A few years ago a family in our church was robbed at gunpoint. Three armed man confronted the husband in his own garage. The gunmen entered the home and made the family sit down as they rummaged through the house taking anything of value. Thankfully they left the family physically unharmed as they made off with their car – packed full with stolen goods. What are we to think as Christians? Where was God? Doesn’t God protect his people? Should we think about immigrating? Why doesn’t God just vapourise all criminals? Should we remain positive about the future of South Africa? Here are a couple of thoughts I shared with the church:
1. God is in control
There are so many passages in the Bible that teach this central and crucial truth. For example, Ephesians 1:11 says, “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will”. According to the Bible nothing happens outside the sovereign will of God, including crime and calamity.
First century crime
Towards the end of 1st Century Christians in the Roman Empire were facing serious security risks. Crimes against them was officially sanctioned crime by the Roman Empire. The State took their possessions, confiscated their houses, threw them in prison and even murdered them as sport. God gave the Apostle John a vision recorded in the book of Revelation chapter 4. It was a vision of the Lord sitting on the throne over all the universe with all things under his sovereign, majestic, ultimate, never-ending control. And because everything is under God’s Sovereign control that Paul can write in Romans 8:28 that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” God was on his throne even on the night of our church member’s robbery.
2. Crime is a reality in a fallen, sinful world
M. Scott Peck’s first line in his classic The Road Less Travelled says simply, “Life is difficult.” He says that once we accept that central truth, we learn how to cope with life better. We will stop expecting life to be easy and instead we realise life is all about coping with difficulties. He has a good point because that’s what the Bible says. We live outside Eden. Sin, death and crime are realities. First crime is recorded in Genesis 3 when humans rebelled against their creator; it was a crime against God. As a result we live in a fallen world, our relationship with God is messed up and our relationships with others people are strained, some times even leading to murder. There is no escaping sin or crime. You could move to another country and you’ll find crime there waiting for you. The real reason for crime is not lack of money, or lack of education, or a lack of entertainment*, but because human beings have rebelled against God and now serve themselves as gods. Life is indeed difficult. The Times of London was having a debate on the subject, “What’s wrong with the world?” G.K. Chesterton famously responded in the shortest essay submitted: “Dear Sir: Regarding your article ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ I am. Yours truly, G.K. Chesterton.”
3. Sinful people directly and indirectly create crime
So we live in a fallen world that rejects God. Sin increase and escalates. We are ourselves sinners and therefore we, but by the grace of God, are prone to crime. Often in the Bible we see another aspect of sin’s influence and that is the influence of our sin on others. Amnon raped his half-sister and this crime was partly due partly to his father’s poor example and parenting skills. Sinful people in a fallen world directly and indirectly produce criminals. Ask the gang leaders on the cape flats.
4. Governments are God’s Servants to keep order
During Old Testament times provisions were made in the law for leaders to punish crime. God made sure that the punishment always fitted the crime, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. In the New Testament, God tells us that one of the main functions of human government is to keep order, to reward good and punish evil. Romans 13 says, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” (v1-2) The government, police force and judicial systems is ordained by God to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. You may argue that the government does not always do its job – and you’re probably be right. But that’s why we as Christians must be praying for those in authorities, including the police force. Perhaps you still argue that there is no way our government is “established by God”. You may be surprised to know that the Roman government at the time that the letter of Romans was written was 100 times worse than our government today. Yet Paul called them God’s servant to keep order**.
5. Christians are not to seek revenge because judgment is God’s
Christians are not to take revenge into their own hands, or to retaliate, or to go out to avenge themselves or others. It is for the government to meet out the appropriate punishment, fine or prison term. Romans 12:19 says “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. “ We are not to be like the world which always repays evil with evil. We leave room for God’s wrath. God will leave no criminal unpunished. We are to be counter –cultural because God was counter-culture to us and didn’t give us what we deserve. God says to his people, “You don’t worry about revenge. Even though sometimes crime may go unpunished now, nothing will escape the great trial that is to come on Judgment day. There will be no loop holes, extenuating circumstances, delays, lack of evidence, escapes or clever defences; only pure, white-hot justice.’ I tremble when I read God’s words for rebels (and criminals) in Isaiah 37:28, “I know where you live..”
6. We are all criminals
Hey, hold a minute, I’m not a criminal! Yes, you are. God says you are a criminal. You have committed crimes against God: Listen to what Romans 3 says about you, “There is no–one righteous, not even one; there is no–one who understands, no–one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no–one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves…Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood….” (v10-14) We have all committed crimes against God. The Bible says all criminals will be judged and that means us too. That’s why we fling ourselves on to the mercy of God demonstrated in Jesus. Jesus died a criminal’s death, so that we don’t have to. He died for our crimes against God, so we don’t have to face God’s judgment.
7. God is our Ultimate Protector, not ADT
A delightful story is told in the Old Testament in 2 Kings 6. The king of Aram was setting ambushes for the Israelite army, but the prophet Elisha always knew the location, so the Israelite army always escaped. the king of Aram decided to remove Elisha permanently. The entire Aramean army found Elisha and surrounded him and his young servant. By this stage the young servant was despairing. “Oh, my lord, what shall we do?” the servant asked. “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And Elisha prayed, “O LORD, open his eyes so that he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all round Elisha. Surrounding us are the angels of God and they are able to deliver in all sorts of ways. Many times God doesn’t deliver us in the way we think he should. God is our ultimate protector and we can entrust ourselves to him. Of course it’s wise to lock your doors at night and have burglar-bars installed as God has given us common sense. But remember that our ultimate security is in God.
8. In Heaven there will be no crime
Do you long to sleep with door unlocked or to walk in the inner city at 1 am? Do you long for an end to rape, murder, child pornography and abortion? Do you long to feel totally secure 24-7? If you’re a Christian, the time you long for is coming with the dawn of the New Heavens and the New Earth.
* Although these factors may aid our rebellious human hearts in promoting a more criminal lifestyle.
** I’m constantly taken aback by the amount of Christians complaining and grumbling on public platforms about our government. One may surely criticize and even speak again your government if needs be, but a constant grumbling and moaning seems to me a lack of faith in the sovereignty of God who put the government – and the president – in power in the first place.