Since the rise of Internet pornography, much has been made about how easy it is to be a secret sinner these days. That’s true, but in many other ways, keeping sin secret has become much harder. I was reminded of this by a couple of recent news stories.
In the first, a drunken woman’s racist rant was captured for all the world to see by her victim’s smartphone. In the second, another woman became entangled with a man who eventually murdered her because she had earlier allowed him to take compromising photos of her.
Of the two scenarios, the first is much more straightforward. Bad behavior that used to remain private now can go viral. 25 years ago, Susan Westwood would have faced no consequences for her outburst. Today, she lost her job less than 24 hours later, and the stigma of that recording will follow her for the rest of her life.
The take-home is pretty simple. Don’t get drunk. Don’t say mean, hateful things to people. If you do, the odds are that someone will use their smartphone to record you and wreck you. Those chickens will come home to roost in a big way.
Lauren McCluskey’s case is considerably more complex. I have the utmost sympathy for her, her family, and all who knew her. No one deserves to be the victim of sexual extortion and murder. She was not “asking for it”.
At the same time, though, we must not blind ourselves to the lessons we ought to learn from her tragic end. It is always risky and frequently sinful to take intimate photos/video of ourselves, or to allow others to take them of us. I don’t think it’s a sin for a husband and wife to send such things to each other, but all it takes is one nosy co-worker. Then, that unguarded phone or logged-in Facebook account can produce something that will haunt you for decades.
Of course, producing and sharing explicit photos/video outside of marriage is always wrong. It’s also much riskier. Marriage, though it often isn’t, is at least supposed to be for life. More casual relationships aren’t. With those, it doesn’t take a third party to expose you. You can be betrayed by your ex, your hookup partner, the unwilling recipient of your clumsy come-on, or even some stranger on the Internet who talked you into flashing them.
In fact, the momentum of our society makes this likely to occur. As the cynical saying goes, the Internet is for porn. When countless indecent pictures are already public, it seems reasonable to the possessor of an indecent picture of you to make it public too. Nor are worldly people likely to be deterred by the thought of the anguish it will cause you. In fact, they probably consider that part of the fun.
The spiritual consequences of sin always have been severe, but in this area, the physical consequences are quickly catching up. Because one moment of foolishness and evil can ruin us, we must be constantly on our guard. It may well be that the recording we don’t want anyone to see becomes the recording that everyone sees. As Paul points out in Ephesians 5:15-16, the days are evil. We had best walk carefully.
Can the prey of the mighty be taken
Or the slaves of the tyrant restored?
Yet in God none of these are forsaken,
That all flesh may acclaim Him as Lord.
He will lift up His hand to the nations,
And a sign will be raised in His name
So His sons will be borne to salvation
And His daughters, delivered from shame.
Thus the Lord by His manifold graces
From bereavement shall rescue the land;
In the waste and the desolate places,
There the throngs of His children will stand.
In the first part of the book of Ezra, we see an incredible thing. After 70 years of exile, the people of Judah are returning to Canaan. God had predicted this return through His prophets, but human wisdom would never have believed it possible.
After all, the Jewish nation was destroyed after repeated rebellions against the Babylonians. Because the kings of Judah refused to be good little vassals, Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem, destroyed it (including Solomon’s temple), and carried its people captive. Nations simply don’t come back from disasters like that, but the Jews did.
However, as the events of the first half of Ezra reveal, despite their return, all is not well in the promised land. Even though they have returned to Jerusalem, they are still subjects of the Persian Empire. The Persians have no trouble interfering with their lives, to the point of forbidding them to rebuild the temple for decades.
As a result, the fulfillment of God’s promises can only be described as incomplete. Yes, they’re back in the land, but they’re not free, and they certainly aren’t enjoying the golden age that prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah promised. Even hundreds of years later, during the time of Christ, righteous men like Simeon are still “waiting for the consolation of Israel”.
By then, the Jews have exchanged Persian overlords for Roman overlords, but their overall state of bondage has not changed. Even when God fulfills His prophecies through Jesus, many of His people find that fulfillment unacceptably alien. They are so set on a physical understanding of grace that rather than accepting their Messiah, they plunge instead into a doomed revolt against Rome.
Today, we have a much better understanding of Old-Testament prophecies than the Jews did, but it is still our experience that God has incompletely fulfilled His promises to us. Yes, we have life in Christ, but Christians still die. Yes, we have peace in Christ, but we live in a world that is filled with conflict and even persecution. Yes, Jesus is with us always, but no human eye has seen Him for 2000 years.
Like the Jews of the time of Zerubbabel, then, like Simeon, we are still looking for the consolation of Israel. We don’t believe that God has broken faith with us because we recognize that He never intended for us to enjoy the fullness of His blessings in this life. Pop Christianity to the contrary, we are not living our best life now, nor should we expect to. Indeed, if this were our best life, we would be of all people most to be pitied.
Our eyes are not fixed on the here-and-now. Instead, they are fixed on the future. We expectantly wait for the return of Jesus, not because we have already figured out how He will fulfill God’s promises to us, but because we trust that their fulfillment will be better than we imagine. In that day, finally, after thousands of years of waiting, will God’s people enjoy the fullness of His grace.
O arm of God, awake!
Be stirred by Zion’s plea,
As once you caused the earth to shake
And dried the mighty sea.
Awake, O arm of God!
Confirm that you are strong;
Redeem her children from abroad
That they may come with song.
Be strong in Him, and stand;
The Lord will guide your feet and take
Your children by the hand.
You suffered much before,
But hear His word, rely on Him,
And taste His wrath no more.
O Zion, rise! Awake!
Behold, your watchmen see
That God has come for His own sake
With peace and victory.
Awake, O Zion! Rise!
Come out from fear and harm,
For God before the nations’ eyes
Has bared His holy arm.
From time to time, somebody will critique my hymn critiques by saying that I spend too much time on the intellectual side of hymns and not enough on the emotional side. Certainly, when it comes to emotion in worship, there are things worth discussing, and I’ve discussed them extensively.
However, it is true that I don’t spend a lot of time arguing that we need to sing more emotional hymns in worship. Differently emotional hymns, yes, but not really that the emotional level of our repertoire is too low.
This is true for two reasons. First, I think that to the extent that we have emotional deficiencies in worship, those problems are much more likely to lie with the worshiper than the repertoire. God’s people have been struggling with going through the motions since Malachi 1, of not before, and the tradition of apathy in worship is alive and well.
However, the solution to the apathy problem doesn’t lie in the adoption of hymns that manufacture emotion. You can be a spectator at a rock concert and ride the emotional wave, but a-cappella congregational worship works differently. Only enthusiastic participants are likely to experience an emotional reaction. If brethren aren’t eager to participate enthusiastically, no hymn will move them. If, on the other hand, they arrive determined to rejoice, no hymn will prevent them. The cure for apathy must be found in the heart of the worshiper.
Second, overly intellectual hymns aren’t a problem in practice. I cannot think of a single hymn that has entered the repertoire in my lifetime that I would describe as emotionally deficient. Conversely, I have seen (and written!) dozens of hymns that sank without a trace because something about them didn’t work emotionally. In fact, this is the most common reason why my hymns (and the hymns of others in my circle) fail. A hymn that’s all content with no feeling is as dead as faith without works.
This is a problem that solves itself. No song leader selects uninspiring hymns because they have lots of sound Biblical teaching and are good for the congregation, like broccoli (a possible exception: singing “O Happy Day” when somebody’s about to get baptized). Instead, we sing the songs that move us. Not every hymn in the repertoire works for everybody, but all of them work for somebody. Brethren will sing the most vacuous lyrics imaginable if the music is emotionally powerful.
As a result, I don’t critique hymns for lack of emotion, any more than nutritionists critique diets for lack of potato chips and chocolate cake. Christians who have never thought about hymn content in their lives will still intuitively seek out hymns that they enjoy singing. Even people who don’t care about Bible authority and a-cappella worship will still look for an emotional experience in worship. This is the aspect of worship that human beings most naturally get right.
Other aspects, though, are more challenging. Unlike potato chips and chocolate cake, emotion in worship is good for us, but it doesn’t provide a balanced diet by itself. We’re called to sing not only with the spirit, but with the spirit and with the understanding.
However, because thinking about what we’re singing is effortful, brethren often don’t want to invest the effort. Emotional worship that is not also thoughtful is a problem, and it’s a problem that’s hard to avoid when we worship with content-light hymns. As a result, most of my commentary is focused on content. It’s not so much that I’m neglecting the role of emotion in hymns. It’s that I’m taking the presence of emotion for granted.