North Korea may bomb the hell out of us and blow us to smithereens, yet we will cling to the instability of hope

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***I wrote this article prior to the events in Boston, otherwise my title would have been a bit more sensitive. My prayers go out to the victims and their families.

At the moment, I have the unfortunate luck to commute about an hour to and from work every day. Don’t get me wrong, I love my current job and realize I’m blessed to have it, but the drive can be a bit of a downer. Although there is one positive – radio time! Yep, listening to NPR or Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ The Heist keeps me driving without too much boredom.

The news operates in cycles. Sometimes the big story is about a cruise ship that lost power and caused Americans to “suffer” at sea for a few days (tell that to the kid in Africa with a bloated belly). Other times the stories engage in the next impending political crisis that will ruin everything in America if it is not resolved. But then, every once in a while, stories emerge that make us come together for a time, like the tragedy at New Town.

Another story, not nearly as emotionally loaded at this point, but that nonetheless captures our imagination concerns nuclear war.

North Korea’s, Kim Jong Un, continues to make boisterous claims about warring on the United States and our national allies. In one sense, this is the type of story that the media loves because it guarantees that listeners will go out of their way to tune in.

Instability Today?

Whether or not this story is being blown out of proportion by the media, the thought of missiles or nukes being pointed toward the West coast causes us to reflect on the question: What if? Our fears in the nineties versus our fears today escalate more quickly in this post 9-11 world. We are not invincible. The old myth of “progress” deconstructed as the twin towers crumbled before our very eyes. Nothing is outside of the realm of possibility. Our small piece of reality might be bombed to hell at any moment and there is nothing that we could do about it. Existence is unstable.

Although we realize that our way of life is both unsustainable and insecure, we often choose to cling to the hope that either “God’s will is God’s will” or that the U.S. military is stronger than North Korea’s military.

Hope Today?

If we want to gloss over this issue, perhaps the bumper-sticker approach to life is the key. One way to remain hopeful is to ignore the reality of our daily instability by trusting in sloganeering:

“Ignorance is bliss”

“In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned” (which is often connected with the belief that if America is about to be destroyed, God will rescue the church from such doom via holy evacuation)

“Jesus is all we need”

“It’s all part of God’s sovereign plan”

“Let go and let God”

“Bomb ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out” (okay, this last one is too much of a stretch)

Of course we also might place our hope in the sophisticated United States military. I certainly did for most of my life. During the debates about reducing our debts and balancing our national budget, isn’t it interesting how the idea of reducing spending to the U.S. military is quickly taken off the table by both sides of the aisle? Ironically, a significant portion of the national debt can be attributed to excessive militarism. Our default settings as a culture tells us that the Armed Forces need our taxes so that they can preserve our way of life. “Peace through strength” is good for us all, or so many believe.

In church of our youth, we glorified the Armed Forces and took deep pride whenever the flag salute was proclaimed. These things served as liturgy for even my non-liturgical low-church evangelical roots. If you don’t believe me, just attend the average church with an AWANA program for kids. Each week they pledge their allegiance to the flag. All of this reminds us that we often put our hope in bombs, the very thing that causes our instability. Church ministries often reinforce this idea. Our bombs are bigger and more sophisticated than their bombs so we don’t have much to fear… Besides God will guide our guided missiles toward evildoers ‘over-there.’

My experience is that Christians are really good at appealing to sloganeering to bring about a false sense that things are “fine.” When these slogans stop working, many church going folks appeal to God’s country – America – as being safe as long as our military is strong. Sometimes slogans and theistic militarism combine creatively, like one bumper sticker I saw recently: “God bless our troops… Especially our snipers.” Too often, the Christian hope is co-opted by the hope of Caesar (more about that in a moment).

Instability Then?

During the time of Jesus, tensions for those living in Israel continued to escalate. Since the days of the Babylonian Exile and subsequent return, Israel hadn’t returned to its former glory. Moments looked positive for a brief time, but the next invading empire soon overshadowed these hopes.

By the time of Jesus, the Greco-Roman Empire had conquered his homeland. Julius Caesar and the Senate installed Herod as king. It would take Herod three years to finally gain all control over the still hostile Jews, but he would in due course keep a firm rule over the whole region. He eventually became one of Augustus’ favorite military leaders, and was admired by the new emperor because of his immense development program.

Not only did Herod expand the Temple in Jerusalem to be more grandiose and stylistically Hellenistic-Roman, but he also imposed a sacrifice that the priests would give on behalf of Rome and the emperor. Additionally, Herod had whole cities named to give reverence to Caesar as well as imperial temples and fortresses to reinforce Roman control. The great building campaigns were not possible without taxing the peoples of Galilee, Samaria, and Judea greatly; leaving the majority of Jesus’ contemporaries in poverty.

As you can easily imagine, various sects rose up amongst the Jews who chose a particular posture as a response: compromised to gain favor with the Romans (Sadducees), blamed subjugation on the “sinful” common people (Pharisees), or secretly plotted violent revolution (Zealots). Jesus enters the scene and criticizes all of these groups. Ultimately, Jesus declares the Temple system (which had sold out to the elite and made a pretty penny for Rome) as void.

In Mark 13 Jesus claims that the Temple will be destroyed within one generation of his hearers (nope, this passage is not primarily about the “End Times). The center of their universe – Jerusalem – and the center of the city – the Temple – would all be demolished. The initial conversation between Jesus and his disciples makes this clear:

As Jesus left the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Teacher, look! What awesome stones and buildings!”

Jesus responded, “Do you see these enormous buildings? Not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished.”

Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives across from the temple. Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? What sign will show that all these things are about to come to an end?” (Mark 13.1-4, CEB).

Jesus then goes on to explain that the worst catastrophe imaginable will take place within “this generation.” The rest of Mark 13, and parallels, expresses that the whole City will be proverbially “blown to smithereens.”

Hope Then?

For those who lived in Jerusalem during the first century, hope was elusive. After the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, tensions in Israel continued to escalate. Three options for responding to this situation (to put it simply) revealed the “signs of the times.” First, the people could embrace their overlord Caesar and his “good news” to be the “savior” of all the peoples of the earth by bringing peace, justice, and hope to all under the banner of “Pax Romana” (Peace of Rome). That may sound familiar if you replace emperor worship with the co-opting ideals of “God bless America.” The second option was to take up arms and put hope in the nationalistic god of Israel and fight the Romans for their freedom. Finally, a third option, take Jesus’ words seriously about the coming doom of the City (along with the fact that he proclaimed an alternative peaceable Kingdom).

The Romans did eventually destroy the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus’ words as they are recorded in Mark’s gospel actually came to fulfillment approximately 40 years after they would have been spoken. Ancient historian, Flavius Josephus provided a thorough account of the events leading up to the Jewish war and the eventual destruction of the Temple and city of Jerusalem. The Jewish Zealots mobilized to revolt and killed a Roman garrison. This led Emperor Nero to commission Vespasian and his son Titus, to end the uprising that had taken place with the rebels. This would not be an easy task. From 66 until 70 AD, war would ensue. For four years, the city of Jerusalem and the surrounding area, was plagued by a war that the Zealots considered to be religious in nature.

Jerusalem was completely under Roman control by September 7, 70 AD. Not only were the Romans successful, but they laid the city bare, destroying both the city and its Temple. Where did this leave the compromisers? They were likely shown mercy. Where did this leave the Zealots? Murdered and buried outside of the City, probably burned up in a place Jesus referred to as “Gehenna.”

And as for the Christians, well, let’s assume that they took Jesus’ prophetic words seriously. They were the only group that truly knew hope in this scenario. This hope, the hope of an eventual resurrection and the “renewal of all things,” fueled them to love their neighbors in spite the instability. They put their hope, neither in Jewish nationalism nor in allegiance to Caesar; their hope was in a Kingdom that transcends borders, even those of Jerusalem. By this time, of course, the people of God included non-Jews from throughout the known world as well, so they all had to discern how to live out the Kingdom hope in their own contexts.

The Instability of Hope: Living the Already/Not Yet Way of Jesus

We followers of Jesus in the empire of America have a choice. We can put our trust in empty sloganeering. We can trust in the horses and chariots of the military. Or, we can place our lives in the midst of reality, the unstable yet sure hope we have in Christ Jesus.

Just as the Jews (and early Christians) experienced instability in the conditions created by the Romans during Jesus’ ministry (and the 40-ish years after), we see signs of the times in news headlines every day. North Korea might just bomb the hell out of us one day, but the question we must ask is: In what shall we hope in the midst of instability? Perhaps a basic starting point is to simply take Jesus’ teaching on worry to heart, that we should not worry about tomorrow for today has enough troubles of its own.

In the midst of an unstable global political climate, perhaps there is more we can do. Many people are talking about the “what ifs” of North Korea, so what if we saw this as an opportunity to embody hope for people in the midst of instability?

Christians have a hope that started on the first Easter morning when Jesus walked out of a tomb and that ends in the renewed heavens and earth. Living between the resurrection and the New Creation has always involved dynamic tension in the midst of instability. Hope and instability go together at any time or place in history, be it 70 AD, 1776, or 2013. This is the nature of the already/not yet Kingdom of God.

If it is not North Korea, another threat will always loom its ugly head as long as the powers of evil are running the show. Yet in the midst of this all, unstable times are a gift that reminds us that ultimately King Jesus is in charge of this moment of historical chaos and in every moment leading to his return. We remind our world of this every time we choose to live as though God’s renewed world, our ultimate hope, has already begun. We don’t rely on cheap slogans. Our hope isn’t in the largest military in the world. Our hope isn’t that North Korea will be overthrown. No, our hope is that the world isn’t always going to be like this. The stability of New Creation will come, and in fact, it is already here.

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For the historical facts see my two papers:

Signs of the Times: A study of Mark 13

Behind Luke’s Gospel: The Roman Empire during the time of Jesus

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  • Stephen

    I agree w/ most said but you may want to do more research on not taking money from the military, I’m in the military & we feel the budget cuts here too. Just to be fair in your post.

  • Stephen

    I agree w/ most said but you may want to do more research on not taking money from the military, I’m in the military & we feel the budget cuts here too. Just to be fair in your post.

  • TE Hanna

    I’ve been wrestling a LOT lately with the interplay between the Kingdom of God and the nationalist/militaristic narrative we have married it to. I actually had someone tell me the other day that the Kingdom of God would be a democracy, because (of course) that is what God established for “His” nation…

    I’m shocked by how much nationalism resembles religion. We have our own communal identity, our own rituals, our own symbology, even our own eschatology. When we pledge our allegiance to a nation, when we place our hope in our military strength, when Christians are willing to go to war – even kiling other Christians – in response to orders, and when we gather all these things together and attach a Christian label to it… then I begin to fear for our Christian identity and the fidelity of our Faith.

    I think we may have lost our way somewhere.

    • http://flamingfundamentalist.blogspot.com/ Curt Day

      I think you have identified one of the biggest problems Christians have. The merging or confusing of nationalism with the Christian faith is usually done out of self-glorification in order to feel significant. But that implies that our faith in Christ does not already provide enough of a sense of significance.

  • rumitoid

    I have to take the word of some person I read too long ago to remember his name that some version of “Fear not” is found 365 times in the Bible. Fear is an amazing natural resource, able to make nearly an endless list of products, such as idols and fundamentalism, absolutes and situational ethics, fanatics and scardy-cats, just to name a few. It’s interesting, I just heard this a little earlier this morning. Worry is like being in a rocking chair: we get the sense of doing something but we get nowhere.

    Concerns (worry) over personal justice and safety, or our rights, are forms of worldliness. Nothing better succeeds at defeating the way of Christ than these idols we tend to reasonably, pragmatically, and righteously fashion. Our troops secure our freedom; no, true freedom comes in Christ alone no matter how oppressive the government. Don’t leave home, or stay, without it.

    Here is a letter I found in my files from many years ago; I have no cite for it:

    Dear brother, Bill:

    Your campaign letter has been received and I want to respond, since
    I know you as a brother in Christ and think well of you. As a
    Christian I do not believe I can vote for you, or any other
    candidate, and be in accord with the mind of God. Allow me to
    explain.

    I believe Christians should pray (not vote) for
    “Kings and all that are in authority; that we (true
    believers) may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all Godliness
    and honesty” (I Tim.2:2). Our calling is unto Christ and a
    path of separation from “this present evil world”
    (Gal.1:4). Read also Matthew 7:13-14; John 17:14-17; Romans
    12:1-2; I Cor.1:26-31; Eph.2:1-10; Eph.5:11; II Tim. 4:9-11;
    Titus 2:11-14; James 1:27; James 4:4; I John 1:3-6; I John
    2:15-17. I do not find anywhere in the Word of God that
    believers should be involved in political affairs or any other
    worldly activities, but rather the opposite (II
    Cor.6:14-18).

    The picture God gives us, I believe, is of
    a world condemned and waiting for judgment to fall (see also
    Gen.19:29; John 12:31; I John 5:19; Rev.6,8,9,11,16). God is
    saving souls out of it. Christians are viewed by God as
    pilgrims and sojourners here in this wilderness land. Our
    citizenship is in heaven (Psa.39:12; Phil.3:20; Heb.11:13; I
    Pet.1:17). We are left here as ambassadors (John 17:18; II Cor.
    5:20), not political activists. We are to “render unto
    Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Luke 20:24-25), obey
    the laws (Rom.13:1; Titus 3:1), and “walk circumspectly”
    (Eph.5: 15). We are not to be “yoked together” in
    this world’s schemes (II Cor. 6:14-18).

    God has a great
    deal to say about this world that rejects His Son, but little
    to say to it. The world belongs to God and He loves all souls,
    but not the flesh and the world system. It is altogether
    corrupt and condemned (John 3:16-19). The saints might long for
    righteousness and moral order, but we must wait for Christ to
    come—that is the hope of the church. One day, “A King
    shall reign in righteousness” (Isa.32:1).

    “Christ
    Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (I Tim.1:15).
    He did not come to make the world a better place (John
    12:46-47; John 17:6,9,14). He did not run for public office or
    establish His kingdom (John 18:36). His work was redemption,
    not social reform (John 4:34; John 12:24,26; John 14: 21-23).
    The message of God is repentance and separation, and that
    should be our testimony in conforming to Christ (Rom.8:29;
    Rom.12:2; II Tim.1:8-12).

    Let us not settle down “in
    the well-watered plains” like Lot (Gen.13:11). It proved
    to be a shame and very costly for him (Gen.19). We are born of
    God by the Spirit and are not of this world (John 1:12-13;
    Gal.6:14; I John 4:13). Brother, it is not the time to reign
    (Rev.5:10). I can understand Christians wanting to change
    government and the laws for good, but that is not the work of
    an “ambassador”. I don’t believe we should go beyond
    Scripture and reason our way. Let us bow to the Word of
    God.

    Well, dear friend, I pray for your good. I hope you
    will not take offense with my remarks. I just wanted to share
    my understanding of the Word of Truth. Kindest regards to you
    and Carol.
    - In Christ, (R.L.D.) – early 1970′s
    halleluia

    NOTE: Sometime later a brief and pleasant reply was
    received, which stated that although Bill did not win, he
    received much support and believes God would want him to try
    again. Not one verse of Scripture was used to support his
    position. Let us take “all the counsel of God” (Acts
    20:27), “rightly dividing the Word of truth” (II
    Tim.2:15).


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