The Advent seasons is an appropriate time to think about the great promises of healing and restoration that God intends for his creation. Great are the words of Isaiah:
He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. (Is 2:4)
There are many people who hold tightly to this promise because they have seen enough war and bloodshed. Our modern celebration of Advent is a reminder of the story of the Messiah coming into the world to bring hope, peace, joy and love. So, what sort of promise is this? Why has the world not been renewed according to the promise?
Perhaps we should have stopped to consider that there is a distinction between a world that has been made new and a world that is being made new. Past and present tense seem to matter on something like this. For us to say that Christ has come so the world has been renewed doesn't jibe with the world that sees school shootings, city bombings, racial riots, or religious terrorism. Not only is the Advent-Christmas season threatened with this morality, but the entire Christian message of a Creator God redeeming his world seems to be misplaced. But only if we think that Jesus has already renewed the world and that there is nothing left to the story.
And so we are often caught off guard when evil happens, and we sit in shock at how such things can still occur in our world. But, the truth of the matter is that our world really hasn't changed, even with the coming and conquering of the Messiah. Let me repeat that: our world really hasn't changed, even though we have a newfound hope in the work of Jesus the Messiah. There is nothing new under the sun, especially the broken morality that exists among cracked image-bearers.
What has changed is the new life that comes through the gospel – a breaking-in of God's kingdom to this present darkness, which has not yet surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus the Messiah. So, those who are part of this new kingdom have been changed even while the world remains the same. Here we might have discussion about how much the believer is changed – whether pacifism is the logical conclusion to this commitment – but there is a necessity of participating in this kingdom while still living presently in a world that has not been changed. This, of course, has been true since the kingdom of God was first being described by Jesus himself, and all of church history can testify to the ongoing struggle.
We all know that we live in a broken world, which is why we continue to lock doors, avoid dark alleys, and keep children away from offenders. This world is a dark place, and it will continue to grow in its darkness until the final consummation of the kingdom that has announced its presence through the gospel of Christ. So, why do we continue to struggle with the reality of evil when it acts out its rage in our culture? Further, why do we join in the chorus of voices that search for answers in places where we know they won't be found?
The promise of Isaiah (and Micah 4:3) is that God will one day bring his world to redemption in such a way that the weapons of war will no longer be needed, and that they may be refashioned into the tools of a humanity tending to the earth, as in Creation's first days. It is Joel 3:10 that reverses this course, where God tells his people to beat their farming equipment into the weapons of war. Simply understood, this world has not yet fully embraced the restoration of its Creator – it still fights against him. If humanity can be redeemed then we can live in peace; where humanity is not redeemed, there is evil and war. It is a matter of the heart.
Our culture jumps on the bandwagon to think that this is a gun problem, so we have to endure all of the debates about gun control ad nauseum. The mainstream discussions about gun control are so out-of-touch that they quickly become ridiculous and inconsistent, and I am not going to rehash them here (the issue has been covered well-enough elsewhere). Let me simply say this: it is not a gun issue, it is not a bomb issue, it is not a knife issue, it is not a government issue.
Our world has a moral problem that originates from human brokenness from its Creator.
I will not entertain any other discussions about policy until this reality has been thoroughly recognized as part of our discussion. The world playfully asks, Where is God? when these tragedies happen – mocking faithfulness on the front end while dismissing God as ridiculous on the other end. But these are not serious inquiries. What is troubling is when believers also get caught up in this confusion, also asking where is God? But the violence of the world does not negate the presence or activity of God. Our unwillingness to work for the transformation of heart and mind is what keeps the presence of God working in our world.
Christ has come, Christ will come again. We presently live on that comma, between promise and fulfillment, hope and certainty. We can regulate everything that we want, but all we will accomplish is the decrease of freedom, not the increase of morality. Advent ought to remind us of this as well, for even Matthew was quick to point out that Christ's coming – this good news – was met with the slaughter of innocent children, an echo of Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted even in our world today, even as the light pierces into the darkness.
Let our words be few with the humbling weight of the truth of the gospel.