Congregation Beth-Israel is a Jewish synagogue in Colleyville, thirty minutes west of my home in Dallas. Saturday morning, the rabbi and three others were taken hostage. Late that evening, FBI agents cleared the building and rescued the hostages. The attacker was killed during the operation.
Yesterday, the FBI identified the suspect, a forty-four-year-old British national named Malik Faisal Akram. His family stated that he was “suffering from mental health issues” but added that they “apologize wholeheartedly” and condemned his action. “There was nothing we could have said to him or done that would have convinced him to surrender,” they said in a statement.
It was surreal to watch the national news cover an event so close to my home. All day, I prayed for God to protect the hostages and bring their attacker safely to justice. If he had surrendered, the Lord would have been able to answer both of my prayers. The attacker apparently did not, so God could not.
This is the nature of free will. God created us to love him and our neighbor (Matthew 22:37–39). However, love requires freedom to choose not to love. When we misuse our freedom to harm others and ourselves, God allows us the consequences of our decisions.
One of the most important articles I have read in years demonstrates the relevance of this fact to our secularized culture today.
“America is falling apart at the seams”
David Brooks has been writing for the New York Times since 2003. Last week, he published an article titled “America Is Falling Apart at the Seams.” It profiles a culture in crisis.
Brooks reports that reckless driving is rising, the number of altercations on airplanes is exploding, the murder rate in cities is surging, drug overdoses are increasing, Americans are drinking more, and nurses say patients are becoming more abusive.
Teachers are facing a rising tide of disruptive student behavior; drug deaths have risen continuously for twenty years but shot up especially during the pandemic. The FBI states that hate crimes have surged to the highest level in twelve years. Meanwhile, giving to charity is steadily declining both to religious and secular causes.
Brooks sees “a long-term loss of solidarity, a long-term rise in estrangement and hostility” and adds, “This is what it feels like to live in a society that is dissolving from the bottom up as much as from the top down.”
“I just know the situation is dire”
Brooks asks what is going on, then answers: “I don’t know. I also don’t know what’s causing the high rates of depression, suicide, and loneliness that dogged Americans even before the pandemic and that are the sad flip side of all the hostility and recklessness I’ve just described.”
He notes that church membership has fallen below 50 percent for the first time in US history and cites a report that our nation has the world’s highest rate of children living in single-parent households. He also cites a Washington Post headline, “America Is a Nation of Narcissists, According to Two New Studies.”
Then he adds: “There must also be some spiritual or moral problem at the core of this. Over the past several years, and over a wide range of different behaviors, Americans have been acting in fewer pro-social and relational ways and in more antisocial and self-destructive ways. But why?”
Brooks concludes his article: “As a columnist, I’m supposed to have some answers. But I just don’t right now. I just know the situation is dire.”
Are we experiencing God’s permissive judgment?
My initial response was to ask: What would you expect in a culture that has been rejecting biblical truth and morality for decades?
- 79 percent of Americans say “people can believe whatever they want, as long as those beliefs don’t affect society.” Only 35 percent believe moral truth is objective and absolute.
- 69 percent say any kind of sexual expression between two consenting adults is acceptable.
- In 2004, 60 percent of Americans opposed same-sex marriage. Fifteen years later, 61 percent support it.
- The fastest-growing religious demographic in America is those who have no religious affiliation.
God cannot lead those who will not follow or give what we will not receive. Nor can a holy Father bless that which harms his children.
It is clear to me that, as was apparently true with the Colleyville hostage-taker, our culture is in the permissive phase of divine judgment where God allows us the consequences of our decisions. Romans 1 offers an example: “God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves” (v. 26). Paul adds: “Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (v. 28).
The results read like Brooks’ article: “They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless” (vv. 29–31).
If we still refuse to repent, we will experience God’s punitive judgment whereby he initiates punishment for sin. The Exodus, as well as the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests of Israel, are biblical examples. The prophet warns us: “The nation and kingdom that will not serve [God] shall perish” (Isaiah 60:12).
“Who has God, lacks nothing”
Tomorrow we will focus on ways to respond with compassionate courage and truthful grace. For today, let’s close by asking whether we are part of the problem or part of the solution.
Would you ask the Spirit to reveal to you any areas of your life where you are experiencing the permissive judgment of God? Are you sheltering any unconfessed sin or unyielded obedience? Are you experiencing less than God’s best because you are giving him less than your best?
St. Teresa of Avila encouraged us: “Let nothing frighten you. Who has God, lacks nothing. God alone is enough.”
Every person who has trusted Jesus as Lord “has God.”
How fully does he have you today?