At least 58 people died and 489 more were seriously injured by a killer in Las Vegas last year. A murderous driver in New York City killed eight more people on bicycles the very next week. When someone intentionally kills an innocent human being, let alone scores of people at a concert, nightclub, church, school, movie theater, on the street, or anywhere else, it is an understatement to say that evil has once again reared its ugly head.
Regardless of why an individual would murder innocent people, and why then and there, rather than targeting you, others, or me is beside the point. Having been spared and lived to tell about it, I am left to take seriously the facts before me: people made in God’s image have been mass murdered in cold blood.
This is real and it is extraordinary. It defies all laws and social and cultural expectations, let alone democratic or Christian values. As a Christian, called to love as God loves, I cannot believe I should only breathe a sigh of relief that I was not a victim, utter a prayer for grieving families, and move on.
Evil exists and acts viciously, both in broad daylight and behind the scenes, deviously awaiting the most opportune time and place to strike. John Wesley and centuries of orthodox Christian theology would count this as both evidence and an outworking of original sin. But it is not enough simply to relegate this discussion to theology and history books.
From the perspective of those of us in Christ’s church, the question must be, what next? By this I do not mean to ask, if or where will evil strike next, because it will, somewhere. Rather, I mean to ask, what is my response as a Christian, to this and other malicious evils in our society and in the broader world?
If the church truly is of God, we of the church know full well what the response must be. Into a treacherous, mean-spirited, unrepentant, God-forsaking world already entered God’s holy, perfect response, and we know it full well if we believe.
From a Wesleyan perspective, what we can see is a holy, disruptive, catalytic trajectory of God’s dynamic grace already working throughout God’s creation. It was divinely deployed through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ into our messed up, bloody, broken world. God the Holy Spirit gives, breathes, and enlivens this grace around, in, and through every human being responsive enough receive it.
So here we may safely and smugly sit, we may think, having received our portion and called ourselves Christian, whilst the crazy world around us goes to hell.
No! From a Wesleyan perspective, the grace we receive never ends with us any more than it begins with us. This same grace propels us into all the places where God’s miracle of redemption is most needed. The answer to evil in the world is incarnational evangelism, the good news of Jesus Christ with skin on it, ours included.
Persons redeemed by and filled with the grace and love of Jesus Christ do not murder, mass murder, terrorize, backstab, power grab, sow corruption, exploit, abuse, or otherwise undermine the wellbeing of others. Nor does a Holy Spirit filled Jesus-follower sit on her or his hands. Rather, someone filled with the grace and love of Jesus Christ pours out herself or himself in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. There is no other useful response.
How God prompts us, and what, specifically, God calls us each to do, varies from person to person. If we truly believe, we should be afraid only of what it would mean not to follow that call. “I will fear no evil, for thou art with me,” is the mantra of the Lord’s flock. Not only this, but the Apostle Paul admonishes Jesus-followers not to be “overcome with evil,” but to “overcome evil with good.” Quite logically, in this world this can only be accomplished (1) through the power of God working “with skin on,” and (2) by actually doing something.
The good news is, what we are supposed to do is clear as a bell. “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them all that I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always” (Matt 28:19-20).
Through Spirit-led and empowered evangelism, we are compelled to announce, extend, and live incarnationally the gospel of Jesus Christ, God’s perfect response to human sinfulness, and the quintessential antidote to evil.