Those that run with swifter feet. Know not the grace of falling leaves. Nor the magic of treasures deep. For they move too fast and do not see. Those they love and things they need. They make their lists and miss the trees. The mystics mourn for living peace. Yet moments pass, and no one sees. Deeper wells of hidden gems. Forgetting depths of secret hymns. Humming unheard invocations. They won’t recall, and no one listens. Those that run with swifter feet. Might well find grace in slowing pace. For slow and steady wins the race. Avoiding dungeons, maintaining grace.
Two mass shootings have rocked the nation in the past month alone. One of them occurred right here in the Atlanta area that I love and call home. This isn’t a news story, it’s not my intention to give details or sensationalize the killings. Understandably, America always waits with bated breath for any details that might clarify the reasons behind a shooter’s sickening actions. Sadly, knowing a killer’s motivations (regardless of what they are) will be of no solace to those who have lost a loved one to senseless killing. Justifiably, the watching world craves some level of understanding going forward. One thing is sure, nothing discovered will produce any satisfying revelations. By assessing motives, we desperately hope to discover an inoculation from individual acts of evil. Although new laws may or may not make certain types of despicable inclinations more challenging to accomplish – laws do nothing to address the pervasive evil contained within the human heart.
Although new laws may or may not make certain types of despicable inclinations more challenging to accomplish – laws do nothing to address the pervasive evil contained within the human heart.Tweet
Pure Evil Can’t Be Intimidated
Undoubtedly, consequences (legal and otherwise) intimidate many people into submission. However, threatened social consequences are only preemptively impactful to a certain point. Obviously, suicide bombers can’t be intimidated by the loss of life over their actions. They give their lives willingly in the service of evil. Neither can a suicidal killer with hatred in his heart be thwarted by any punitive measures. A homicidal heart will find a way to commit murder regardless of the actions civil society takes. Please don’t misunderstand; we should take preventative measures when and where possible. It would be ludicrous for polite society to conclude that because rape can’t be totally eradicated, we shouldn’t make every effort humanly possible to prevent and punish rape. Indeed, the same goes for murder, whether it be mass murder or homicide in general.
Mass Shootings: A Modern Problem
Mass killings are a relatively new social manifestation of evil. While every society from the beginning of time (going all the way back to the biblical account of Genesis) has suffered the scourge of violence and homicidal hatred, the particularly heinous rise of senseless mass murder is a distinctively modern problem. Since the dawn of so-called civilization, governments and power-hungry tyrants have slaughtered more innocents than historians can count. But otherwise, average individuals killing innocent people they don’t even know (or barely know) en masse is terrifyingly unique. The level of hatred required for this nightmarish breed of viciousness defies comprehension. Modern psychology views the origin of evil as a biological byproduct rather than an outside force that impacts us biologically. Therefore, it only addresses the symptoms and remains incapable of correctly diagnosing the primary disease.
Modern psychology views the origin of evil as a biological byproduct rather than an outside force that impacts us biologically. Therefore, it only addresses the symptoms and remains incapable of correctly diagnosing the primary disease.Tweet
The Origin of Evil
Evil is evil, and while individuals are responsible for their own actions, evil does not originate in the human psyche. It is always easier to relegate every depraved human action down to mental illness or madness. While mental illness is undoubtedly a real problem, not all (or even most) mentally ill individuals commit horrific crimes. Just calling a killer mentally ill doesn’t explain away their actions or substantively address why one mentally ill person kills and another does not. We instinctively want to categorize evil as insanity because it is too emotionally painful to imagine a sane person methodically killing dozens of people he’s never even met.
Just calling a killer mentally ill doesn’t explain away their actions or substantively address why one mentally ill person kills and another does not.Tweet
We instinctively want to categorize evil as insanity because it is too emotionally painful to imagine a sane person methodically killing dozens of people he’s never even met.Tweet
Out of the Shadows
Mass shootings push the fallen nature of humankind out from the shadows into the harsh light of day. The naked evil and wicked capacity of the human heart causes us to blink and squint. We can’t look directly at it without excruciating pain. It’s not that evil things aren’t happening all around us every day – we just fail or refuse to notice them. Like the prophets of old, those who do notice and comment are labeled depressing, downers, boorish, buzz killers, alarmists, catastrophists, or some other condescending pejorative. But large-scale, in-your-face evil can’t be ignored, denied, or minimized. So, we hunger for the elusive why behind the “madness.” Some point the finger of blame at God in these circumstances (here’s a great article on the origins of evil). But ultimately, evil is satanic in origin and embedded in the human condition. Therefore, human methodologies alone – no matter how well-intentioned – will never eradicate evil from the human heart.
Mass shootings push the fallen nature of humankind out from the shadows into the harsh light of day. The naked evil and wicked capacity of the human heart causes us to blink and squint.Tweet
It’s not that evil things aren’t happening all around us every day – we just fail or refuse to notice them.Tweet
Like prophets of old, those who notice evil are labeled depressing, downers, buzz killers, alarmists, or some other condescending pejorative. But large-scale, in-your-face evil can’t be ignored, denied, or minimized.Tweet
Evil is satanic in origin and embedded in the human condition. Therefore, human methodologies alone – no matter how well-intentioned – will never eradicate evil from the human heart.Tweet
Because the fallen nature of humankind is vulnerable and consistently capable of awful behavior, Jesus instructed us to pray, “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil… (Matthew 6:13).” I’ve often marveled at those who assert that God is not good while simultaneously claiming that humans are intrinsically good. I’m not sure you can read about events like mass shootings and believe in the innate goodness of humanity. Facing the depravity of the human condition head-on is depressing and hard to grasp. The human heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). C.H. Spurgeon wrote:
“As the salt flavors, every drop in the Atlantic so does sin affect every atom of our nature. It is so sadly there, so abundantly there, that if you cannot detect it, you are deceived.” He added: “The venom of sin is in the very fountain of our being; it has poisoned our heart. It is in the very marrow of our bones and is as natural to us as anything that belongs to us.”
I’ve often marveled at those who assert that God is not good while claiming that humans are intrinsically good. I’m not sure you can read about mass shootings and believe in the innate goodness of humanity.Tweet
The Bad News and the Good News
We inherited that sinful nature from the lineage of Adam (Romans 5:12). You can’t truly fathom the goodness of the Gospel until you grasp the depravity of the human condition. The Good News begins with bad news: All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Thankfully, the Gospel story begins with condemnation but ends with redemption. In the weeks and months ahead, I have decided to write, podcast, preach and teach about the Gospel. If you’re reading this and you feel hopeless, please know there is hope. If you’re reading this and you know someone who feels hopeless, please tell them about Jesus. Tell them how God wants to forgive their sins and fill them with His Spirit (Acts 2:38). Tell them how the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead can raise them above the hopelessness of sin (Romans 8:11). We can push back against the darkness by reaching one heart at a time with the truth of the Gospel. It’s the only hope for the human condition.
You can’t truly fathom the goodness of the Gospel until you grasp the depravity of the human condition. The Good News begins with bad news.Tweet
Thankfully, the Gospel story begins with condemnation but ends with redemption.Tweet
We can push back against the darkness by reaching one heart at a time with the truth of the Gospel. It’s the only hope for the human condition.Tweet
A relevant apostolic resource that covers biblical topics of interest, ministry, Christian living, and practical insights hosted by Ryan French. An extension of the popular blog Apostolic Voice (www.ryanafrench.com). Support this podcast: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/apostolicvoice/support
WARNING PARENTS: Some subject matter might be too mature for children. Ryan talks about the recent spike of mass killings and focuses on shooting and spa killings in the Atlanta area (Ryan’s hometown). This brings up questions of gun control, legislating morality, the origin of evil, how to handle evil, and the depravity of the human heart. Finally, Ryan responds to an article by David French (no relation to the host) about the Atlanta Spa Shooting and the Evangelical Purity Culture. All this can be found in the new article at www.ryanafrench.com called Mass Killings and the Question of Evil.
Link to the David French Article Mentioned in the Podcast
Whatever ministry you are involved in, there are tremendous blessings attached and terrible hidden pitfalls as well. The pitfalls listed below are not specific to pastors and preachers. Instead, the pitfalls listed are relevant to every aspect of church ministry. So, whether you’re a media ministry leader, children’s teacher, student ministry volunteer, or pastor, these dangers concern you. Consider reading 8 Preacher Traps (That Can Develop Over Time) for more specific warnings to pastors and preachers. Your ministry is valuable, you’re making a bigger difference than you even realize, and Satan hates you for it. If you’re ministering in any capacity, there’s a big red spiritual target on your back. Be watchful because your adversary is on the prowl, but you can resist him with steadfast faith (1 Peter 5:7-9).
1. Neglecting daily personal devotions.
A significant danger in ministry is that most of our energy is focused on studying for others, and we can easily neglect to study the Word for our edification. This naturally creates a weak spiritual framework for our lives where others are fed while we remain hungry. We must maintain personal Bible study directed towards our needs. Avoid the pit of prayerlessness.
2. Lack of accountability.
There should always be a pastor, preacher, prophet, or leader that can tell us the truth and not just what we want to hear. King David needed to have a Nathan in his life to be saved (2 Samuel 12:1-13). Likewise, we all need a voice of authority regardless of how much power we may wield. Running from accountability is a sure sign of spiritual turmoil. Great leaders have great leaders, and they produce great leaders. Arrogance has all the answers, but humility seeks godly counsel.
3. Lack of self-control.
Self-control is a vital ability the ministry should exhibit even in areas that may or may not be classified as sinful. Impulsiveness may be charming, but it is also dangerous, especially when you are tasked with caring for the well-being of others. Finance and temper are two areas that are often troublesome for ministers who struggle with self-control. Furthermore, self-control is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). If self-control is not evident in your life, it’s symptomatic of deeper problems lurking under the surface.
4. Getting too comfortable.
I know some of us wish we struggled with being too comfortable, but before you laugh it off, remember that complacency is a tragedy. The church and its leaders must remain vigilant lest we fall asleep waiting on the Bridegroom’s return. Ministry can become stagnant and mundane if we aren’t consistently stretching, growing, refreshing, and renewing. Comfort and resistance to healthy change hinder churches and lull them into mediocracy.
5. Getting too defensive.
I realize that ministry and the things of God are constantly under severe attack, but it is unhealthy and counterproductive to be always defensive rather than offensive. Admittedly, sometimes the best offense is a good defense. However, that can morph into a hunker-down mentality when we should be advancing. Living on defense is a frustrating, discouraging, and exhausting way to exist. Instead, learn how to take offensive initiative. Remember, the joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). Celebrate small gains and big wins. Take the fight to the enemy’s camp. Let Baal defend himself and let God prove Himself powerful (Judges 6:31).
Last week, I promised to follow up on the post entitled 7 Things That Make Us Weary In Well Doing, and I’m making good on that promise today. Sometimes we are spiritually worn down, and we don’t even recognize there is a problem until it has spiraled out of control. The following is a series of warning signs that should make our internal alarms start beeping when detected.
1. Lack of Prayer
I could quote tons of Scripture about the importance of prayer, but in the end, prayer is about having a relationship with God. If you are failing to communicate regularly with the Lord, your relationship is not healthy. We instinctively understand this principle in our relationships with other humans, but we often fail to understand it in relationship to God.
2. Half-Hearted Praise
When Mary performed that beautiful act of worship by anointing Jesus’ feet with expensive oil, Judas expressed displeasure at her extravagance (John 12:3-6). Now that we have the advantage of hindsight, we can see that Judas was exhibiting a warning sign of weariness in well-doing. When we begin withholding praise and feel critical of another’s praise, we should quickly make some spiritual corrections.
3. Habitually Missing Church
I should clarify that we all miss services from time to time for legitimate reasons. However, I am referring to those seasons of missing for no good reason. We all know the Scripture (Hebrews 10:25) that commands us to stay faithful in our church attendance, and yet the assembling together of the saints is far more than a stuffy commandment; it is for our edification. Our carnal nature tends to pull away from the very thing that we need the most when we are weary in well-doing. Keep a sharp eye out for this vital warning sign.
4. Murmuring & Complaining
Whenever the Hebrews were about to do something really horrific that stirred God’s wrath, it was always preceded by murmuring (Exodus 16:8; Numbers 14:27; Numbers 17:5). We all become frustrated and need to vent once in a while, but if it becomes the norm, you have a severe spiritual condition that needs immediate attention.
5. Spiked Levels of Temptation & Intensified Longings For Worldliness
When Lot made that fateful decision to lead his family towards and eventually into Sodom, it began because of God’s blessings (Genesis 13:6-12); the trend towards Sodom began during the good times. We must frequently check our direction and our desires. Sometimes we need to desperately pray as the Psalmist did, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me (Psalm 51:10).”
6. Quick to Anger, Quick to Offense & Quick to Speak
On at least five separate occasions, Scripture describes God as being slow to anger (Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 103:8; Psalm 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2). When we display the opposite characteristics of God, we should always take a spiritual inventory.
7. Unwillingness to Participate In the Kingdom of God
1 Peter 4:10-11 clarifies that every Christian has a calling to be involved in the Kingdom of God according to their specific gifts. Refusal to participate or stay involved is usually indicative of a deeper problem.
The apostle Paul acknowledged the defiling power of bitterness in Hebrews 12:15. The subject of bitterness alone could fill volumes and volumes but know that it is one of the most dangerous warning signs. Bitterness starts small and quickly grows into an unavoidable problem if left uncontrolled. It is possible to be right the wrong way, and one of the most common ways to be right the wrong way is to be correct and bitter at the same time.
Rebellion against God or God-given authority is never ok, and it never ends well; if you remain unconvinced, just consider King Saul, Lucifer, or Judas.