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A Brave New World: Ariana Grande, Terror, and God’s War Psalms

I must confess, for me, music pretty much ended in the 80’s. Okay, so I exaggerate, but I am a kid of the era where Styx wasn’t so much a reference to a mythological river, Jethro Tull was not a historic agronomist, and The Boss was not someone you worked for, but all were musicians whose songs formed the soundtrack of my high-school and college years. And, well, yeah, beyond my school years as well.

But this is not so much the case with my children. So when I initially heard about the bombing at the Ariana Grande concert, the event was quickly catalogued along with the many other senseless terror attacks that seem to be more a part of our lives than they should ever be. To me, Ariana Grande sounded like a vacation resort or perhaps a new version of a latte at Starbucks. Not so much to my children. While the “soundrack” of my life is pretty much written, theirs is being written and it seems that an even younger generation is having to be pulled into the conversation about the nature of evil people who live in our midst.

It is a sad truth that terrorism is such a visible part of this world’s reality today. Of course, terrorism is nothing new. There have been wicked men throughout the ages that believed the proper way to express their ideology was to bully, intimidate, and strike terror into the heart of the general populace rather than making a reasoned argument in the world of ideas to advance the ideas or ideals they hold. And before someone accuses me of being an “Islamaphobe,” I do recognize that such actions have been taken in the name of every religious and areligious movement that is known to man, including Christianity. Evil identifies itself under many labels.

Yet, the presence of terrorists in history does not and should not lesson the righteous indignation that one feels whenever one is confronted with such evil. We must never become desensitized to such wicked actions…especially when such actions are perpetrated toward our children. Yet, fear, which is the aim of terrorist actions, should also never be our response. Instead, righteous anger is the response that terrorism should illicit from us.

Through the years, Christians have struggled with the question, “How do I express anger but not fall into sin?” (Ephesians 4:26). Vengeance belongs to God (Deuteronomy 32:35) yet God has also appointed the sword to be wielded by the governments of the world that they might avenge the innocent and bring the wrongdoers to their knees (Romans 13:4). In addition, God has given us a number of psalms that are designed to be prayers by God’s people against their wicked persecutors. These are psalms of imprecation and militant war psalms, calling on God to crush the wicked and destroy every remnant of their people from the face of the earth. Some examples of such psalms would be found in Psalms 5, 41, 58, 59, 69, 79, 94, 137, and others. How do we express our righteous indignation in a Godly and prayerful way? These psalms guide our prayers and direct our righteous anger in holy ways while trusting that God will bring vengeance in his time and in his way. We ought not shy away from these in our public praying in these times of such evil.

When Huxley spoke of a brave new world, he was describing a world where people were dominated by the things that brought them pleasure and entertainment and one could argue for the prophetic insight that he demonstrated. I am choosing to use the familiar phrase in a different way. While this world seems to be filled with terrors, the answer is for all men and women, young and old, to rise up and bravely stare the wicked in the face, declaring as one people, that we will not accept such behavior in our midst. That those who stand for wicked ideologies will be hunted down and crushed by the powers that God has placed to defend the innocent and that our culture will not cave in to the demands of those who would bully or ad hominem to get their way.

What would this world look like if all matters of difference were settled by reasoned debate and where we were confident enough in our own positions that we were comfortable disagreeing with one another, yet still remain neighbors in the wider community? It seems to me that such a world is far closer to what our American forefathers envisioned than what we have today. And such a world would not stand for Radical Islamic Terrorism…or any other kind of terrorism for that matter.

“Let them be overthrown in their pride by the sin of their mouths and the words of their lips and by the curse and by the lie that they make known. Consume them in wrath! Consume them until they are nothing! Let them know that God rules over Jacob and to the ends of the earth! Selah!

(Psalm 59:13-14 {verses 12-13 in English})

Kalos and Kakos

“Jesus answered him, ‘If I spoke wickedly, testify as to the evil; but if nobly, then why did you beat me?’”

(John 18:23)

There is a certain irony in Jesus‘ choice of words. Some of our modern translations render Jesus as saying, “If I have spoken wrongly…” which gives the impression that Jesus is defending his own deportment with respect to the High Priest. Indeed, the man who struck Jesus did scold him for speaking to Annas in such a way, so it is natural that such an interpretation would be made. Yet, that is not what Jesus is saying. This is a false and unjust trial and the man to whom he is speaking is not really the High Priest anyhow. In such a context, what role does protocol have in the first place?

The subordinate struck Jesus for now begging before Annas. Jesus’ response is righteous, truthful, and contains a level of indignation that, were Annas and his cohorts really aware of the man to whom they spoke, should have reduced them to a quiver. Jesus is going like a lamb to the slaughter and soon will remain silent before his accusers, but here in the pre-trial, righteous anger is found to lie behind these words.

The irony in Jesus’ statement can be found in his choice of language before Annas — in two words to be specific: kako/ß (kakas) and kalw◊ß (kalos). The word kako/ß (kakas) refers to that which is evil, wicked, unwholesome, defiled, etc… In the Greek culture, it was the polar opposite of that which is kalw◊ß (kalos), which means noble, beautiful, morally upright, or done in a manner that is pleasing. When used together like this, the contrast is between that which is moral and that which is immoral, that which is virtuous and that which is foul. Jesus is essentially saying, “You who have acted unrighteously toward me, are you going to accuse me of unrighteousness?” Let him who is without sin cast the first stone, indeed.

Of course, this statement also frames all that will take place during these trials. From beginning to end, there is no legitimacy and all the testimonies of witnesses are staged. Often, as we live out our faith in this fallen world, it can seem as if unbelievers or unbelief in general is out to get us — Satan roaring like a lion looking to devour us if given the chance. Peter reminds us that this kind of behavior should not be that surprising to us for this is the way that Jesus was treated (1 Peter 2:21) — and if anyone can testify to that great truth it is Peter — Peter who on this night would deny his relationship with Jesus three times. John, who is also there that night, reminds us that we ought not be too surprised when the world hates us (1 John 3:13). The world hated Jesus first and we ought not be too surprised that we who are servants are treated in the same manner as our master (John 15:20). In fact, be of good cheer — for if the world does not listen to you it very well may be a sign that you are getting things right.