The scripture is quite clear. In 2 Corinthians 2:11 Paul writes of the devil, and says: "...we are not unaware of his (satan's) schemes."
114 people died a violent death on church and faith-based property in 2017. That's a new all-time high (surpassing the 77 such deaths in 2015). On top of that, countless sex crimes on faith-based property were reported (we used to list the sex crimes on our website, but keeping up with them became too demanding of a task).
Let me ask you to consider the following: Is it possible that in this violence, the devil himself may be making a "contribution?" Could he not only be behind much of it, but also seeking to take advantage of those affected by it? Is it true that we are not wrestling against flesh and blood, but against spiritual dark forces committed to our destruction?
If the scripture is true, and I believe it is, what is our adversary's purpose in these attacks? What is it that he is after?
The scripture does make it clear that satan is an "opportunist," and when such violence occurs, he certainly sees his chance to act - and to interject his "opinion" in the matter.
In my 35 years as a cop, and 44 in the ministry, I conversed with a ton of people who had lost a loved one to violence, or had themselves been a victim of a violent crime. Often, they shared the same attitude as a result of what had happened to them, or their loved one: Their FAITH had been assaulted, and now doubts about God had become a constant companion.
My friend Russell was only 11-years old in 1980, when an armed assailant entered the sanctuary of the church where he was, shouted "This is War," and then shot 15 worshipers - killing five. Years later, when Russell spoke of this tragedy, he confessed: "It took away my FAITH."
Russell never recovered from that dark day. By his own admission, with the exception of maybe two times, he never again darkened the door of a church. His life began a downward spiral from which he never recovered. And though I was able to lead him back to the faith about 5 years ago, I would soon learn that his wounds were much deeper than I knew: he killed himself in January of 2014 (34 years after the tragedy).
After the Sutherland Springs, Texas tragedy, in which 27 precious lives were murdered and another 20 injured, I went there to see if I could be of any assistance. While standing around where many had gathered, I saw a woman holding an empty cup and staring at the ground. I could tell that something was not right, and since no one was with her, I struck up a conversation.
"Jimmy," she said, "he killed two of my relatives." She was numb, shocked from what had happened - and understandably so.
But then she said something I'll never forget: "I can no longer believe. This has made me question my faith. If you cannot trust God in this situation (i.e. to protect you in a house of worship), where can you trust him?"
I admired her honesty and I immediately thought about how often I had concluded that such violence always assaults our FAITH.
And herein we see the intent of our enemy: To Destroy ... FAITH.
He wants you to throw in the towel. He wants you to quit. He is fully aware of the fact that when such tragedies occur, you will question the existence of God, as well as His love for humanity. It has always been his style to cast doubt on God and what He has said.
Isn't this what he did in the Garden of Eden? He said to Eve: "Did God REALLY say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'" (Genesis 3:1- CAPS mine)? In the serpent's words, can you not see his intent - to CAST DOUBT. Why? Because he is hoping you will succumb to doubt, and then begin your downward spiral (from which you may never recover).
That is the card he plays when tragedy strikes our life: to cast doubt on God's goodness love.
"If God were truly there: if He really existed: if He really loved us, would He not protect us from such harm and violence???" These are the questions the enemy will pose to your mind. And he does so with a specific agenda: he wants you to abandon the faith.
Don't misunderstand me. Having questions in the midst of tragedy is totally acceptable and understandable. Your Heavenly Father welcomes your questions. He welcomes your complaints. He is big enough to handle whatever you have to say. But allowing these questions to cause me to abandon faith is an altogether different matter. Faith needs to be tested: but not abandoned.
Faith is very important. Without it, the scripture says, you cannot please God (Hebrews 11). Faith is, one might say, the "keys to your car." If you lose your keys, you cannot start your car.
Jesus realized how important faith is. He once warned Peter: "Satan has demanded to have you all, to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you, Simon, that your FAITH may not fail" (Luke 22:31-32 - CAPS mine).
Jesus knew that Peter would soon deny Christ, and doing so would bring Peter a tremendous amount of grief and disillusionment. And in that state of despair, Peter's FAITH might crumble. That is why Jesus was praying for him.
Yes - this is what the enemy wants. He wants you to doubt the existence of God: to doubt the love of God: to doubt His goodness. He - the devil - knows that as you wrestle with these questions, they could sink too deeply into your heart - and you might abandon the FAITH.
And that's the enemy wants from you: to quit on God.
"But Jimmy, in light of all these tragedies, how can we be certain of God's love and goodness?" That's a great question, and I have an answer! Read carefully...
God's love is primarily revealed, not by the prevention of heartache and tragedy, but by the giving of His Only Son! I know God loves me because He gave Jesus to die for my sin. Jesus, crucified on the cross, is the PROOF of God's love. Hear this dear reader: The bloodied, beaten, battered, bruised, broken body of Jesus - nailed to a tree - that is the PROOF of God's love for you.
GET THIS: If God prevented all tragedies: if God gave you a fancy car: if God put you in a mansion, and then loaded your bank account with a billion bucks - AND HAD NOT GIVEN HIS SON FOR YOU - He would not have shown His great love for you!!!
Let's just be honest: this world is a bummer to live in. This world has its share of disaster, tragedy, heartache, and despair. The list of undesirable and unwanted events stretches across the planet.
C.S Lewis hit the nail on the head concerning this matter of where we presently live:
“Enemy-occupied territory---that is what this world is.”
This world is not our "home." Think about this: you and I are not yet HOME. Our "home" is in another world. Our home is a place where someday, "God himself will...wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain..." (Revelation 22).
Wow! No more TEARS...DEATH...MOURNING...CRYING...PAIN...VIOLENCE...
But... for ... now...
But for now, we are "at war." Our enemy, who desires to destroy our life, is committed to stealing our faith. He wants us to quit, to walk out on God, to turn our backs on the Almighty.
I want you to consider another C.S Lewis quote from his book The Screwtape Letters. In this book, a high-ranking devil ("Screwtape" he's called) is training a lower devil ("Wormwood"). Screwtape is teaching Wormwood how to ruin the life of the believer he has been assigned to. See if you can figure out what he is saying here:
“Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will (i.e. God's will), looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”
Let me explain what Lewis is saying...
The high-ranking devil (Screwtape) is telling the lower one (Wormwood) that the cause of the devil is in trouble when a believer cannot understand what is going on: is troubled by the events that surround him: has questions about God and His goodness: YET, IN SPITE OF ALL OF THIS, THE BELIEVER STILL MARCHES ON - DETERMINED TO OBEY HIS HEAVENLY FATHER!!!
That believer is a ... threat to hell and all of its causes!
Yes, I have wanted to quit. I have wanted to abandon God. I've wanted to give up on the faith.
Since I began this "Sheepdog Thing" it seems that one difficulty after another has crossed my path. One of my daughters lost four of her children (two miscarriages, and two more were born only to die minutes later). Other children of mine have suffered in the same manner.
All of us have stories of heartache that go with living in this shattered world.
Even now, as I type these words, the tears flow as I think about these things. I long for the better world! And brothers and sisters, that "other world" will someday be our permanent address.
But until we arrive on that shore, let us... fight...
In closing, let me remind you of those famous words of Winston Churchill:
"Never give in, never give in, never, never, never. In nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy..."
ON A SIDE NOTE: Charleston, South Carolina Police Chief Greg Mullen will speak at one of our "mini" Sheepdog Seminars in Ft. Worth, Texas on January 27. Chief Mullen, now retired, served as chief when, in June of 2015, nine precious lives were gunned down at Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston. For more info, click here.