Even the New York Times and the BBC noticed. John R.W. Stott, the man once called the “Evangelical Pope” died in London Wednesday at the age of 90–just four years after his retirement. Former pastor of London’s All Souls Church, in his spare time Stott wrote more than 50 books including Basic Christianity and The Cross of Christ. Of the latter, Stott’s friend J.I. Packer claimed, “This, more than any book he has written, is his masterpiece.”
Yes, I’ve found them already. Comment left on the Huffington Post: “This man is obviously mentally ill.” In fact, I’ve found half a dozen statements insisting his mental illness is “obvious”, or that “only” someone mentally ill would do such a thing. Really? Obviously? As of yet there’s been no psychiatric examination, no court trial, but this is all obvious? Why?
For those who inhabit a godless world, mental illness is the only explanation left to explain awful crimes. It’s interesting to note several things about Norway that may be related:
- As a socially liberal nation, in addition to not having a death penalty no crime gets you more than 21 years in prison.
- On any given Sunday, only 4 % of the people go to some sort of church.
- More than half the people don’t believe in–or doubt the existence of God.
Most who don’t believe in a God do believe that people are essentially good. That leaves them nowhere to turn when someone truly horrible surfaces like a mass murderer who slaughters defenseless children with exploding bullets. Having eliminated the possibility of real evil, they cannot even label as such someone who classically fits the bill. Nor can they see the evil that is resident even in their own hearts–a problem that God longs to solve.
I cannot pass judgment on Mr. Breivik without passing judgment on myself. God says that people are by nature bad, and not just a little bit; we are totally depraved. That doesn’t mean we’re all as bad as we could be, but that every part of our being has been contaminated by sin: body, intellect, emotions, cravings, fears, and attitudes. That’s true of a mass murderer, and true of me. Indeed, I am the “chief of sinners”. There is no hope for me, or for Oslo’s butcher…except in Jesus Christ. He can and will rescue us from ourselves, our sin, the wrath of God, our lovelessness, and our fears (such as, of being overrun by Muslims).
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:15-16)
The gospel I grew up with was polluted with works. It’s not that anyone ever specifically claimed that a person’s works augment Christ’s work on the cross, but it was implied. Never really trying to intellectually make these two incompatibles compatible, I simply drifted through life believing that Jesus died to save me yet somehow I had to help save myself by what I did.
Which turned me into a stubborn moralist. Despite teaching orthodox theology I scrutinized myself and others by a measuring bar of behavior and attitude. Even once I concluded that Jesus’ work and His alone saved people completely, my functional faith formula still demanded human works. Which made me impatient with others who didn’t measure up, and drove me to the depths of despair when I didn’t.
Tim Keller talks about me and similar species in his must-read The Prodigal God in which he unpacks Jesus’ well-known parable we say is about the prodigal son (even though it’s really about 2 sons). If you’re wondering why anyone would label God the prodigal, Keller explains: The word “prodigal” does not mean “wayward” but, according to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, “recklessly spendthrift”. It means to spend until you have nothing left.
Keller sees not just one lost son, but two and takes aim at the moralists who think their goodness is just another way to get God to do their bidding. These were not just the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, but the many elder brothers who dot our churches today. Seriously, this is one “Friday book” no Christian or professing Christian should skip. (Great for unbelievers too.) It’s just 133 pages long, and the book’s small to begin with. Keller has a brilliant mind but talks and writes in a way easy to understand.
“Am I going to throw up?” Forces of queasiness were launching probing actions in my stomach. Within the hour I started to feel drained and exhausted. A searing headache .
My unease went beyond sickness. I’d started with a sore throat 2 days before but these didn’t seem like cold symptoms. What they mirrored were symptoms I’d had 3 weeks earlier when the doctor told me I had Lyme Disease–a diagnosis the huge bullseye on my leg made easy. 5 more days of antibiotics attacking bacteria left courtesy of a tiny tick 4 weeks ago.
Colds. Lyme. Flat tires. Falling out with your mother-in-law. Your marriage ends. Teenage son is put in jail for DUI. You lose your job. An investment goes south. DISHNET goes out for the entire fourth quarter of the last game of the NBA finals. Seriously! OK, so it wasn’t lifethreatening but we all have our burdens to bear.
Whether just inconvenient and trivial, or terminal and lifechanging, things don’t always go right. Maybe often don’t go right. Does that surprise you? In this world you will have trouble. Maybe that’s one of Jesus’ promises you haven’t memorized. He was trying to warn his followers: expect stuff to go wrong. But immediately following the warning came this reassurance: But take heart! I have overcome the world.
Sitting upright on a recliner the last few nights, hoping to fall asleep, I ask God to heal me. But if he doesn’t–or it takes longer than I think it should, Jesus has not failed me. He’s never broken this promise in the midst of troubles: I will never leave you or forsake you. Troubled…, but never alone or without heaven’s resources.
So Geoff, thanks for picking this up for me at that worship conference.