“In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don't.”
I've been in Vegas before this last week, but I never spent any significant time there. People go to Vegas from all over the world to experience all it has to offer. Unlike most people, I didn't go there specifically to visit Vegas, I was there for a Jiu Jitsu tournament. I loved my time competing with my teammates and watching and encouraging them! In the midst of it all, I was able to talk with some of the locals (Lyft drivers and others) about Vegas. This place that attracts millions with its audacious, gold plated buildings like Trump Tower, the Hotel/Casino combination that lines the Strip with food, gambling, and sexual temptation is shiny and attractive on some level. I'm not condemning food, it's good and you need it. I'm not necessarily condemning gambling, that needs further clarification, but not here. I'm not condemning sex in its God-designed context. However, certain expressions of all three of these things make apparent the depravity and sinfulness of all humanity.
Think about the reputation Vegas has. We (my team, my wife, and my dad) went to Fremont Street, old Vegas where the the largest LED screen in the world is located. No doubt, it's cool! It's also getting another upgrade. But, Vegas is "Sin City!" It's marketing has included phrases like "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas." Of course, anyone with any sense knows that's not true. Not only is it untrue, the moral messaging is horrendous. It is a blatant attempt to remove guilt so people will come and engage in the kind of morally vacant behavior the city encourages and sells in an attempt to entertain the masses.
I couldn't help but think about the depravity that was sitting right on the surface and think about what must be sitting just below the surface or even deep below the surface. When I got home, someone asked me if I saw (not visited, but simply saw) any prostitutes. What a weird question, but it tells you of the reputation this place has. The only thing I could think of was the ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorra or perhaps Corinth. This is what the world has to offer, and what I saw was people engaging in the depravity openly. I saw families with young children walking down Fremont Street where men and women wore next to nothing (literally, next to nothing). Unfortunately there are some things you can't unsee like the man who was wearing nothing other than an adult diaper, the men and women wearing the minimum of what was legal (apparently Vegas doesn't require a lot of clothing), or the simulation/enticement of what was available if you wanted it.
I know, you may like Vegas. Certainly there are some things that are worth seeing. I'm not saying you should never go there, my point is a different one. What does Vegas, sin city, tell us about humanity. The message is pretty blatant and simple. What does humanity look like when you remove the concepts of guilt and shame? In large part it looks like Vegas. Proverbs 5:3-4 warns us against such licentiousness "For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword." We should take that seriously. Engaging in all that a fallen world has to offer will lead to a bitter ending. What happens in Vegas goes home with those who participate.
I'm not condemning Vegas, not exactly. Vegas displays, in part, what is in all of our hearts. It makes known the depravity of humanity, the sin that has infected us all, and our need for the grace of God. If you visit Vegas with a moral and Biblical filter I don't know how you can walk away without seeing humanities need for Jesus. The reality is, what is on the surface in Vegas is available in your town and mine. Vegas simply commercialized the sin nature and depravity that is close to us all. Thanks be to Jesus for the grace that is found in the sacrifice of the cross and the glory of the resurrection.
Monday mornings are finicky for me. Like most pastors I expend an enormous amount of emotional and spiritual energy on Sunday. Yesterday was especially taxing for a multitude of reasons. The news of not one but two mass shootings was almost background noise, but as the day went on and news continued to surface about the shooters, the victims, and the calls for action, the news began to weigh heavy. This morning the talking heads have been pontificating profusely about what the problem is and their solutions. Yet, most of them miss the mark by a mile.
I guess I will add another voice to the noise. While some scream, "GUNS" and others scream "MENTAL HEALTH" and still others cry out various theories related to culture, the good old days when everyone had guns in their cars, or whatever there foundational worldview answer is that few are willing to accept.
Every day about 100 people die from gun related violence in the US. Of course, they don't all die in one place at the hands of one person. Some of those are accidents and police shootings. Nevertheless, 100 per day? The majority of those would be murder. Certainly that isn't reported on very often because it is spread out over an entire country with multiple perpetrators. My heart and yours should sink at this news. However, there is something about one person taking many lives in one moment (in 30 seconds at one of the shootings) that shines a spotlight on the evil.
Where does this evil come from? Is it mental illness? Sure, in part. Is it guns? Not really, but obviously guns are used and they are dangerous. Is it culture? Yes, that certainly plays big role, but that's not all.
Is it the fall of humanity and humanities sinfulness? Yes, of course, but there is another reason that is closely linked. Part of the problem that seems to be ignored, even by many Christians, is Satan himself. Yes, I said Satan, as in the personal being that Scripture describes as a fallen angle whose intention is to devour, destroy, and deceive (John 8:44; 1 Peter 5:8; Rev. 20:1-6; Eph. 6:11-12; Luke 22:3-6; Job 1:6-12; etc.). Perhaps it is time we recognize the reality of Satan's impact and power in our society. We ought to give him the credit he deserves, but not an ounce more than he deserves.
This is not an attempt to displace responsibility for evil actions taken by truly disturbed people, nor is it to alleviate the responsibility our culture has to deal with such a problem. Instead, it is to direct our attention to the importance of dealing with this very real problem that finds its solution in the power of the gospel and the victory won by Jesus Christ on the cross and in the resurrection. The more secular our society becomes and the more it rejects the truth of the gospel, the more susceptible it will be to the evil schemes of the devil. The reason is that secularism necessarily ignores the reality of any evil being that is at work in this world. To speak of such a being will put you squarely in the camp of a "fundamentalist wacko." Yes, I believe the devil is real, and you should too.
Yet, what explanation does secularism in its many forms offer such evil? The answer is none. People are described as generally good. We hear about how much progress we have made, not just in the realm of technology, but in the realm of morality. We have been enlightened, haven't we? Frankly, any serious reader of history along with an honest evaluation of the world we live in today will have to acknowledge that it is difficult to see any real "progress." In other words the nice sounding idea of "progressivism" is a facade, it isn't real. The best we can do is recognize the source of real evil in this world and the one who accomplished victory over that evil...yes, I am talking about Jesus. Mass murder was around long before Columbine and it will be around until the return of Jesus Christ to rule in complete justice.
Do we need more gun laws? Maybe, but that won't solve the issue. Do we need better mental health mechanisms? Maybe, but that won't solve it either. Do we need to transform culture? Most definitely, but by what means? What would a secular mindset transform culture towards? A secular approach to the evil in the world is like putting a bandaid on someone who just got their leg amputated. What's the answer? The answer is the gospel of Jesus Christ. When Jesus gets a hold of someone's heart, their heart is transformed (Ez. 36:26; 2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 4:22-24, etc.). Call me a fundamentalist if you want, but secularism has no answers, just talking heads and agenda driven partisans. Jesus is the answer for the world today!
John Byrne is a pastor who has been spouting off his opinions his entire life (just ask his mom). This little blog is his venue for continuing in this tradition.