NOTE: Phil Mickelson shocked the sports world with his victory yesterday. For my biblical response, please read my latest website article here.
Gunfire erupted at a house party packed with hundreds of guests late Saturday night in New Jersey. Two people were killed; at least twelve more were wounded.
Yesterday, a cable car taking visitors to a mountaintop view in northern Italy plummeted to the ground, killing at least fourteen people. And twenty-one people running a mountain ultramarathon in northwestern China died after hail, freezing rain, and gale winds hit the high-altitude race.
It is estimated that nearly 150,000 people die each day around the world. And yet, these thirty-seven deaths, 0.02 percent of the total, are leading the news this morning. Why is this?
You and I have a God-given sense of the value of human life. We cannot comprehend 150,000 deaths, so this number is less impactful for us. But we can envision people being shot to death at a party, or plummeting to earth in a cable car, or dying in extreme weather.
We know intuitively that every person is of intrinsic worth. The question is: What is the basis for this worth? The future of our society and of our souls hinges upon our answer.
Value based on class or personal authenticity
Throughout the Israel-Hamas conflict, a consistent theme in Western media was that Israel is the aggressor and the Palestinians are their victims. This despite the fact that Hamas launched missiles first and pledges in its charter to destroy Israel.
As we noted last week, a narrative championed by Columbia University professor Edward Said claims that the West views the East through a patriarchal, colonial lens. This claim is linked with Critical Theory, the academic assertion that all people are to be viewed in classes. In this case, Israel is a wealthy oppressor, while the Palestinians are impoverished victims.
In other words, to answer our question, our value lies in our class as oppressor or oppressed.
A second answer is at the heart of the abortion debate we discussed last week following the Supreme Court’s decision to hear a case that could undermine Roe v. Wade. We noted that 93 percent of abortions are chosen for reasons other than rape, incest, or the health of the mother or the child. The vast majority reflect our secular belief that personal authenticity is the key to flourishing. We should do whatever makes us happy; our bodies are ours to do with as we wish. Or so we’re told.
In other words, to answer our question, our value lies in our personal happiness as we live our most authentic selves.
Grief at the end of the road
How are these approaches to personal significance working for us?
The first paints us into corners as victims and oppressors by definition of unchanging classes and characteristics. Jews will always be Jews; Arabs will always be Arabs. Thus, the two must be locked in racially determined conflict. This, by the way, is precisely how Hamas frames its war on Israel’s existence. It is a zero-sum calculation that must end by ending the future for one of the contesting cultures.
The second approach claims that we can define our best future for ourselves through personal authenticity. It makes no allowance for our fallen, sinful natures. Nor does it offer us any resources outside ourselves for resolving our guilt, healing our wounds, or guiding our future.
In addition to the inevitable personal loss and grief at the end of these now-popular roads, we must remember the fact of divine judgment. Our eternal destiny depends on whether we have made Jesus our Savior and Lord (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). And our eternal reward depends on whether we have lived for his glory as his children and servants of others (cf. Matthew 25:31–45; 1 Corinthians 3:10–15).
Making every day Pentecost
God offers us a third answer to our question: Our value lies in the fact that we are loved by God. We are loved not because we are worthy of love but because God is love (1 John 4:8). Now, his Spirit stands ready to help us experience and share his transforming love with the world.
Yesterday was Pentecost. Held fifty days after Easter each year, the Sunday marks the day God’s Spirit filled God’s people in Jerusalem, igniting the mightiest spiritual movement the world has ever seen (Acts 2). If we will do what the first Christians did, we will experience what they experienced.
First, meet with God in prayer.
Jesus commanded the disciples before his ascension to “wait for the promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4), which was that “you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (v. 5). So they “were devoting themselves to prayer” (v. 14) when “the day of Pentecost arrived” (Acts 2:1). Like them, we need to begin each day by meeting with our Lord in prayer and worship.
Second, receive the power and cleansing of God.
As they prayed, they heard “a sound like a mighty rushing wind” that “filled the entire house where they were sitting” (v. 2). Then “divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each of them” (v. 3). The wind pointed to the breath of God that gives us physical life (cf. Genesis 2:7). The “tongues of fire” pointed to the cleansing grace of God (cf. Isaiah 6:5–7) that purifies our souls.
To experience this “wind” and “fire” today, we ask God to reveal any sins in our lives, then we confess all that comes to our thoughts and we claim his forgiving grace (1 John 1:9). This opens the pathway for God’s Holy Spirit to empower God’s holy people.
Third, submit to the control of the Spirit.
The narrative in Acts 2 continues: “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (v. 4a). To be “filled” means to be controlled and empowered (cf. Ephesians 5:18). Like the first Christians, we need to surrender our lives daily and hourly to the control and leading of God’s Spirit.
Fourth, serve in the power of God.
The first Christians immediately “began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4b). These were the “tongues” or languages of people gathered in Jerusalem for Passover and Pentecost (vv. 5–12). In the miraculous power of God’s Spirit, God’s people began sharing God’s love. Then Peter proclaimed the gospel (vv. 14–36) and “there were added that day about three thousand souls” (v. 41).
Nowhere does the Bible say how it feels to be filled with God’s Spirit. This is a step of faith we take, knowing that God will lead and use us in ways that most effectively advance his kingdom.
“A car is made to run on petrol”
You and I were created by God’s design to be empowered by God’s Spirit. In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis notes: “God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on himself. He himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from himself, because it is not there.”
What “fuel” will you choose for your soul today?