Maybe you saw the latest “Florida man” story?
Recently a Florida driver, speeding down the highway, shot through his own windshield at another vehicle and, evidently, felt so righteous about this that he actually posted the video.
His own explanation:
“I’m not a fan of guns; I’m a fan of not getting shot. I know this video doesn’t capture my smartest moments but I hope any idiot criminal with a gun watching thinks twice before loading, brandishing and aiming their firearm at someone over a traffic infraction.”
I really can’t tell you what is going on in a mind like that. Sharp as a tack, right?
But, what I can tell you is that shooting through your own windshield, while traveling nearly triple digits, does make merely brandishing and aiming a firearm at another motorist seem like responsible adult behavior by comparison.
Why he thought that this other man’s infractions justified his own, more egregiously offensive and dangerous behavior, is beyond me.
And yet this kind of attitude, that of people being blind to their own faults while completely aware and judgmental of when others fail, is not usual. In fact, I would venture to say that most people (yes, including you my dear audience and also yours truly) do this all of the time.
“We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions”Stephen R. Covey
Recently someone very close to me, who runs a retail store, had a bigger competitor start to stock her most popular item. Not only that but, to add insult to injury, this other shop owner had the gall to price the product lower. Clearly, they were aiming to steal sales and this was very upsetting.
I mean, where is the honor?
And I was definitely sympathetic. In fact, so sympathetic that an awful thought crossed my mind. We could eliminate the competition through some means which I will not mention. I mean, it was not that I would seriously do such a thing. But the startling part is how quickly my mind goes to those dark places and can justify the horrendous retaliation.
Anyhow, when I verbalized this thought, half expecting her to be absolutely appalled, she confessed to having been contemplating the same exact thing!
That we were both drawing from an event that had traumatized us both as a solution to something as mundane as another store deciding to sell a hot seller and be competitive really gave me something to ponder. The only difference between me and a murderer is that I do not act on the impulse when it comes.
It is strange, indeed, that when someone does harm someone that I love, my own outrage is always justified in my own mind. However, when I contemplate doing something many times worse in response, somehow the pain inflicted on the offending party is not outrageous and completely justified?
It is prideful. It is sinful. But people can always come up with reasons why their own actions are appropriate, we are very skilled at justifying our own transgressions.
“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are”Anaïs Nin
It is easy to blame circumstances when we do something wrong. I mean, we were having a bad day, we were dealing with all of these external factors, how can we be blamed? However, when another person does something similar to us we will see it in terms of being a character flaw and, basically, something irredeemable.
For example, that guy who just cut you off in traffic, he’s an “idiot” who should “learn how to drive!” But when we do it is “oopsie” and “that doesn’t reflect me most of the time.”
Likewise, in the case of the bigger competitor stocking an item that sold well in our own store. To them, they need to keep the lights on and selling popular products at a lower price is just good business. Everyone does this, right?
But from the other side, looking in, it can seem greedy, cut-throat, disrespectful, unethical, and wrong. These are obviously unprincipled people, the worst kind, and should be ashamed. We can very soon have a caricature of them in our minds. Make them into ugly villains, out to ruin the little guy and keep everything for themselves. Nasty people with a total disregard for anyone else.
This the tendency to attribute differently to other people than we would for ourselves is referred to as fundamental attribution error. In that the other side is always awful, we catalog and recall everything they’ve done wrong as proof of some sort of genetic flaw. But then we quickly forget those out-of-character moments we’ve had and are even shocked when others do not forgive us for our own faults.
In short, when offended we attribute it to character flaw, something irredeemable. But, by contrast, when we hurt others it was a simple mistake or because circumstances demanded that we do what we did. We should actually reverse that, question our motives while assuming the best of the offending person’s intentions.
All Are Now Victims of the Protestantized World
Cities burn, people deliberately killed by other people, billions of dollars in damages already done, and we are led to believe that this is all because a man died while in police custody in Minnesota. This is called social justice.
Ironically, the same people who decry racial profiling against people who are somehow like them do not hesitate to group others, they freely use terms like “white privilege” and with this grouping deny the individuality of those whom they deem to be different from them. They are perpetually the victim you are always the oppressor. Therefore they are exempt from the rules and you deserve to be punished.
It is “mostly peaceful” when they (the far-left) protest, according to the reporters and despite fires burning in the background. It is okay for the protestants and their sympathizers to deny responsibility for the carnage. But, if one of those on the “other side” so much as defends themselves for this aggression, they are instantly labeled as a “white supremacist” or “terrorist” and should be shown no mercy whatsoever. Furthermore, the actions of one is declared to reflect everyone remotely associated with those who question the social justice assault.
Of course, for those of us watching the violent display and denials, this is appalling, hypocritical and wrong. It is dangerous when some are allowed to label all who oppose them in dehumanizing ways and aren’t denounced. It is completely scary when a person is described as a “domestic terrorist” for defending himself from being assaulted by a group of rioting men who coincidentally (or not) all had been previously convicted of violent felonies.
How can some be so detached from reality that everyone they oppose and assault are somehow “literal Nazis” deserving of death?
It all stems from the Marxist oppressor versus oppressed or victim narrative. The self-designated victim is always justified in their prejudice, hatred and violence. In fact, charging them with a crime for criminal behavior is going to be counted as persecution in their own warped minds. They can’t be faulted for what ‘oppressive’ circumstances have done to them. They are never at fault. But stand up to their bullying and it going to be treated as hate and thrown up as proof of their victim narrative.
But it goes beyond the current far-left. The rights or demands for dignity of those protesting are actually appropriated Christian cultural values. Like Judas throwing the words of Jesus, “sell all and give to the poor,” in his face as he wrongfully rebuked a woman’s display of worship, those crying “social justice” are also presenting a twisted Gospel founded on their particular grievance rather than God’s grace.
They, like the Protestant reformers before them, are right that the system is broken. Unfortunately, rather than turn to grace, and loving their enemies as Jesus loved His, they turn to law and harsh judgment of those, especially those in authority, who do not meet their own personal standards. Unfortunately, the church and society created by those tearing down ‘the system’ is no better than the one it replaces and is often many times worse.
“The boss isn’t always right, but he’s always the boss”Rudolf Abel
There is this great movie about a captured Soviet spy, “Bridge of Spies,” that focuses on his relationship with the lawyer who represents him. This unassuming man, with an eternal calm, Rudolf Abel, is an interesting contrast to his anxious American attorney, James Donovan. Abel finds himself in a predicament, stuck between two superpowers, one that could execute him as a spy and the other likely to torture and kill him as a potential turncoat if returned to them. Yet, although in this impossible circumstance, the elderly Russian agent remains sober and seemingly unfazed. He speaks few words, but when he does they are profound and memorable, as in the following dialogue.
Rudolf Abel: “How did we do?”
James Donovan: “In there? Uh, not too good. Apparently, you’re not an American citizen.”
Rudolf Abel: “That’s true.”
James Donovan: “And according to your boss, you’re not a Soviet citizen either.”
Rudolf Abel: “Well, the boss isn’t always right but he’s always the boss.”
James Donovan: “Do you never worry?”
Rudolf Abel: “Would it help?”
Abel was calm because he knew his place. Unlike those of us who constantly fret and fuss about things really not in our control, he stayed composed, collected and focused on what was relevant in that moment for a man in his position. It would not help him to worry about things he had no power to change nor was there reason for him to place his own personal perspective above that of his boss. He was submitted to his authority, not in ignorance or indifference, but because he knew his place and thus stayed in his lane.
“Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority…”Saint Paul
One of those things degraded or completely discarded, as a part of Protestantism, is the concept and of ordained authority and the respect thereof as is commanded in Scripture.
Today nearly everyone, in the West, regards themselves to be their own Pope, to be individually able to discern truth for themselves by study of Scripture and disregard the requirements therein that they deem are no longer suitable.
Martin Luther may have reconsidered had he known his “reformation” would lead. Sure, the Christian tradition had been corrupted by Rome. In fact, abuse of Papal power is what had led to the Great Schism between the Orthodox ‘East’ and Roman ‘West’ in 1054. However, the baby is being thrown out with the bathwater. Protest has displaced submission at all levels. Insubordination is encouraged.
There are many today who have this erroneous totally unChristian idea that a leader needs to be absolutely correct and perfect before they can be obedient. It is an idea, born of Democratic ideals, that the hierarchy must be completely dissolved or, at the very least, must be subservient to them.
And, while there is an element of truth, that a Christian leader should be a servant and the first among equals rather than an authoritarian jerk, this does not give us a right to play boss over the boss.
Only submitting leaders who deserve it means it is impossible to submit to anyone. And if someone only ever submits to those whom they fully agree with then they are not submitting to anything other than themselves and have denied the one who urged obedience to even the hypocritical Jewish religious authorities:
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.”(Matthew 23:1-3 NIV)
This submission to even corrupt authority is a theme of Scripture. David, even as the chosen successor to king Saul, refused to go against God’s ordained and was submissive even at great risk to his own life.
Jesus too was submissive and did not resist the authorities who he knew would lead him to his death. And the Apostles urged, without qualifications, that church submit to the ordained leaders:
Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you. Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way.Hebrews 13:17-18 NIV
Desire to, not always do?
Please note, this is not an apologetic for abuse of authority and it does not mean always maintaining our silence when offended either.
But it does mean that when we so speak we do it appropriately, with purity, and without malice:
Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.(1 Timothy 5:1-2 NIV)
We should address sin:
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”(Matthew 18:15-17 NIV)
There is absolutely no excuse for gossip and slander, smear campaigns and character assassinations, disrespect and disregard. Our being offended does not give us a justification for our own sins. The passages above don’t say that if things don’t go your own way bash the leadership, then you pick up your marbles and go home. There certain is no permission to become separatists and follow in the footsteps of Diotrephes who rejected the church of the Apostles. It is implied (and explicit in Scripture elsewhere) that we stay in our lane, we submit to the correct process and those who are ordained to lead that process.
Unfortunately, the church, like the Protestant world, is infected with this attitude of my way or the highway, that if I don’t like how things are run then I’ll burn it all down and recreate society in my own image. It is absolutely arrogant. If your righteous indignation leads you to reject ordained authority, then I question that you are as righteous as you think that you and urge repentance.
“No Justice, No Peace!”
My Protestant friends are still stuck on this notion of a perfect and pure church. They, like me, wanted leaders to ease their own burden of faith and, basically, a magic unicorn that would always only give them feelings of sunshine and rainbows. Good or bad, right or wrong, is always on their own terms and nobody dare tell them anything otherwise. In spirit they are truly no different from the Marxist protestors. They are perpetually the victims and justified to do as they please while those who offended them are monsters. These people should stop being lukewarm, go whole hog Protestant and become full-fledged social justice warriors. At least our leftist friends are honest about their destructive ends.
I became Orthodox because I could no longer trust my own judgement and was finally ready to submit to an authority greater than my own. No, I was not naïve nor indifferent to the existing problems and troubling events in the history of the church. But I had been humbled and realized that someone with all of my faults, who desperately needs the mercy of God, was in no position to judge the entire church. I was led to the church by a spiritual father that I could trust and respect. I’ve also quickly learned that the Orthodox ordained also are like those of the Mennonite denominational tradition: Fallible men, who unworthily put on the vestments, and are as much in need of my mercy as my respect.
Here’s a good point in this essay to make a confession. I have not lied. I have not revealed the names of those who offended me. And yet I did create a caricature of them in this blog that was not fair to them. They hurt me, but they were making a reasonable effort, as much as they were capable of doing and, in many ways, were my better.
In retrospect, while my unapologetic (and inappropriate for the context) pursuit of faith was finally rewarded and right, my own attitude towards those who had hurt me was judgmental and wrong. I was like Saul of Tarsus, a bull in the China shop, leaving a wake of destruction while in pursuit of completeness and desperately in need of God to point my efforts in the right direction. So, lest anyone feel judged by me now, I’ve been there done that, raged against the injustice, rebuked the faithless of others while having not much to give, and have now, finally, found my peace.
When I stopped demanding that God came to me on my own terms, when broken to the point where I could leave all of my prideful identities behind, that is when the fullness of faith was revealed to me. God had answered my prayer, He had made the impossible possible, but not on my own terms and not without having suffered such a humiliating defeat which was so utterly complete that there would be no recovering my old ways.
“No Jesus, No Peace”
The Protestant says, “no justice, no peace.” They, like me prior to my departure from them to Orthodoxy, will hold others hostage and harass endlessly until they get what they want. They attain, not through love, but by their bloody insurrections and overpowering the established order by brute force of the mob. Given the choice of Jesus Christ and Jesus Barabbas, they will choose the murderer. (Watch this if you do not understand Barabbas vs Jesus) They want salvation without sacrifice, the kingdom without Christ, and are often orders of magnitude worse than the ‘oppressors’ whom they attempt to throw off. They are school shooters, the control freaks, people blind to their own faults and willing to kill you for yours. They will never know peace unless they repent.
What the protesters get wrong is they put justice, on their own terms, ahead of Jesus. They, like Judas, are truly self-serving under a righteous façade and after a worldly kingdom where they have the political power. The the truth is not “not justice, no peace,” but rather this: “No Jesus in our hearts, no peace inside.”
Those who externalize blame for their own sin, demonize those who go against them and their own ideas, and reject all authority besides their own are lost. They first reject the authority of the church and those ordained by the church, then they begin to shed tradition, eventually even the tradition of Scripture cannot escape their reformation and is discarded. This paring down continues until, ultimately, they become miserable narcissists who reject God and would kill Jesus if they had to chance.
The death spiral can take a few generations. But it often starts when something doesn’t go someone’s way and they allow the seeds of discontentment to grow in them. I’ve known more than a few young men who completely lost faith and left Christianity behind because of the rejection of a romantic interest. That could easily have been me had it not been for God’s grace.
It is so incredibly sad, those who are in the church, claim that they could endure persecution for Christ, and yet divide over petty issues, imperfections and insults. They only love when things go their way and never actually submit to anything besides their own agenda. Worse, rather than even depart in peace, they encourage the church to turn on itself and seek to destroy the peace of others with their accusations. Sadly, even after the destruction is over, after they burned everything to the ground, they will still be as miserable as they were before. The word Jesus may come from their lips, but they rejected His way in their hearts and never really knew Him.
“Know Jesus, know Peace”
Progress towards Christ starts when we stop externalizing blame and repent. Peace comes when we stop indulging our flesh and start walking in the Spirit. St Paul, who certainly wasn’t afraid to be confrontational and probably had his enemies in the early church, in his letter to the Galatians, spells out the difference between a person living by flesh in contrast to those walking in the Spirit. He creates a clear delineation between those who “serve one another humbly in love” and those who “bite and devour one another” and warns of the destruction to come to those who do not change:
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.(Galatians 5:19-23 NIV)
St Paul is talking to the church, this means that these things of the flesh that are listed were very likely present in the church then, now and are in need of rebuke. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God. However, if we continue to “live like this” we will eventually forfeit our salvation. The fruit of the Spirit, which come through repentance and faith, should keep us from cataloging lists of offenses, it should lead us to forgive others of their trespasses against us and to show mercy as we have been shown mercy by God. The contrast really could not be any more clear: Peace or discord, forbearance or factions, self-control or orgies of envy, rage and hatred. Kingdom of God or eventual condemnation and separation from God.
Sure, some of us, those of us who are well-taught religious folks, we can put a smile on our face and go through the right motions. As is often repeated by Orthodox Christian: “His talk is smooth as butter, yet war is in his heart; his words are more soothing than oil, yet they are drawn swords.” (Psalm 55:21 NIV) It is easy, for those of us raised in a church, to mask our selfish motives and sinful attitudes in the right language. Judas, like many of us, had kept his discontentment under a self-righteous veil before eventually being open in his betray of Jesus. He sold Jesus out because he was looking for worldly things and became disillusioned.
But, knowing Jesus means giving up our own rights, denying our own flesh, and following after Him in self-sacrificial love. It means forgiving others before they even acknowledge their own sins. There are no exceptions.
The Gospel text today:
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.(Luke 6:27-36 NIV)
That is the path to peace.
We can know Jesus by living in obedience to Jesus and, through that, giving room for the Spirit of God to live in our own heart.
The alternative, of waiting until everyone is worthy before we can love or submit, is what leads to chaos and confusion. It is what leads to violent confrontations on Florida highways, murderous thoughts against those who offended us, a destructive spirit of “burn it down” (unless I get my way) and divides the church rather than build it up. We need to stop the poison of accusations leaving our lips and start to give the medicine of healing instead or we will write ourselves right out of the kingdom.
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
That is not optional for a Christian.
Judge not lest ye be judged.
Stay in your lane.