrath” is something revealed to all people already — not something for the future. We’re children of wrath — born into it. But the wrath will one day be past, and then God’s mercy will endure forever.)
When brought back from the grave, everyone — everyone — will be able to pick up right where they left off, learning more about God and unlearning the negative things that habit and custom have led them into. No more deceptions will be allowed. Each will become productive, and spontaneous expressions of joy will sweep across the planet.
Glenn, I think that Christianity… following in Jesus’ footsteps — is indeed a rational hope for those of us whom God has called — revealed His grace to. It starts in our hearts and guides us toward heaven. It bends upward what inclines to grow downward.
But there is a rational hope for all the rest of the human race, too. It is a hope that is broad enough to allow for the random vicissitudes we see the groaning creation struggling under. If they were aborted before they were born, they have a hope of resurrection and life upon this earth. If they died in a Blacksburg classroom without Christ, they have a hope of resurrection and life upon this earth. If they will die next week from a car wreck in Boston, or a car bomb in Baghdad, they have a hope of resurrection that is as sure as the grace of God toward believers now.
Glenn, I urge you to consider the many texts of scripture which are so much broader, so much deeper, so much more hopeful, than the traditional Gospel which leaves the masses of mankind outside the family of God for all time.