I think everyone in the Boston Metro is going to be able to tell you where they were and what they were doing when they heard about what some have referred to as “the Boston Massacre”. The act of homicidal evil perpetrated by the Tsarnaev brothers shook the Boston metro and brought it to a standstill. No one was unmoved. People moved on pins and needles, and fear infected hearts. It was a day that darkness came home to all that live in the Boston metro; a day when it became so real that you could taste it.
Some things jump to the head of the line. This is one of them. This was a hard moment for Boston, one that should not go unexamined. What should go through our mind when evil happens, and how should we respond when evil is perpetrated on us? Not just when bombs go off, but when other terrible and tragic things are done, both around us and to us? Here are five things I would encourage you to think about on those days when darkness comes home to your life.
First, remember that our world is fallen and therefore we should expect evil things to happen around us and sometime even to us. Haddon Robinson, my professor of preaching, began the first class by saying “I believe in two things, the sovereignty of God and the depravity of man”. No words are truer. This world is broken. It is not as it should be. It bears the marks of sin, everything in all creation groans under the weight of sin, and our lives groan under the weight of the evil we bring upon each other. There is no one that is not sinful and corrupt by nature. When Adam sinned, we all sinned with him, and the result is that every one of us is corrupt and sinful by nature, we are hostile to God from birth. “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5-6) David writes. When we look around, with honest eyes, we see this. G.K. Chesterton, the British scholar, once wrote that original sin "is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved." At our core we know that to be true. We like to say that we think people are naturally good, but let’s face it, the reason people move to places like Medfield is that “we are looking for a safe place to raise our kids”. We inherently know that something is gravely wrong with this world. Events like the ‘Boston Massacre’ remind of this. But so do those other moments. Those moments when you find out a corrupt stock broker blew up your investments, or your grandkid got mugged, or, or, or. We should never forget this world is evil. We should expect that evil things will happen around us or to us.
Second, do not doubt the sovereignty of God. Thankfully, we can’t stop with recognizing that the world is evil. We can know that God is sovereign. He created the world. He sustains the world. He holds all things in his hand. He’s not an 80 pound weakling who’s begging for us to like him. He’s over all things. There is nothing that happens that can thwart his will. He is the God who knows all things and controls all things. Scripture says that he numbers your days. He holds all things together, and yet he knows everything about you, even the number of hairs on your head. He is in control of all things. And yet, He is at work for your good. He is the God who says, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11), and makes clear that “all things work together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). He is sovereign, nothing can thwart His will, and He is working for your good.
Now, does He allow sin to be at work for now? Yes, it’s a result of the fall. But even so, while he gives us free will and allows sinful rebellion, He does not allow our free will to run and evil hearts to run unchecked. He restrains our conscience, and upsets the thwarts the plans of the wicked. Scripture says that “He frustrates the devices of the crafty, so that their hands achieve no success”(Job 5:12). Think of how this worked out last week in Boston. As I mentioned several times after the event, it’s worth pondering that only 3 people were killed in the bomb. Many were wounded, but only three were killed. That’s amazing. Think of how few died, compared to how many probably would have if they hadn’t done this so close to where all the medics were. Now three deaths is a tragedy. All deaths reflect the fact that this world is not as it was designed to be since the fall. But for them only to have gotten three is amazing to me. Yes, he allowed these men to exercise their free evil will, but he also thwarted the plans of the wicked. Not only does He thwart the plans of the wicked, but scripture makes clear that someday every wrong will be righted and everything sad will come untrue. Someday Christ will return and deal with evil once and for all. He came and went to the cross, so that someday He could destroy evil once and for all, without destroying us. Someday, He will return and deal with evil totally and completely. He will return with power and glory, not as a humble baby in a manger but as the King of Kings who comes on a white horse with a sword and garments dipped in blood, having tread the winepress of the wrath of God. He will destroy evil once and for all. God is sovereign.
Third, know that God doesn’t leave us alone in the middle of hardship and pain. Scripture makes clear that Christ is with us in the middle of our hardship. We have a savior who was tempted and tested and tried, who suffered, died, and rose in glory, and declares "I will be with you always, even to the end of the age". When hardship comes, we can rely on God. Psalm 46 tells us that “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging” Even when things seem terrible, when things seem hard, and painful. Even when bombs go off and you feel like huddling at home under the bed, He is with you. And that does not guarantee that bad things will not happen around you or to you. But it does mean that you are not alone in the hardship and pain. He is with you, walking beside you, going ahead of you and forging the path. You are not alone. Fear not. Even when bad things are happening around you or to you.
Fourth, keep in mind that we bear a message of hope to preach to ourselves and to others. God is at work. In the midst of this broken world, He is redeeming for himself a new people who are called by His name. A people who are marked by His grace. A people who bear scars, but know that their savior bears greater scars, and no matter what pain enters your life, your savior took greater pain, so that this pain cannot destroy you. Yes, darkness came home to Boston. But on the cross, darkness came home to his life, as the ultimate darkness of eternal wrath crashed down on him. Now, He brings healing and hope to us. There is freedom and life and grace, even in the mist of darkness. There is restoration and salvation in the midst of darkness. We tend to look around and say. The world is falling apart. But that’s the wrong attitude. Carl F. Henry, the founder of Christianity today, notes that “The early Christians did not say ‘look what the world is coming to!’ but ‘look what has come into the world!” We bear a message of hope. Look what has come into the world. Redemption! Salvation! A new power, a restoring power. This message is hope for all. Freedom and life and grace is offered and available to everyone, even the vilest of sinners, even Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. It’s an across the board offer. The sweetest grandmother, the vilest offender, the kindest child, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, all are offered Gods saving grace. There is hope that is held out in the midst of darkness. Are times like the last week hard? Yes. But there is hope; hope of healing, of restoration, of his presence, and life and light.
Finally, understand that there is joy in Christ available in the midst of hardship. The reality is that we live in a fallen world. One that has been and will continue to bear the marks of the fall. But the gospel means that because Christ died and rose you can trust him and rely on him in the middle of dark days and even find real joy in the middle of it all. Will tragedy happen? Yes. Will the sovereign Lord of all be with you? Yes. And in the midst of it you may find great joy. In his book, Margin, Richard Swenson writes of A Vietnamese pastor who was thrown into prison, leaving his wife and children to fend for themselves. The family’s home was taken, so that the destitute wife and children were forced to live on an open balcony, exposed to the drenching rain. And yet, she was full of joy in the Lord for His comfort and care. She wrote, "When we experience misfortune, adversity, distress and hardship, only then do we see the real blessing of the Lord poured down on us in such a way that we cannot contain it. I do not know what words to use in order to describe the love that the Lord has shown our family. I only can bow my knee and my heart and offer to the Lord words of deepest thanks and praise. Although we have lost our house and our possessions, we have not lost the Lord, and He is enough. With the Lord I have everything. The only thing I would fear losing is His blessing! She concluded, “As far as my husband is concerned, I was able to visit him this past summer. We had a 20-minute conversation that brought us great joy” (Cited by Richard Swenson, Margin [NavPress], pp. 188-190.).I don’t know if I could say that, but she knew that God was with her in tragedy and hardship. She encountered His grace and sustenance in the middle of the hardship. She was able to say with the psalmist, in the middle of darkness, “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever (Psalm 30:11-12)! “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy” (Psalm 126:5).
Last week may have been unprecedented, or it could be (as some commentators and pundits are suggesting) the new normal. We don’t know. But I promise you, hard times will come into your life. Times that make you sob will assault you. Be it terrorist bombs or something that is ten times less scary, and still real and hard. In those moments you are not alone. There is hope. There is joy. There is the presence of God at work even when the darkness comes home. Evil is real. But God is sovereign, and even though hell itself pour down on you, if you have placed your faith in Christ, He is with you. When the day of darkness comes crashing down, do not forget this.