Living thru Snares

Tim Isbell, February 2019

I needed an epiphany this Epiphany Season - a fresh strategy for living as a Christian among the snares of the world. By snares, I mean living in a world of unbalanced wealth, where lies pass for alternative facts, where racism is rising, where dysfunctional and corrupt politics prevail, and where we’ve degraded “our common home” to the precipice. Fortunately, God provided that epiphany. 

The epiphany arose from a collection of resources that the Lord provided (I believe) over about a 6 week period. First I'll describe those resources. In the end, I'll pull the epiphany together using 7 bullet points. So, here are the resources:

Wisdom from an Egyptian monk

This resource comes from Steve Bell in his Pilgrim Year Series - Epiphany. The fourth chapter in this booklet began with these lines from Abba Antony, a Christian monk who died in 352 AD.

I saw the snares that the enemy spreads out over the world and I said groaning, “What can get through from such snares?” Then I heard a voice saying to me, “Humility.”

I needed Abba Antony’s reminder that God wants us to live humbly, regardless of the situation.

Stories from 2nd Kings

This second resource is from Kings & Presidents, a book by Timothy & Shawna Gaines, and from 2 Kings chapters 1-7. These chapters are an engaging read which you can access by clicking on the link. But if you don’t have time for that right now, here’s a brief summary:

Chapter 1: Elijah, the Lord’s prophet, confronts King Ahaziah about the king's upcoming death - which occurs, as predicted.

Chapter 2: God takes Elijah to heaven and promotes Elisha to the chief prophet and soon facilitates his first miracle (parting the Jordan river so he could walk across) and his second miracle (purifying Jericho’s contaminated water supply).

Chapter 3: During a war between Israel and Moab, the king of Israel calls for Elisha to come and bring guidance and blessings from the Lord. Elisha does and Israel prevails in battle but fails to return home with plunder - which was the king's reason for the starting the war.

Chapter 4: Elisha facilitated four miracles. a) The first saved a poor widow, who was on the verge of losing her two sons to slavery to pay for their debts, after the death of her husband. b) The second gives a childless Shunammite woman a son to ensure her old age; a few years later Elisha intervenes again to raise the boy from the dead. c) It’s dinnertime for the prophets and “there’s poison in the stew.” Elisha does not extract the poisonous gourd from the stew but instead tosses in some flour which makes it edible. And d) Elisha multiplies a few loaves of bread and some grain to feed a hundred people.

Chapters 5 through 7 contain more stories of the Lord intervening, through Elisha, at both the national level of Israel and in the particular lives of marginalized people. In all seven chapters, we see the Lord insert an "invisible option," meaning one nobody saw coming, to miraculously save the day. 

Insightful quotes

Just as I was meditating about all the above I “stumbled” on two insightful quotes that inform my understanding of the “poison in the stew” story in 2nd Kings 4.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. – Martin Luther King

The proper antidote to bad culture is good culture. – Andy Crouch

A couple of days later I remembered the New Testament "wheat and the weeds" story in Matthew 13.24-30, in which Jesus makes the same point. 

A friend’s question

One morning at breakfast with a friend, right after I unpacked all the above, he asked, “But what about Jesus?”

I instinctively replied that Jesus is the prime example of these truths. But over the next day or two, I realized that my response was only partly true. It ignored the fact that sometimes Jesus confronted evil head-on. He did this when he cast out evil from the demoniac man (Luke 8.26-39), and when he saved the woman caught in adultery from the religious leaders (John 8.1-11), and when he overturned tables in the Temple (John 2.13-25). Ultimately, Jesus non-violently absorbed evil violence at the cross to provide a path to salvation for all of us. Essentially, he paid the price for all our evil. Yes, he was humble in the process. And yes, the resurrection shows the ultimate of God’s invisible options. But enduring the cross was a case of Jesus standing solidly between evil and us. Without Jesus' confrontation of evil, we are otherwise defenseless against sin’s evil in all its manifestations.

Then I realized that there are also Old Testament examples of God’s people confronting evil directly. For example, Moses confronted the evil Pharaoh, to free God’s people from Egyptian slavery (Exodus 1-12). David confronted Goliath to save God’s people from the Philistines (1 Samuel 17-18). And Esther confronted Hamaan, saving the Jewish captives from annihilation in Babylon (Esther 1-8).

In all these cases, God spent years preparing the heroes. And the heroes confronted evil not so much for their own benefit, but for the benefit of others.

All these confrontations remind me of an anecdote that I heard in a sermon by Culbert Rutenber in 1965:

We think of ourselves as peace lovers. But we live in places where there is no peace. We want peace, and wonder why other people don’t join us.

But life is not about peace-loving, it is about peace-making. Jesus did not just love peace, he made peace with the blood of the cross. He said blessed are the peacemakers. Which leaves out most of us.

Peacemaking is another name for reconciliation. We operate under a misconception of what Christian love is. We think it’s just about being nice to everybody, but in moments of tension, this immobilizes us from taking sides. Then someone will get mad at me so I need to stand above the struggle and hope the trouble will fade away. This is not Christian love.

Father Huddleston, an Anglican priest, was tossed out of South Africa because he spoke up repeatedly against apartheid and the atrocities of the South African government. A friend came to him one day and said, “Huddleston, why don’t you have a little patience and extend a little love to your brothers and sisters in Christ?”

Huddleston replied, “If I were the victim I’d do this, at least I think I would. I understand that’s the right thing to do. But if somebody else is the victim that’s an entirely different situation… It is easy to be kind and patient and understanding at the expense of cruelty and injustice to somebody else.” We’ve been doing this for one long, long time. And we called it Christian love, forgetting that there’s no love without justice. Love must go beyond justice, it cannot fall below justice. Genuine peacemaking involves taking sides - with the exploited over the exploiter, the victim over the oppressor, those who suffer infliction over than those who inflict it. To think otherwise is an insult to the Bible and to the Lord Jesus who was killed on a cross precisely because he disturbed, upset, divided, and made people mad.”

(Note: For a sermon notes and a link to the audio file of this sermon, click on Reconciling Agents of a Reconciling God.)

Finally, here's the epiphany

All the resources above "inform" my epiphany, a Christian strategy for how we to live in today’s snare-infested world. Here it is in seven bullet points. We are to... 

  • Remain humble, remembering Jesus' humility on the cross. 
  • Use biblical stories and their themes as guides - especially the story of Jesus. 
  • Pray for God's help, without prescribing an action plan. Ask the Spirit if this is a time to await an "invisible option." If we sense it is, wait patiently and accept that this may come in the next life. 
  • Ask the Spirit if this is a time to stand up and confront evil. If it is, do so with humility. 
  • Ask the Spirit if this is a time to follow Jesus' example at the cross and stand between evil and those unable to defend themselves. Do this by giving a part of ourselves (skills, time, money, etc.) to provide relief for the oppressed. 
  • Accept our inability to execute these strategies without God’s Spirit and, in most cases, a surrounding community of like-minded people.


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