In 1 Timothy 4:1-3 Paul gives Timothy a wise framework to face a demonic and destructive teaching, a clarity about what confronts him and the comfort and hope in the gospel to respond.
In seeking clarity, Paul identifies the source of the destructive teaching, how it spreads, and what it teaches. It’s a thoughtful way to approach what now confronts us as a country. On Friday we entered a new New Zealand.
The massacre of 50 people and the injuring of almost 50 more is an unprecedented act of evil.
Clarity about what confronts us
We need clarity about what confronts us: The ideology of white supremacy. White supremacy is the idea that white people are superior to other ethnicities. Its relationship with the Church over the centuries is sordid.
It’s an ideology that spreads both online and offline by people willing to cultivate indifference to racism, who are willing to minimise racism, who are willing to actively discriminate and then cultivate violence. The source of this ideology is calculated, malevolent, satanic evil. An infernal intelligence hell-bent on the destruction of people and populations.
We also need to find comfort and hope in the gospel to respond. We cannot be satisfied in the simple slogans that public discourse reduces to in times of disaster or debate. Nor can we allow the amazing outpouring of love, support and solidarity of New Zealanders to hide or mask from us some of the more unsavoury realities of our attitudes and actions to those “not like us”.
The gospel enables us to be more honest in our diagnosis, broader in our analysis, and deeper in our conclusions.
The Bible recognises that the diagnosis for events like this is worse than we want to admit. But the prognosis far better than we could ever dream of.
Finding comfort in the cross
Our human hearts are profoundly sinful. Any thoughtful engagement with the biblical teaching of sin, and reflection on human history, will lead us to recognise the line between good and evil runs through us all.
The Bible has a far darker and much more realistic understanding of evil than many westerners are willing to entertain--even some who are Christians. Not only are we faced with that fact that human hearts are naturally sinful, but there is also a profoundly personal and intelligent enemy at work. Both realities were plain to see through the sinful evil of a white supremacist literally unleashing hell in New Zealand.
Our comfort comes in recognising that at the cross both human sin and satanic evil are ultimately dealt with by Jesus. At the cross the ultimate power and penalty of our sin are poured out on Jesus, in our place, for us. He, who knew no sin, became sin for us.
Jesus took the penalty for our sin, and bore it on himself instead of us. Satan, death, and all the powers and principalities unleashed their worst against Jesus at the cross. In his death and resurrection, their ultimate authority, power and influence is broken: We serve a risen Lord!
Therefore, as sinful and as evil as this heinous act of terrorism is, it is not the end of the story. Because of what God did on Good Friday, the profound evil of this past Friday is not the end of the story for Christchurch, for New Zealand, or for us.
Confidence in God's plan for his people
In God's goodness he is drawing people from every ethnic group into a body, the Church; reconciling them to himself, and with each other through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 2:14-16). God will not allow evil to end, stop or thwart his plan: a multitude from every tribe nation and tongue. (Revelation 7:9).
In 1991, the Muslim community numbered about 5,700, and in the 2013 census there were approximately 46,000 Muslims living in New Zealand. A quarter are born in Asia, 25% in New Zealand, 23.3% in the Middle East or Africa, and 21% in the Pacific Islands.
In Acts 17:26-27 we read: "From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us."
From these verses we recognise our ethnic equality. We recognise that both global migration and immigration to New Zealand happen under our God’s good hand. We recognise the triune God of the Bible has brought Muslim men, women, and children into our neighbourhoods, cities and regions for the purpose of seeking him--as he is not far from each of us.
From the gospel we affirm that the God who gave all of himself--Father, Son and Spirit--to rescue us also holds us securely. We are now in him and he in us, by his Holy Spirit. We can never be separated from him.
Responding with clarity, grace and hope
Therefore, in this moment, the gospel enables us to respond with clarity, grace, and a quiet hope in who God is and what he is doing in the midst of profound evil and suffering.
In and through this we can respond with deep compassion and tender truths. Out of the grace that God has shown to us in Jesus we can love, serve, and care for our Muslim community in our suburbs, cities and districts.
We can name the sin of racism when we find it in our own lives--and in our churches and communities--and can point each other, our Muslim neighbours, and the wider population to the hope that we have in God, through Jesus’s death and resurrection by the Spirit.