Monday, September 7, 2009

Comfortable Darkness

About a year ago the wife and I took a tour of Israel. One of the things that really hit us hard was the spiritual lostness we encountered throughout the country. Whether it was the Jews still openly putting their faith in symbols or people worshiping relics, even when filled with awe and wonder at many sites there was often revulsion at the gross idolatry.

But the worst feelings came when we ventured into muslim-controlled areas of Jerusalem. Both of us had spent time in muslim countries before, and we felt the same sense of extreme darkness in Israel as we had previously. There's just something about being immersed such utter lostness, such open, unapologetic rebellion against God, it's an oppressive type of spiritual warfare you can feel constantly pressing on you. It's a really tough thing to describe, just a non-stop loathing of God and his people that continually wears on you, as if it's physically assaulting you. The constant heartbreak for those utterly trapped in evil, compassion mixed with despair, continually praying for many that surround you and are totally lost in darkness, it's downright exhausting.

One night at dinner we were discussing this with a few people, about how thoroughly our hearts were breaking for the muslims who were so thoroughly lost. One of the women made a really insightful observation that honestly stung quite a bit. I wish I could remember the exact quote, but it was roughly "the darkness we're not used to always seems darker than the darkness we're familiar with". Ouch.

Here's the thing. Being surrounded by muslims, seeing them openly mock Jesus, knowing their passionate hatred for God's truth, it was easy to be moved to compassion and anger and prayer. They are so utterly, obviously lost in sin. But how many people am I surrounded by every day who are every bit as lost? Why is it that being surrounded by muslims moves me to tears for their rebellious plight, yet I can see hundreds of people every day who are just as desperately rebellious and feel next to nothing? Is it just because their particular rebellions - materialism, humanism, practical atheism, whatever - are somehow less serious? Are their sins somehow less offensive to God, more acceptable and less severe?

Or is it just that I'm more comfortable with this type of sin? Is it that I've been immersed in this type of rebellion against God for my whole life, so it just seems natural and I barely take notice of it? I can very quickly get worked up about muslims despising Christ's work, but my neighbors who live as if there's no God, somehow that doesn't seem to bother me. The darkness around me every day is every bit as dark, but apparently it's just something I've gotten used to. I may even regard it as a more respectable type of sin, a way of hating God that somehow doesn't offend me or break my heart.

I say this to my own shame. What I want now is for my spirit to be provoked within me by all manner of sin, and not just by strange idols. To be so consumed by a passion for God that all rebellion, all sin, is clearly seen for what it is. To have my heart break for lost neighbors and friends and family. To see beyond the cultural issues that make muslim and hindu and buddhist and animist sin so obvious, yet make Western-style humanistic atheistic materialism seem not so bad. To see and proclaim the gospel as the solution to all this sin, no matter what form the idolatry takes. My neighbors are no less lost than the most virulent Christian-hating persecutor, and both need Jesus and the truth of the gospel more than anything. May I see that every day and live in light of that truth.

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