Watching in shock and dismay at the overrun of the Capitol on Wednesday, instigated by the president of the United States, emotions ran the range from heartbreak and fury, all the way to … delight. The melee was cleared by police, though the damage was done and at least one and as many as four lives lost. It was not hard to reimagine the scene and the death count had the mob not been mostly white. There’s no shortage of commentary with politicians finding some backbone instead of chasing the wind.
Politicians and pundits insisted, “This is not America.”
But this is America.
We are helplessly divided, entrenched, angry, and unrepentant—all characteristics Scripture characterizes as “the world” (1 Cor. 1), a state of reality opposed to the kingdom of God.
As Christians, we default to prayer, asking God for help, for peace, for justice, for righteousness to roll. Somehow some still prayed for overturning the election, abetting the mob and giving into the falsehood. The aims and objects of prayer depended on the side you sit on. The answers depend on the Lord—as Abraham Lincoln recognized even amid four years of a blood-soaked civil war:
Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. (Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, March 4, 1865)
The Civil War was won, and lost, and its deadly and racist ripples persist. That Congress was compelled by yesterday’s violence to come to its senses and sort itself out, while welcomed, will likely last but a moment. As fallen humans, our capacities for righteousness and best intentions remain finite and tainted by sin and self-interest. We struggle to discern evil from good.
In Matthew 13:47–50, Jesus tells a parable about fishermen who hauled a daily catch ashore and culled the good from the bad. The parable portrays “the end of the age,” the final sorting, so to speak. We assume the shore to be eternity and the fish to be humans, though interestingly, the Greek text never expressly mentions the word fish.
The kingdom net is specifically a dragnet that indiscriminately rakes in everything—fish to be sure, but also seaweed, flotsam, jetsam, plastic bottles, boots and beer cans and rusted anchors, every kind of marine debris. The kingdom net hauls in the whole of creation without question. Sink or swim, the kingdom net rejects nothing; everything finds it way to shore.
Once ashore there is a sorting, and since Jesus told his disciples—and by extension you and me—that they were the fishers of people, we presume we get to determine who’s good and who’s not, what’s right and what’s not, what goes into the basket and who gnashes their teeth in the furnace of fire. Surely every misogynist; racist; and fear-mongering, foul-mouthed, and morally repulsive demagogue and his followers all get the roaster. There they sizzle alongside the smug, the condescending and self-righteous, the entrenched and entitled who buy their way out of tension and trouble. It all depends on the sea you swim in.
But, wisely and rightly, Jesus assigns the sorting to unbiased angels, messengers of God with no agenda save the Lord’s own. As for us humans, let us judge not that we be not judged. “Do not take revenge,” the apostle Paul wrote to Roman Christians, “but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (12:19). God Almighty is not impartial toward evil, but the Lord does love mercy. He loves mercy more than we do.
As Christians, whatever our politics, yesterday demands we disentangle and reject the suspicions, lies, grievances, umbrages, and arrogance that have characterized our politics and country and its leaders of late. We must refuse to let our faith be co-opted by political power and principalities—despite our allegiance to country—and recommit, with humble hearts, to Christ and his kingdom, a full net, bursting to the breakpoint, a nod to God’s love for all things. The kingdom hauls in the whole of creation without question, then sorts the good fish from the bad (though I dare say, the good still gets fried in a pan and eaten for supper). The Almighty has his own purposes.
At the risk of cliché, the truth of the gospel asserts love never fails or stands down. It casts out fear (1 John 4:18), but also anger, hate, anxiety, and deceit. Rather than any passive acquiescence, love ferociously resists with the force of resurrection, day by day, defeating even death and the Devil for the sake of justice and mercy and humility on earth. Without love we are nothing (1 Cor. 13:1–3), because love is everything.
Daniel Harrell is editor in chief at Christianity Today.
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