January 6 Capitol riot: Who's to blame?

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Who’s to blame for the January 6 Capitol riot? How to live with the consequences of our actions

January 5, 2024 -

U.S. Attorney for the District of Colombia Matthew Graves speaks about the unfolding of the January 6 attack on the Capitol during a presentation ahead of this year's third anniversary in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

U.S. Attorney for the District of Colombia Matthew Graves speaks about the unfolding of the January 6 attack on the Capitol during a presentation ahead of this year's third anniversary in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

U.S. Attorney for the District of Colombia Matthew Graves speaks about the unfolding of the January 6 attack on the Capitol during a presentation ahead of this year's third anniversary in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

With the third anniversary of the January 6 Capitol riot (or attack or protest or insurrection or whichever descriptor you prefer) coming up tomorrow, reactions to the event continue to dominate the news. President Biden plans to address the subject in a speech that uses the events of that day to portray former President Trump as a threat who, in the words of Biden’s communications director Michael Taylor, “will use all his power to systematically dismantle and destroy our democracy.”

Not to be outdone, Trump plans to hold two campaign rallies on Saturday as well in what—if current polls are to be believed—will mark one of many attempts for the two candidates to control the national narrative surrounding the election across the coming months.

My purpose today is not to relitigate what happened at the January 6 Capitol riot three years ago or cast judgment on how the event continues to be used for political ends. Overall, my thoughts on that day have not really changed since I discussed it last year, and Dr. Jim Denison did an excellent job of speaking to why having a productive conversation on the topic can be so challenging in yesterday’s article.

Rather, I would like to look at what I think is the most pertinent and applicable lesson we can take from that event to help us protect our witness and grow in our walk with the Lord.

An indelible part of Trump’s legacy

Debate continues over how much responsibility the former president bears for what happened at the January 6 Capitol riot three years ago. However, it is beyond dispute that the day’s events continue to play an inescapable part in the narrative surrounding Donald Trump’s attempt to regain the Oval Office. It was felt in the red wave that turned into a trickle during the 2022 midterms and the repeated accusations of wanting to destroy democracy that have been part of the Democratic rhetoric whenever Trump is discussed.

And, ultimately, he has no one to blame but himself.

You see, people don’t typically get to choose the consequences of their decisions. For Trump, the consequence of his actions—or inactions—is that his political opponents have all the fodder necessary to repeatedly level accusations that he is a threat to democracy. And while you may or may not find those accusations convincing, enough Americans do that it has greatly clouded his path back to the White House.

And there is nothing the former president or any of his supporters can do to stop it. Those events and his role in them—whether accurately perceived or not—are an indelible part of his legacy.

When people discuss his presidency in fifty years, be it one term or two, January 6 will come up. As we discussed on a recent episode of The Denison Forum Podcast, the nature of what that conversation will look like is yet to be determined, but the odds are good that Trump will be remembered as much for the election he lost as for the four years that preceded it.

And therein lies the lesson for us today.

When Saul faced grave consequences

One of the facets of the Bible that sets it apart from the holy books of many other faiths is that its most important figures are often among its most flawed characters. Take King Saul, for example.

Saul was no stranger to thoughtless actions and the consequences that ensued, but perhaps the most noteworthy instance occurred in 1 Samuel 13. Facing the imposing might of the Philistines and an army that had begun to scatter, Saul took it upon himself to offer sacrifices that only Samuel was supposed to give. It’s important to note that he was not trying to usurp the prophet’s position or claim any special rights for himself. Rather, he was simply trying to keep his army together ahead of battle.

Yet, despite his motivations being reasonable on the surface, they demonstrated a lack of faith in the Lord, and it exhausted God’s patience.

Through Samuel, God told the king “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lᴏʀᴅ your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lᴏʀᴅ would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lᴏʀᴅ has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lᴏʀᴅ has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lᴏʀᴅ commanded you” (1 Samuel 13:13–14).

When Saul offered those sacrifices, he had no way of knowing that it would cost him his kingdom. Had he understood what the consequences would be, chances are good that he would have acted differently. But, again, we typically don’t get to choose the consequence when we make a mistake, and focusing on whether the result of our sin seems proportionate or fair to us is ultimately pointless.

After all, the purpose of God’s judgment is to bring us back into a right relationship with him and to help us avoid sin in the first place. Far too often, though, we act like a child who is surprised to learn that his choices come with a cost. And while we serve a God who is quick to forgive any sin we confess, that forgiveness does not necessarily remove the natural consequences of our mistakes. Those are still often ours to bear, and the price is rarely what we might expect.

Dr. Jim Denison has frequently stated that sin will always take you further than you want to go, cost you more than you want to pay, and keep you longer than you want to stay.

That statement is just as true for former presidents as it is for you and for me.

Will you heed its warning today?

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