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Facing the Darkness

June 9, 2014
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If you want to find a Christian radio station these days you’d do well to listen for the label “family friendly”. I’m not sure entirely why this came about (perhaps it was judged to be a good way to get listeners who didn’t necessarily want a Christian station to tune in) but a huge number of Christian radio stations use this description. I happen to despise it.

Now, let’s be clear: I’m glad that there are family-friendly radio stations out there much as I am glad that there are children’s books. I’m glad that some family-friendly radio stations are Christian just as I am glad that some children’s books are written by Christians and contain Christian ideas. However, what I don’t like is the idea that “family-friendly” and “Christian” are interchangeable. It’s pretty clear that some Christian radio stations have made very few alterations to their content to become “family-friendly”. They just labeled themselves that way because they weren’t ever going to play a song about dealing drugs and beating your girlfriend.

Here’s one of the central issues: the Bible itself is not family-friendly. The Bible discusses sex (a lot of it – reading Genesis alone taught me five to seven different ways to say “have sex with” in Hebrew), sometime graphically (see Ezekiel 23)[1], murder, rape (Dinah and Tamar – and Tamar is incest as well), wholesale slaughter of villages, selling people into slavery, prostitution, being sold into prostitution, child sacrifice, and wild animals ripping people apart. If the Bible was made into a movie children wouldn’t be allowed to watch it. If they made some bits of the Bible into a movie they’d either have to get very vague or most Christian adults wouldn’t watch the movie either.

In fact, while the Bible exists in a very real world with very real problems a lot of Christian culture veers the other way into a sanitized existence that tries not so much to combat the outside world as to keep it outside and unknown. I think this is a serious problem.

Ask yourself for a minute whether we should discuss sexual violence in church. One end of Christian culture would say “no, we shouldn’t, and if we did we should be extremely vague”. However, can we deal effectively with sexual violence if we can’t discuss it? I would hope nobody would suggest that we should counsel a victim of rape while insisting that we substitute all mentions of sexual violence with “a bad thing”. (Now, perhaps some rape survivors don’t want to go into any sort of detail – but if they do that’s their prerogative. If someone feels a need to walk back through a horrible experience in their mind and face it with someone else then what Christian, modeling their lives after Jesus’ own descent to walk in our suffering paths, could refuse on the grounds that “we don’t talk about that stuff”?)

In fact, the refusal to talk about serious issues, the insistence that Christianity must be all about lovely stuff that you can discuss with your seven-year-old, is a picture of a very different sort of Christianity than the one I find in the Bible. Underlying both my vision and this sanitized one is that the world is a very dark place. The sanitized approach to Christianity says, “The world is a terribly bad place. We will not engage with the world or its darkness, we will maintain our pool of light elsewhere.” While this is understandable it is also a siege mentality – if I am winning a war I do not sit behind my walls, I push my borders out into hostile lands. In some ways it is an admission (or suspicion) of weakness. If we went head-to-head with the darkness would it not swallow us?

I believe that the Kingdom of God is the antidote to the darkness. Oddly, I think I believe in the darkness more strongly than many Christians (and many first-worlders overall). Not only do I believe that the world is dark and terrible I believe that its hideous ways, full of suffering, permeate almost every aspect of our existence. Were I not a Christian I might find the complexity of horror, the ability of the world to generate so much suffering so casually, to be magnificent artistry. If I did not believe that Christ had conquered death I would have to say that Death was the lord of this world. However, exactly because the world is so dark, exactly because the darkness is more than a mistake here or there but a permeating evil, I believe the darkness must be faced. The great horror of evil in the world is how well it insinuates itself into everything. The only real antidote is to talk about evil, confront evil, to seek evil out to blot it from the world. If we turn our faces from evil, if we act in many ways as if we are terrified of the evil in the world, evil will sneak behind our backs and ensnare us. Only constant vigilance against evil will preserve us – and constant vigilance requires a realistic assessment of the enemy.

Do drugs destroy lives? Of course. And Christians need to understand what that means not merely in a “drugs are bad, don’t do them” sense but in a way that allows Christians to undo that damage. Do evil people attempt to wipe out entire people groups? Yes, with some regularity. And we as Christians need to have a better response than “some people are bad, just crazily bad”. We need to understand why this is an inevitable product of the world and what Christ asks of us – how we can fight this not merely at the level of the great visible evils but also at the level of the small tendrils that wind their way upwards, seeking to become great trees.

The darkness of the world is vast. Much of life for many people is suffering. If we believe that we hold the antidote, that we have the final weapon, we should face the darkness and combat it. To do anything else, to hide away in worlds of safety and comfort that we build for ourselves out of our privilege, is mere selfishness.

 

[1] If you know someone who annoyingly references Bible verses by verse number in conversation and you never know what the verses are because you haven’t memorized the verse numbers of things and you happen to be kind of mean you can offhandedly reference Ezekiel 23:20. Nobody knows that verse by number and so they’ll look it up, normally later when you’re not around.

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