From Strong to Virtuous: Shifting My Identity as an Army Leader to a Submissive Wife

This is a guest post written by my lovely and beautiful wife, Olivia Golding:

Ephesians 5:22-24 says: “Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”

It’s been almost a year since I’ve been in my role as a sweet ol’ church gal who’s known as the pastor’s wife. It also has been about a year since the idea of being a submissive wife has been either discussed, pondered upon, or even questioned- more often than ever. Some think it’s a given that I am submissive to my husband. Others think it’s the other way around- knowing my background. Well, let’s just say- both point toward the wrong direction. What’s with my background? I’m glad you asked. I met my husband while I was a higher ranking cadet. Since the beginning of time, you can say that I was “superior” to him in what was called “the man’s Army.” While it did not affect our relationship directly, it groomed the way I developed my ways of thinking in many ways deeper than I noticed. 

Let’s take a look at my past for a moment. I was born into a family where my dad violently abused my mom, and not only that, he was the boss. Dinner was served to him first, nobody could get seconds until he got his, and he was the head of our household. I grew up thinking that was normal, however, I did not want that type of life for my future. So I grew up believing that having control or power over my spouse was the only way to happiness. Now fast forward to college- a scrawny little girl huffing and puffing before the physical training even started. I joined Army ROTC telling myself I wanted to be strong enough to fight back unlike my mom. That was the start of my “feminist” desire. 

I wanted to be strong. Not any kind of strong, but strong like men.

So I worked on my physical, mental, and tactical fitness as if it was on me to make or break the stigma of being  a woman. Every drop of sweat whispered to me this quote: “Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed. If I fail, no one will say, ‘She doesn’t have what it takes’; They will say, ‘Women don’t have what it takes.” 

My first step began with qualifying to attend the U.S. Army Airborne School. I remember receiving my blood wings as a paratrooper thinking anything was possible at this point. I went on to compete in marathons with a 50 lb ruck sack because men always asked if I needed them to carry my ruck sack during trainings. Everyone assumed I was weak- that I could not bear the weight of my rank, or even the uniform. Oh boy there was fire- and it fueled me to beat the guys- but for the wrong reasons. I wanted to prove these people wrong- that a girl like me could be just as good as a guy twice my size. And here I was, 4 years later, “the boss” of 120 some cadets- male and female. 4 years later, I found my competition to be men, and no longer women. Then I met my husband (God has great timing). 

I commissioned into the real Army and began leading real men (and women) into real-life training and deployment. While I may have accomplished my earthly, feministic goals- I was nowhere near happy, nor felt accomplished. So much of society today demands that women need to prove their value and strength. To who? For what? How’s that supposed to prevent my children from experiencing war? Accidents? Depression? The evils in the world that we actually need strength to fight against?

I don’t know about you, but I think I’ve “ruled” over many men in so many ways- and it did not affect an ounce of my self-worth or value. The ‘title’ of being the first or second female to be this or that in a “man’s Army” dissipated quicker than vapor. In fact, it was quite disheartening and humiliating to see these mens’ pride get crushed as I had to carry out disciplinary actions, teach men how to kill the enemy, or even shoot a weapon. None of it matters today, and it hasn’t even been 10 years.

I’m a wife and a mother- and both will matter 10, 50, 100, or even generations from today. Nothing. NOTHING fulfills my soul like loving, caring for, and encouraging my husband and my children. Step into a cemetery. How many tombstones do you see with their highest accomplishment engraved on them? Instead, you see who they were married to, who their children or parents were. People like to admit that family is everything. But how many of them actually mean it? My husband deserves my respect, and for him was why I was created (after God). Eve was created to help Adam, not to be a rival of Adam. Think about it– what bride thinks about scoring up to her husband while staring into his eyes at the altar? 

Looking back, I was starving of ego, control, and pride more each day- permanently clenching my jaw. I wrestled with Ephesians 5:22 because my career depended on it. My marriage depended on it. My faith depended on it. Everything I did, I was underestimated because of my gender. Not only that, I thought being a submissive wife meant I had to be like my mom. Little did I see the whole picture of marriage- between a loving husband and a submissive wife. You can assume that I was one hard woman to bend. I thought submitting meant that I had no choice but to agree with whatever Rob says. Whatever decision he wants to make- that I need to follow. But you see, there’s so much more to submission than what our little brains suggest. 

It’s about trust. 

It’s about love. 

It’s about faith.

It’s not about control, or who’s boss. You see, Eve ate the apple because she wanted to be like God. Centuries later, here we are ladies, trying to be like men.  God designed the man to love his wife as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25). Do you know what that means? That means husbands should love their wives regardless of their sassy attitude, rolling their eyes for not having superpowers like mind-reading, gossiping  behind their back, and let’s not forget- P M S. 

Please hear me on this one- you aren’t always easy to love. Nobody is. But God commands your husband specifically to love you anyway. That is not easy. But a faithful man will choose to love you through it all- and if that does not fix your eyes on the faithfulness between him and God- He with you-to trust your husband because you trust God, we got a problem.

My husband told me since our very first date that he cared about my holiness more than my happiness. The selfish part of me was discouraged- because I wanted my husband to make me happy. I struggled because I wanted my husband to support me in all that I ever desired. Pursue me endlessly so one day he can read my mind. I mean, what was I thinking?! 

My goodness, co-dependence is the most disgusting poison my soul ever drank. 

John Piper wonderfully put it:

“It is the disposition to follow a husband’s authority and an inclination to yield to his leadership. It is an attitude that says, “I delight for you to take the initiative in our family. I am glad when you take responsibility for things and lead with love. I don’t flourish when you are passive and I have to make sure the family works.” But the attitude of Christian submission also says, “It grieves me when you venture into sinful acts and want to take me with you. You know I can’t do that. I have no desire to resist you. On the contrary, I flourish most when I can respond creatively and joyfully to your lead; but I can’t follow you into sin, as much as I love to honor your leadership in our marriage. Christ is my King.”

Ladies, Ephesians 5 isn’t saying husbands can simply line-item veto God’s Word in favor of what they want to do. It’s about complementing your husband. A synonym to this word is harmony- God created Eve out of Adam so that the two will be in harmony, helping one another for God’s glory (not the husband’s). There are certain parameters when it comes to submitting to your husband- if he’s telling you to stay home and don’t make any friends, it’s clearly not in line with God’s word. One of many verses that tell us (men and women) is to fellowship: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” – Matthew 18:20. This is why Proverbs 31 lays out the image of a virtuous woman. An honorable woman with a soul that’s squeaky clean. A virtuous woman can discern right from wrong- so no, she will not submit in a way that makes her less than honorable. 

You see, God commands husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Does he not ask all of us to love one another, consider each other more significant than ourselves- as Christ did? So why is it that we keep overlooking the fact that husbands are also serving their wives in ways that complement the marriage by loving them as Christ loved the church? Does your husband not put you above his own desires when he accepts his role to protect you? Loves you all over again after you’ve nagged him about the dishes or for not reading your mind correctly? You see, the way husbands serve their wives, and wives serve husbands is different, yet they both are in love. In fact, most women I know do not feel loved because their husbands let them wear the pants. As a matter of fact, the ones who ‘wear the pants’ seem pretty unsatiated year after year. Why? Most women feel loved when they feel protected, cared for, and accepted by their husbands. That’s what Jesus did for the church- and laid His life down to save the church (us). Most men, on the other hand, feel loved when they feel affirmed as a man, in their identity as the husband– not when or because their wives are their bodyguards.

Now, if you’re a woman of faith and your husband is not- this verse is still for you. What better way to woo your husband toward faith than showing him the love Jesus has given you despite his unbelief? To show him unconditional love that surpasses his understanding and expectations in moments when he’s expected to sleep on the couch. To serve him by treating him with respect in ways he hasn’t experienced before because of the absence of Godly figures in his life. The word ‘submit’ means to literally be under, not less, not weak, but under to be a helper in a compatible way. It means not invalidating him, especially in front of others. It means trusting his decision as a leader, while feeling empowered to give your own point of view. And isn’t this what we should all do with one another? 

Ephesians 5 isn’t the only verse that we wrestle with- it’s practically the entire Bible! What other verses do you struggle with? There are many verses of the Bible I still struggle with, and I just might struggle with them for as long as I’m living. But I also accept that we’re sinful and struggle with our tendencies to be selfish. That doesn’t mean faith ends with doubt. But faith is not something created within us- we are called to contend for the faith He has given us: “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude: 3-4). So ladies, let’s unclench our jaws, relax our fists, embrace your femininity and know that He loves you. You are LOVED. You do NOT need to spend every dying breath trying to validate or prove yourself- you are the daughter of the Creator of this entire Universe. I already know that I can be strong- physically, mentally, spiritually, and even tactically. But I am most vulnerable when I am strong because I have a tendency to sin. I have a tendency to think all of those achievements were based on my own merit and efforts, which can crumble in an instant gulp of shame. So no, being strong isn’t the stairway to happiness, worth, or love. Let’s not worry about being a strong woman or a boss mom, but rather a virtuous woman who is so strong in her faith and grounded in her identity as a daughter of the King- that no status or identity on this Earth can waste her time away from the Lord. 


Why You Are Dissatisfied with Christianity

Christ tells His followers that they will have abundant life now. Do they? Many people today say that Christianity is a sour religion. It poisons our ability to enjoy life because it requires us to focus on ugly topics like death and sin. “We no longer do funerals,” they say. “We do celebrations of life. We no longer speak of sin. We talk about sadness and untapped potential. Most importantly, we no longer talk about God and what He wants, we talk about us and what we want. Living the Christian life is no different than living a life of poverty. It’s a failure to have the things in life that make us happy.” The sad reality is that these things are often said and thought not just by atheists, but by people who claim to be Christians.

So goes the spirit of the age. But is it true? Does Christianity really deprive us of the good and replace it with the sad? One look upon the faces of many Christians might indicate that this is the case!

Well, of course, I would argue that Christianity does not make one sad but makes one happy. The question isn’t really about what Christianity claims. The question is why it often doesn’t seem to do what it says it does. Why do so many Christians seem to be lacking in the abundant life department?

The problem in these cases isn’t Christianity. It is the Christian. Christianity is a fascinating religion. It does not allow for half-hearted adherents. The world can be a daunting place and it proves—time and time again—to tear away those people who only reluctantly and bashfully cling to Christ. Many other religions maintain their people even though the people do not really believe what they claim to believe. The Jewish people in the Old Testament were an infamous case in point. They so frequently wore all the badges of Jewishness but so often did not really love God. They expressed God with tongue and denied Him in heart.

You may be surprised to know that the prophetical section of the Bible is the largest section (even larger than Moses’s Pentateuch and the entire New Testament). Even more surprising is the fact that the majority of the prophets’ message was negative. The warning of God to the Jewish nation from the pen of the prophet was this continually: “this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me” (Jeremiah 29:13). No other god, party, or person requires the wholehearted devotion that God requires. A politician is over the moon if you’d just vote for him and send him some money now and then. He couldn’t care less if you didn’t really care about his agenda. He just wants your vote. Such is the case with other religions—show up to the service, give some of your money, and follow the rules. These are the ingredients for a faithful non-Christian.

Jesus teaches the exact opposite…

Read more here: The Fight of Faith

The Apostle Paul’s Evangelism Problem

The following is part of an article I wrote for Westminster Magazine. Read the full piece there.

The great Apostle Paul had an evangelism problem. Evidently it was serious enough that he asked the Ephesians to pray for him. He asked them to pray that he would be able to, “with boldness make known the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:19b, my translation). In the next verse he repeats this prayer request saying, “so that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians 6:20b, LSB). As I sat at my desk reading this passage during my morning devotion, tears came to my eyes as I heard Paul—the legendary mountain of a Christian man—ask with great humility that his flock would pray that he is given the boldness to share the gospel the way that he should. One can almost see his eyes meet the floor as he makes this request. “I am not as bold as I ought to be in sharing the gospel.” A statement thought and uttered by every honest Christian in America today and, evidently, one on the mind of the Apostle Paul himself.

   This request is so jarring because we know Paul as the exemplar of radical Christian testimony. He is the one who regularly speaks with “boldness” (παρρησία, parresia both in its noun and verbal form as seen in 1 Thess 2:2; Acts 9:27; 13:46; 19:8; 26:26). He stands before the king with his own death in the balance and proclaims, “I am speaking true and rational words. For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly” (Acts 26:25b-26a). For me, Paul’s evangelism functions like Rosaria Butterfield’s hospitality—it makes me feel like (or, reveals to me that I am) a spiritual infant.

   But God reminds us in His word that the biblical authors are mere mortals. Post-conversion Paul was not perfect (cf. Romans 7:15, 24). He needed prayer to help him share the gospel as he ought. Perhaps this provided a grain of truth to the accusation that “his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account” (2 Corinthians 10:10b). On the one hand, Paul seems to refute this accusation in word (2 Corinthians 10:11) and deed (verses noted above). On the other, he seems to say he could use a boost in the boldness department.

   Are you as bold as you ought to be in sharing the gospel? Odds are, the list of the people who read these words is identical to the list of people who would answer that question in the negative. Who among us does verbal justice to the weightiness of the gospel? Who is as bold as they ought to be (Ephesians 6:20)? Earth-shatteringly for me, Paul seems to stand shoulder to shoulder with us and answer that question, “Not I.”

   What difference does it make in your evangelism to know that Paul could commiserate with us over our collective failure to share the gospel as we ought? To be sure, he would put us all to shame if we were to (sinfully) compare our evangelism records. But, even he would say he needs to improve, as we all do. That fact should change something in us. It should show us that there is no such thing as a perfect evangelist. There isn’t a person who can claim a perfect record of gospel-boldness. No one speaks of Christ as often or as boldly as they should—not even the Apostle Paul. Are you weak in evangelism? You’re in good company. We all are.

Read the rest at Westminster Magazine.

The Problem With Perfection

I recently wrote this article for Westminster Theological Seminary Magazine.

At the end of the show “The Good Place” (spoiler alert), everyone is in heaven and blissfully happy. There is just one problem—heaven is eternal. As it turns out, eternal perfection has its downsides. Foremost among them is boredom. Once a person experiences every pleasure (eternal) life has to offer, he begins to become numb to its effect. What was once exhilarating becomes fun, then becomes amusing, and then becomes a pastime, and then becomes boring, once enough trips around the marry-go-round are made. Death, ironically enough, was the final desire of the characters in eternal bliss since it at least alleviated the boredom.
One of the most powerful experiences of pleasure in the world is sexual gratification. That is why its draw has the power to ensnare the strongest and most affluent of men and crush them under its weight (e.g. Jeffrey Epstein). However, even this pleasure has its limits and once the sexual procedure is endured enough times, it becomes systematic life-support—it begins to merely keep a person going, not because it’s “fun” anymore, but because it’s necessary. The exhilarating becomes boring routine. Hard to imagine for those who are lightyears away from such immersion in reckless pleasure, but a hard reality for those who have been there.
We, by nature, become sensitized to stimuli. The bright light piercing the contracted pupil slowly becomes normal when enough time passes. The intense drug-induced high flooding the brain soon becomes a trickle of normalcy intermingled with the pain of sobriety. The joy of Christian fellowship becomes mundane and even burdensome when the clock strikes “too late” and sleep slides into the superlative. We, by definition, are creatures hardwired for dissatisfaction. How much money, for example, does it take to make a man happy? The richest man of his age, John D. Rockefeller, was reputed to answer this question (perhaps speaking more as a pedagogue than an interlocutor) thusly, “Just one more dollar.”
The question of the T.V. show is not a new one—is eternal bliss possible given our creaturely proclivity toward complacency and dissatisfaction? Once we experience enough pure happiness, does it ever get boring? In other words, is eternal life simply floating on clouds playing little harps with fat, winged babies?
We would do well to consider the thing toward which our desires point. If it is true that the fulfillment of our earthly desires will ultimately result in boredom and the desire for death (which, I argue, it will), perhaps we should re-consider the validity of our desires. If the fulfillment of our desires only results in momentary happiness followed by certain boredom which will result in no other option other than the desire to die, why not cut in line? Indeed, this is the philosophy of some of the most consistent atheists. David Benatar, for example, argues in his book Better Never to Have Been that the most logical and caring thing we can do as humans is to stop having children so that humanity will slowly go extinct. Without question the following is true: To be alive is to suffer; to have never been born is to not suffer. If even eternal life ends with the desire to cease to exist, why endure the necessary suffering to get to the point from whence you began—nonexistence? The desire to live forever, for the atheist, is the desire of Sisyphus; it will be all travail and no prevail. The proverbial ball of unmet desires will always roll downhill, until it can roll no more. None will ever say, “Finally I have arrived at perfect contentment” because discontentment is sure to follow. That “arrival” will always necessitate one more step—death. This is the wisdom of Buddhism. Without God, the absence of emotion is the best one can hope for. Happiness is, by definition, fleeting.
“The desire to live forever, for the atheist, is the desire of Sisyphus; it will be all travail and no prevail.”
But there is another option. The possibility that a perfectly infinite, all-loving Being exists who created mankind for Himself. If this is indeed the case, living for eternity would not entail living for our finite human desires, but living for His eternal ones. Therefore—if this were the case—eternal life would not become boring because the experiences humans would have would be those of something infinite. That is, there would be no point at which every pleasure had been experienced because pleasure—the experience of the perfect Being—would be inexhaustible. Since the infinite Being is indeed infinite, the experience of Him must necessarily be infinite as well. Boredom, therefore, would be impossible since there would never be a moment when a person would be constrained to say, “I’ve done this before.” On the other hand, it is perfectly reasonable to think that the person could say, with each new day, no, each new second, “This is the greatest moment of my life.” It would be like experiencing the most pleasurable experience every moment because each experience would be as new as the last.
This, of course, is the Christian position. God is infinite love and goodness and He has not created us to make ourselves happy but has made us to glorify Him. Therefore, when a human being glorifies Him (which, generally speaking, simply means that the person enjoys Him) that person is experiencing something higher than the highest earthly pleasure. He experiences earthly pleasure in the moment of enjoying God to be sure. His brain produces serotonin and dopamine like it does when drugs or sex are used. But the enjoyment of God is on an elevated plain when compared to earthly pleasure. It is so elevated, in fact, that the experience is in an altogether distinct category—that of joy. To be truly joyful, rather than merely happy, is only possible through an intimate love-bond with the eternal and infinite God who is love Himself. Everything short of this experience produces happiness (if we’re lucky) that eventually wanes into boredom like a chemical high. But when we do experience this, we feel an eternal weight of glory—joy without diminishment in strength or duration.
If this is all true (and I think it is) then we would do well to reconsider how we live our lives now. If earthly pleasures inevitably trend toward boredom (or worse, death) and godly pleasures always increase in potency, does it not make clear, sober sense to pursue the latter rather than the former? If this drink will get you high for an hour, and that one will cause springs of eternal life to well up in your soul forever, the drink menu is easy to navigate. No one bought a cocktail named, “Guaranteed Hangover.” The good news is the drinks in our hands are all refundable, if we would simply try a new watering hole. To mix my metaphors, we must ask ourselves, “Is the path my life is on moving toward a happy ending? If not, why not try a different trail?”

Crisis Upon Crisis: Becoming Desensitized to the World

This is a post I wrote for Westminster Magazine:

As a brand-new pastor, some things surprise me. Chief among them is the stride in which senior pastors take bad news. I’m in an older congregation, and news regarding physical health in an age of COVID is sometimes bleak and usually disheartening. That’s not to say everyone is dying all the time, but there is plenty of bad news to go around, more than once. Indeed, the bad news seems to be compounded daily. As I was getting used to my new role as solo pastor and watching the previous solo pastor say his goodbyes, I noticed that he would react to bad news like a coach watching the opposing team score a goal. There was a momentary wince and frown, but it was always short-lived. Sometimes it was to be quickly followed by a question or topic completely unrelated. 

       Perhaps it’s my relative youth or plain ignorance, but I expected a pastor to grieve in dust and ashes when he finds out one of his congregant’s siblings passed away. I thought he would weep as Jesus did at Lazarus’s tomb. I thought he would call an emergency prayer meeting. But he’s asking me about my plan for next week’s service instead. 

       Some pastors, it seems to me, get so much bad news they become like soldiers pinned down under enemy fire. If a bullet zinged past your head right now, you’d justifiably freak out. But if you had been fighting a war for years and bullets flew by your head like flies on the freeway, you would, sooner or later, and probably sooner rather than later, learn to react much more calmly. When the enemy’s onslaught is constant, we learn to adjust our adrenal response. To fail to do so it to ensure adrenal fatigue. I’ve learned that in this call specifically, I just can’t wail and mourn every time something bad happens to someone. If I did, I’d never write a sermon. Ironically, to be in a continual state of mourning and empathy is to fail to help those who are mourning themselves. People who mourn need people who don’t bring them what they need. We can’t all be crying all the time. 

Read more here:

The People Problem

It’s shocking to go online and see the outrage, not because there aren’t outrageous things going on (there are) but because everyone seems to know who to blame. Everyone is outraged at everyone (except for themselves). With all of this self-confidence, it’s bizarre that we have these huge problems (let alone any problems at all). People seem to be pretty sure about what to do.

After all, we’ve just figured out that “black lives matter” and we’ve come to the stunning realization that “all lives matter.” It’s a shame that it took the US over 200 years to figure out “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Oh, wait. But, at least we now know that “you shall not murder.” Wait again. 

Why do we feel the need to shout the obvious? Does anyone think life is worthless? Oh, wait: “If a mother can kill her own child – what is left for me to kill you and you to kill me – there is nothing between” (Mother Theresa). I’m not saying abortion is the cause of all our recent problems (though, it sounds like Mother Theresa might). But, I am saying that we’ve made this bed. We do bad things and blame others. When bad things happen in this country, it’s always “their” fault. Is this surprising? Is this new? No, this is the human condition. We are creatures of blame shifting. The very first sin in the history of the universe was immediately followed by blame shifting: “’Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’ The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate’” (Genesis 3:11–12).

Clearly, we’ve lost the path but we’ve lost it time and again before. Slavery used to be legal in this country. Then it was abolished. Racial segregation was thought to be a suitable middle ground, then it was revealed to be evil. The denigration of women to the level of second-class citizens was once justified, now the thought is reprehensible. Time and time again, this country has grown in its understanding of what its declaration of independence claimed – “all men are created equal.” 

However, it seems that this narrative has begun to shift. So much so that we need to remind people that certain types of lives matter. First, we reminded people that black lives matter (not the slogan, but the reality during slavery). Then we reminded people that female lives matter. More recently, we reminded people that baby lives matter. But most recently, we’ve been telling people that all lives matter. Have we forgotten the lessons of our forbearers? Do we really not know that female, black, white, cop, and unborn lives matter? In the age of information, are we this uneducated?

I say, again, no. We know. We all know this deep down. The mother getting her child vacuumed out of her knows she’s committing murder. The cop with his knee on the neck of a helpless man knows he’s committing murder. The man at home beating his wife knows that he is “worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8). These are all sins. These are all actively justified by people in our country. Just like Adam, the people who commit these atrocities say, “she did it!” If I am committing a sin in writing this (in pride or anger) I will say, “It’s the fault of the people I’m writing about!” We’re all sinners. 

This can get rather confusing. Fortunately, there’s a red-thread that runs the entire length of not only this current conversation, but the current of history. Each and every person involved in this situation, whether they are monstrous authority figures with knees on necks, or oppressed persons with necks under knees, has a virus. But, we don’t like to admit it; viruses scare us. We feel a lot better when our community is cathartic and it’s the other that is contaminated. The sad news is that the contagion isn’t localized; it’s universal. Like smoke and fire – see a person, see the virus. Racism (whether individual or systemic) isn’t the problem. Racism doesn’t grow legs and chase after people like the boogey man. People do. Privilege isn’t the problem. The luck of the draw doesn’t steal from some to give to others. Privilege isn’t a person. To state the obvious, people are. 

The problem in our country isn’t some system or failure to understand reality. We all know what’s going on, and the system doesn’t force cops to kill innocent people. Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that every cop in the US is a saint who has never had a racist thought in his or her life. Now, let’s assume that the system is incredibly racist and that systemic racism is worse than the mightiest neo-Marxist ever imagined. If both of those things are true, would anyone ever die from police brutality? Only if systemic racism could hold a gun. The system doesn’t kill people, people do. 

As you read this (and as I write it) we are all thinking of guilty people. But, none of us are thinking of the one person we have the most control over who happens to be guilty as well. We love to castigate in this country. It feels so American to say, “those flaming liberals” or “those greedy conservatives” rather than “this prideful heart” or “these selfish thoughts.” 

If you belong to a portion of society that struggles with a certain issue more than others, is the guilt somewhere out there? If you’re white and you’re amongst racists, is the problem really the blacks (or the liberals who “invent racism”)? If you’re black and the problem is violent crime, is the problem really whites (or the conservatives who “invent ghettos”)? If you’re white, are you immune to justifying crime? If you’re black are you impervious to racist thoughts? The question is, is it really “just them”? 

I don’t know how to fix what’s going on. If I did, I’d know how to change people’s hearts. Unfortunately, I have a heck of a time working on my own; if my heart were a car, I’d still be trying to figure out how to keep it in-between the lines. But as I swerve along in this road called life, I see other swerving cars. The cars causing accidents aren’t easily distinguished from the ones being run into. Sure, that one swerved, like I do, but the other one veered. They break the rules differently, but they all break the rules. If we take out all the swervers, will the veerers stop veering? 

Maybe, just maybe, what we all need to do is stop pointing out the law-breaking “out there” and start repenting of the law-breaking “in here.” Am I talking to white people? No. Am I talking to black people? No. I am talking to people. 

Timothy Brindle and Shai Lynne said it this way:

“You see your primary issue, your primary problem isn’t that there are people… isn’t that there are advertisements, isn’t that there are systems out there that are making you sin, no, the problem is you.” 

Jesus had to come to fix this. No human can. We all have the virus. He doesn’t. Here’s His question: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3). Maybe if we start looking at the logs—and put down the magnifying glass searching for specks—we’ll find what we need to build something great. 

The Good, the Bad, and the Nothing In-Between

Every society since the enlightenment has entertained the notion that a utopia will follow its socio-political progress. Once the shackles of antiquated thinking have been removed, people will be free to progress into new heights of peace and prosperity. America is a unique picture of this ideal; our founders thought that allowing free people to be free would produce a just society. Though they did know, as John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other,” they believed that the American people were generally good people, and that, as such, they would flourish. More or less, they were right. Though they were acquainted with enlightenment notions of human autonomy (without relying on God), they generally understood that objective morality grounds people, and grounded people produce a stable society. Our society has typically been stable and just (relatively speaking). 

Today, our moral bedrock has been a bit rocky. Americans are more divided than ever on what is right and wrong (with the exception being slavery during the civil war). It has become difficult to point to an objective standard, like the Bible, in order to make substantive claims about good and evil. Despite this lack of a moral bedrock, ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are in use at rates that are reaching those of the civil war.

In our current cultural moment, systemic racism and LGBTQ+ issues are debated using these terms (‘good’ and ‘evil’) to classify certain approaches. If a person is against the desires of the LGBTQ+ community (like, for example, preventing religious institutions from only hiring people who agree with Biblical sexuality) they are often labeled ‘bigoted’ or even ‘evil.’ Not surprisingly, the more recent debates about racism and systemic oppression of certain groups have followed this trend. To question systemic racism is often attributed to willful ignorance, or plain racism. To discuss the moral character of the oppressed is to be a blame shifter, and therefore, ‘racist’ or ‘evil’. On the other hand, to admit that America’s sins of racism are still to be purged from its midst, is to give into the ‘narrative’, to be ‘gullible’, or to, ironically, be guilty of ‘racism’. Essentially, any dissent from a particular group’s stance on current events all but guarantees that the group being questioned will respond by labeling the questioner as evil, to one degree or another.

Since our moral bedrock has been abandoned for the floating island of personal opinion and political agenda, we are free to label those who dissent from our opinion as ‘evil’. Since we no longer need the Bible to define good and evil, we can define those who have questions about systemic racism, for example, as ‘evil’. Those who disagree are not simply misinformed, or interlocutors, or even ignorant, they are straight up evil. Like Hitler evil. 

This harsh labeling is exacerbated by our tendency to lump people into categories (ironically, this is what racists do). Americans tend to see things in black and white. One side must be to the good side, and the other the bad side. We generally don’t have a category for ‘mostly good, but with some issues,’ etc. This is most plainly seen in the President. By the account of a low-performing 3rd grader, the President has some serious foibles. But, his supporters have been known to compare him (or his treatment by his opponents) to Jesus. On the other hand, he does have some redeeming qualities (or, incontrovertibly for Christians, policies). But his opponents find it all but impossible to commend anything he does – even if it is something they would have done! We are generally unable to see people and situations with nuance. Rather, we prefer to paint with broad strokes and present one side as ‘black’ and the other as ‘white.’ Grey isn’t on the palette. 

So, to summarize at this point, we have a pliable definitions of good and evil which can be applied essentially wherever we want, and when we apply those monikers, they are done holistically. That is, we can label any position ‘evil’ and when we do so, it is not just the position, but the person who holds it, who is ‘evil’. 

Therefore, when Americans consider their own guilt we usually see it in these terms of black and white. One side, or person, must be the guilty one, and the other side is, by extension, the innocent one. The easiest way (if not the only way) to placate a guilty conscience then, is to point the finger. If we can locate guilt in the person who disagrees with us, we think that we are therefore innocent. If they are ‘evil,’ I must be ‘good.’ As our society considers what is going on in the world today, it is with a guilty conscience and a big brush that it paints. The brush is moved furiously in jet-black tones. The darker the picture that emerges at the end of the brush, the lighter the conscience of the painter. If that side is evil, my side must be good. The more I feel guilty, the louder I condemn. 

We start out by considering the cultural issues, but the inescapable guilt that we all have for being sinners in the hands of an angry God leads us to vent this guilt as rage for others. There should be, therefore, no surprise at the rage we see in the world today. People feel incredibly guilty and they vent those frustrations upon others who they deem to be the real culprits. In doing this, they psychologically and imaginarily transpose their guilt upon someone else. The social media rage and rioting is just simple catharsis. The guilt for breaking God’s laws feels diminished when one is raging against, what they deem to be, ‘evil.’ This psychological trick makes us think that the guilt we feel must be untrustworthy. We say to ourselves, “How could I be guilty if I’m so mad at this racist? My anger toward the racist must mean I’m innocent.” The guilt then, gets hastily relabeled as ‘empathy,’ or ‘a desire to help.’ We think that the feeling inside us that leads to the rage must be a feeling of care for other human beings. This, however, cannot be true, because caring for human beings cannot be expressed by harming other human beings. If we really had empathy for all human beings, we would pity the person we label as ‘racist’ or ‘ignorant’ and do whatever we could to help him or her out of their ignorance. However, we are almost happy when we get to slap that label on people. This is not empathy. 

You might be surprised to hear me say that I think this paradigm is actually fundamentally correct. I do not have a problem in painting all people into either good or bad categories. The problem isn’t with the paradigm, it’s with the application. It is indeed possible to accurately categorize all people into one of these two boxes (i.e. ‘good’ and ‘evil’) and there is a much easier way to do it. We do not need to evaluate a person’s social media platform, their personal history, their voting record, or their stance on a particular issues. Rather, we simply need to inquire whether the person has ever sinned. Once we make that assessment, we can safely place them into the category of ‘evil.’ Of course, every person has sinned and therefore every person should be placed in that category. What about the other category? The usefulness of categories is only seen if there are more than one; they are designed to distinguish one thing from another. In our case, there is someone to put in the category of good—Jesus Christ. He is the only human being who was ever good. We are all not-good. 

If we return to the objective standard of the Bible, we will recognize that we are all sinners before God, and the only way to remove the guilt for sin is to trust in the only human who has ever been in the ‘good’ category His whole life. When that guilt has been removed, we will then be free to evaluate current events without assuming, like the world does, that our position is perfect, and the other position is evil. Rather, we will see that we remain sinners and our perspectives are prone to be faulty. This enables us to discuss current events with humility. This will help us to better evaluate opposing opinions and notice the goodness in them, where and when it is present. When we are freed from the desire to paint all opposing opinion as ‘evil,’ we are enabled to locate the good things within those dissenting opinions. Christians, therefore, should be able to engage with those who disagree with them “in gentleness and respect” because they know that the removal of their guilt isn’t dependent upon that conversation. 

If you stay up all night thinking about how to win an argument about systemic racism with someone on social media, you’re not concerned with the issue, but with winning the argument. If you were concerned about the issue, you’d be doing something about it, rather than arguing with someone who is not going to help you. You’d be locking arms with those who agree and getting to work on solving the problem. If you’re sitting in a dark room calling someone ‘evil’ on Twitter, you’re just trying to push down the guilt you feel in your own heart. Of course, there is a place for dialogue and debate, but it’s easy to debate for its own sake, and not in order to change things. When we love to slander people, it’s not debate, but sinful catharsis.

Carried Along by the Love of God

The battlefield gets its name because we instinctually believe that warfare should be reserved to a certain place. No one wants to see warfare spread. We all want it confined. Unfortunately, the battle often comes home, and it is between the walls where we are supposed to feel at peace. In warfare, there are tools of the trade. There are weapons to hurt the enemy in order to subdue him and defenses to stop his assault when attacks don’t work. In the home, words are the weapons, and door slamming is the defense. War is an extension of the sin in human hearts. So, it doesn’t stay “out there” because it’s always “in here.”

In the fringes of society are those who lash out in anger and seek to hurt their domestic enemies. This is generally condemned, but with much understanding (even silently accepting) sympathy. Closer to the center, are those who cut all ties and “remove toxicity” from their lives by trimming family members like malignant tumors. This is the golden standard of self-actualizing, independent maturity. This is the hero who is the captain of his own soul—the man who can “peaceably” reject every opportunity for conflict by deleting his opponents. He has let loose his digital life into the world. He see what and who he wants, when and how he wishes. If you disagree with him (no matter what the issue is—relationships, politics, religion, a simple argument) he will stoically resist your initiation for adult dialogue and simply remove you from his reality. This is because he has bought a two-fold lie. 1) Humans are incapable of disagreeing on important (or emotional) topics without devolving into warfare and 2) since he cannot change other people, relationship with those that disagree is pointless.

A Christian must go about this warfare in a different way than the world would. Rather than shielding himself with deletion, he allows his enemies to encircle him, and he relies upon the Lord to be his shield. Like Christ sleeping in the storm-tossed boat, he trusts in the tempest. How? By looking through the eyes of anger and into the Eyes of love. This is profoundly difficult in the home when those closest to us are our enemies. They have the weapons that wound our hearts, not just our bodies. They can cut us deeper because they are closer. David could bear the taunts of an enemy. But the hurtful words of his companion causes anguish within him (Ps. 55). Since this attack is more dangerous, the response must be a call to God “evening and morning, and at noon” (55:17).

When we lay down our verbal weapons and refuse to slam the door, the pain of worry is met with the comfort of hope. The nagging desire to attack and defend burns within the chest. But when the fire stays within because the tongue is bridled, one begins to feel the comforting warmth of the Father’s touch. Hot anger cools to warm rest. Of course, the storm still rages and the verbal arrows fly. Indeed, the attack increases because you are being tempted to leave your refuge. But now, the battle is over. You are in your Fortress, at the Bosom (Ps. 18:1-2). If you are to engage in this battle, you must now walk outside, back onto the battlefield, for the Lord has taken you off of it. What, specifically, is this refuge? It is simply prayer and Scripture recitation during the attack. You audibly hear hurtful words, but you internally say the words of God. You shut your physical mouth to words of anger, and open your spiritual mouth to blessing and prayer. Then you rest and say, “I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me” (Ps. 3:5).

It is commonly said among the reformed theologians that the Christian must accept suffering as from the hand of God in the same way that he receives blessing. One author put it this way, “We must obey God as we bear every adversity, not grumbling against God on account of our pain, but rather trusting that He will help us. This is vehemently rejected today. People insist that suffering does not come from God, and that we should therefore resist all suffering. Instead of patiently bearing our suffering, we need not put up with it any longer. Not acceptance, but rejection of suffering is the attitude recommended today” (Douma, Ten Commandments, 27). I can still see the conversation between Stephen Colbert and Stephen Anderson as they discussed the deaths of their family members. Two men, not orthodox Christians by any stretch, considering God in the midst of trial. With tears in his eyes, Anderson asked Colbert at one point, “Do you really believe that?”

What was so incredulous? Colbert, recounting the tragic deaths of brothers and father, said that suffering is also a gift from God. A gift! If that isn’t Calvinism, I don’t know what is.

Do you have the courage, Christian, to believe that? You believe God can do all things, which means God can stop your suffering. Why does He not? He is either not a good God, or He is giving you a gift. His hand is stretched out offering you the bitter cup you need to drink in order to stay alive. How much better is it to take that cup and live, then to drink sweet water and die? These types of considerations don’t sell books and fill seats so you won’t hear them as often as you should. But they are what you need to live.

One of the sweetest and purest feelings in the Christian life is the experience of profound suffering while looking into the merciful eyes of Jesus. Silently bearing pain like a lamb before the slaughter, you wait upon your Father. The hope of medicine, money, or human intervention is dissolved into an abounding hope in the Holy Spirit. The solidarity and unification that is aroused when we suffer and trust in God is nothing short of mystical, miraculous. It is a feeling that, unfortunately, is hard to come by during life’s sweeter seasons. CS Lewis said that God whispers to us in our pleasures, but shouts to us in our pain. That does not mean that we always hear Him in suffering. It is easy to block the sound of His voice, even when He shouts. Such is the power of our sin. But when the desire to clutch comfort at any cost is given up like a sacrifice on the altar and the wounded heart is opened to the will of the Father, no matter what His plan may be, the feeling cannot be properly described with words.

Perhaps foolishly, and I hope not irreverently, I will try: The experience of God’s strong love in the midst of suffering is like being taken back to one’s homeland for the first time. It is like a person who has lived for 60 or 70 or 80 years always slightly depressed and they know not why. One day, they realize that they have been missing their homeland their whole life. There was some innate connection between their soul and the green hills of their ancestry that was continually severed. They were never really at rest because they were never really home. One day, they fly to their homeland and as the plane descends through the clouds, the green hills—only heard of by the ear, and glimpsed through photographs—are present. The person’s heart is immediately filled with a strange joy never felt before. A burden carried for decades has now been lifted for the first time. They are truly home, at rest, at peace, happy.

Or, it is like realizing one’s calling. Again, after decades of squandering life’s opportunities only living for fun and pleasure, the person realizes why they were put on earth. They find a reason for existence (entertainment is not a reason to live). As they begin doing this thing, they feel a newfound experience of deep and abiding joy because they are doing simultaneously exactly what they want to do and exactly what they were made to do. Their actions are both meaningful and joyful. Their heart is finally at rest, not looking for the next moment of fun, but enjoying the present moment of purpose and purity.

These are both Scriptural examples, but perhaps the best is marriage since it is the closest to what the Scriptures say. The feeling of connection with God in suffering is like the moment of a wedding when the bride is slowly walking toward the groom with beautiful music playing and before an adoring crowd. Everything is right in the world and the climax of happiness is being enjoyed by all, not least the couple. Looking into the eyes of Jesus while suffering is like watching your spouse come closer to you during your wedding. The moment you have been waiting for is finally here. Of course, the radical difference between these examples and the reality I am trying to communicate is suffering. However, when the experience is felt one can actually get to the point of forgetting the suffering altogether. This happens to greater and lesser degrees for longer and shorter periods of time. Sometimes it is only for a few seconds. Other times the effect is realized for days. But it never happens when that effect is the thing that is principally or primarily sought. Jesus must be sought for Jesus’ sake. When that is the case, the love between your soul and His is so great that hate must stand outside and wait to enter, until the bridegroom has finished loving His wife.

It is ironic that so many Christians take such pains to experience the love of God—going on pilgrimages to Jerusalem, readings stacks of books, going to hear famous preachers—when every single Christian has an abundance of opportunity within the walls of his home to have an existential experience of God. Suffering is the vehicle toward the bosom of the Father. We have all been blessed with that gift. It is up to us to take advantage of it.