I spent last week on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
I always enjoy having the chance to visit with my “Southern” family, and I’m delighted every time I get to spend a week with my granddaughter. I rise early each morning to watch the sun rising over the ocean. I look for sea glass. I watch the “Pelican Air Force” gliding just inches above the water in search of food. And, of course, I enjoy watching the ghost crabs run across the sand and drop into their protective holes.
But I couldn’t get away from the news.
It’s frightening to live in a country where a simple traffic stop can deteriorate into an ugly confrontation that ends in life-ending gunfire. It’s hard to understand how someone can kill 84 innocent people and injure 202 other people by driving a loaded, 20-ton truck into a crowd. I can’t image why an armor-clad man would intentionally walk down a highway with a gun in his hands—inviting police officers into a deadly confrontation. Automobile drivers are becoming less tolerant and road rage is increasing. The political atmosphere in America is filled with explosive rhetoric that’s disheartening. Even social media sites (like Twitter and Facebook) are frequented by people who continue to savagely attack people that they’ve never met and who bully other people until they commit suicide.
I found the empty shell of a ghost crab while I was walking along the beach on Thursday morning. It was resting peacefully on the sand. People walked by it without noticing. The shell, in fact, only stood-out to me because it was so much bigger than all of the other shells that littered the beach. But, when I decided to stop and listen, the sun-baked shell had a story to tell. It was a story about the ongoing battle between good and evil. It was an epic tale where one creature won and another lost. It was a tale of two creatures that struggled with each other to a bitter, ugly end. It was a quite Biblical example where one God-created entity was totally and completely devoured by another.
“If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” (Galatians 5:15)
I feel absolutely paralyzed when I listen to stories of senseless violence in the news. I can’t stop the driver of a 20-ton truck in France before he drives the truck into a crowd, and I can’t stop the deranged terrorist who’s decided to walk into a mosque with a bomb strapped to his chest in Iraq. There’s no way for me to protect every innocent citizen in America who is stopped by a police officer who’s having a bad day, and there’s no way for me to prevent gunmen from luring public servants into deadly traps. I can’t stop folks who mercilessly attack people and bully others on social media. There’s no way for me to end the explosive political rhetoric that’s inciting deep division and hatred between different groups of people in America.
But, even in the midst of that stifling paralysis, I’m challenged to continue to be Christ’s ambassador in a troubled world. I can reduce the violence in our world by choosing my own words more carefully when I disagree with what other people say. I can reduce the violence in our world by more prayerfully considering the fact that, when I hit “post” after typing a gloves-off response to someone’s message on Facebook, I’m sending harsh and caustic words to another real person. I can reduce the violence in our world by taking the time to pray and to ask God to help me to interpret the words and actions of other people in the best possible way; so that, I don’t find myself jumping to conclusions and looking for the worst in others. I can reduce the violence in our world and become a more effective ambassador of the Kingdom of God by calling-forth the very best in other people (and in myself) by promoting an atmosphere where life-giving conversations and respectful communication are both encouraged and expected.
It’s frightening to live in a world where the epic battle between good and evil is raging all around us. There’s little we can do, as individuals, to end the threat of global terrorism, to stop explosive political rhetoric, or to eliminate all of the dehumanizing attacks that occur on social media each day. There’s little that we can do, as individuals, to stop the crazed drivers of 20-ton trucks who want to kill hundreds of people, the maniacs who have decided to randomly blow a plane out of the sky, or the gunmen who walk into crowded shopping centers and start shooting innocent people. But, as ambassadors of God’s Kingdom, we can begin to change and transform the world by becoming more sensitive to the ways that we interact—in both helpful and unhelpful ways—with others. We can reduce violence in the world by promoting an atmosphere where diversity is more fully embraced, and where respectful communication is both encouraged and expected. We can reduce the violence in our world by openly confessing the times in our own lives when we’ve interpreted the words and actions of other people in harmful and destructive ways, and when we’ve all found ourselves jumping to conclusions and expecting the worst from other people.