Phil Congdon, NBBC, November 1, 2017
Hardly a day goes by, it seems, but that another senseless killing is in the news. The mass shooting in Las Vegas is seared in our memories because of hundreds of videos, and the number of casualties, but I keep wondering if this is ever going to end. It’s the same all over the world – worse in many places than here. Trucks driving into crowds, bombs going off in churches or mosques or police stations or restaurants, knife attacks on city streets, shootings in nightclubs or on college campuses. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, reflecting on news of another murder, said “Death is always with us.” But on this scale?!
Since the turn of the century, we’ve been engaged in military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Over the years of those conflicts, almost seven thousand American soldiers were killed. Although no one knows for sure, the number of civilian deaths in those two countries is estimated at well over 200,000. That number continues to rise, with internal fighting and terrorism still rife throughout the region.
I’m old enough to remember the Viet Nam War; I vaguely remember reports of American casualties in those dark days. Over 58,000 U.S. military personnel gave their lives in a war that, in the end, resulted in more killing – the communist Viet Cong murdered tens of thousands of South Vietnamese citizens after we pulled out.
When we factor in genocides (Nazi, Japan, Rwanda, Sudan, etc.) and mass murders of citizens by their own governments (Soviet Union, China, Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge, and North Korea today), the number of human beings senselessly put to death staggers the mind – tens of millions.
Now consider this: In America, since the Supreme Court legalized abortion, over 50 million babies have been killed. According to the World Health Organization, there are about 125,000 abortions worldwide every day – that’s 40-50 million killed every year. These casualties don’t make the evening news; no videos record the carnage. They may be ‘out of sight and out of mind’ – but they’re happening. We’re surrounded by death.
These paragraphs have been hard for me to write. They aren’t easy to read. Frankly, we’d rather not be forced to look at death. In particular, we cringe when death is the result of evil – at the hands of megalomaniacal tyrants or deranged sadists or greedy abortionists – something inside us screams for it all to end. Those who believe in God cry out for justice; those who don’t believe in God blame Him for doing nothing (figure that out!). But is there a value in us coming face-to-face with the reality of death?
As World War II was just beginning to ravage countries around the globe, C.S. Lewis preached a sermon in Oxford that he entitled “Learning in Wartime.” The writing was on the wall, so-to-speak; war was coming, and with it, the specter of many deaths. In that setting, Lewis said this:
War does something to death. It forces us to remember it. The only reason why cancer at 60 or the paralysis at 75 does not bother us is that we forget them. War makes death real to us: And that would have been regarded as one of its blessings by most Christians of the past. They thought it good for us to be always aware of our mortality. I am inclined to think they were right. All the animal life in us, all schemes of happiness that centered in this world, were always doomed to a final frustration. In ordinary times only a wise man can realize it.
Now the stupidest of us knows. We see unmistakably the sort of universe in which we have all along been living, and must come to terms with it. If we had foolish un-Christian hopes about human culture, they are now shattered. If we thought we were building up a heaven on earth, if we looked for something that would turn the present world from a place of pilgrimage into a permanent city satisfying the soul of man, we are disillusioned, and not a moment too soon.
I don’t know if war is on the horizon. I hope not, but if it did erupt, would it really shock any of us? Violent Islamic regimes are spreading their influence, especially in Africa. North Korea is led by an unpredictable (some would say unhinged) dictator who has been a god to his enslaved subjects since he was born. Middle eastern countries have their weapons trained on Israel. If war comes, it will force us to face death. Whether or not it does, death is always with us.
But there is a ‘silver lining’ to this ‘dark cloud’ of death – a ‘value’ in recognizing the sea of evil in which we live (1 John 5.19). It is the reminder that This world is not my home, I’m just a-pass’in through… The Apostle Paul said much the same thing this way:
But you, brethren, are not in darkness…for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness. (1 Thess. 5.4-5)
We are not as those who have no hope – not because we ignore death or pretend it doesn’t matter, but because we know we have been given victory over it. Again, Paul writes (1 Cor. 15.55-57):
“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Keep your eyes on the Light of the World, and reflect the light of His life to those who are still walking in darkness.