Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Everyone knew Adolph Hitler was crazy. Even before he went on to start World War Two and initiated the Holocaust, a good portion of the German population thought he and his party were dangerous and if left on their one would do bad things.
Everyone also knew that Josef Stalin was a murderous madman. By the time of the rise of Adolph Hitler to true power, Stalin had already spent years murdering his own people on whims. If you were a threat of anything that Stalin felt was remotely important or he could use it, he would have you killed and not think a thing about it.
Two historically evil guys in power at the same time, one on the far left of the political spectrum, Stalin and one on the far right, Hitler. To be fair to both sides, just madmen using political ideology to carry out their madness.
Millions of regular people like you and me under their absolute power. Looking back over the course of history, it is hard not to wonder how in the world these two very bad men were able to gain power over so many and even keep it when they were vastly outnumbered and clearly evil.
How did Hitler gain power over one of the most developed countries in the world, the birthplace of the Protestant Reformation and home of Martin Luther and overwhelmingly majority Christian nation and keep it even as his whole world was falling apart?
How did Stalin do the same in an also historically Christian nation where Christianity is so ingrained it survived 80 years of Communism?
They used a tactic that is as old as it is effective. They created boogeymen and monsters.
Figures wrapped in fear and menace on the other side to scare their people into submission. Fear and dread were used to force the believers in both countries, well meaning, well-intentioned followers of Jesus to ignore the directions of the Bible and take their eyes off of Jesus in order to keep them glued to the “other guy”.
Germans and Russians had the same Bible as we do. They read the same verses in Hebrews encouraging us to keep our eyes on Him and Him alone, not the bad bad guys or the good bad guys or their pocketbooks or social institutions, just Jesus. Yet they fell in line behind madmen.
Do we think that the writer of Hebrews is being dramatic about the sin that so easily ensnares us?
Sure, I am bad said Hitler and I am asking you to sign onto something really bad, but the boogeyman is so much worse! He is out there and he is going to do worse things if we let him. We are able to do bad things because HIS bad things are much worse.
Hitler used the Communist and the Jewish people to accomplish his terrible goals. He set them up as monsters who were out destroy the beautiful country that Germans loved and adored. He even used religion. You cannot let those evil guys destroy the home of Martin Luther! If you look at old propaganda from the time, the Nazi’s portrayed them as ghoulish monsters out to consume the good German children and their great civilization.
When the Nazi’s set fire to the German Parliament and blamed it on the Communist, the German people took their eyes off of Jesus and placed them squarely on the source of their fear and fell in line behind pure evil.
Stalin used everyone else, the Jewish people, America, anti-communists, anyone who he could prop up as threats against his country. When his act was wearing thin, Hitler obliged by invading Russia and providing a true boogeyman around which to rally the Russian people. Protect the motherland at all costs was the motto that millions flocked to ignoring the fact that Stalin was killing just as many Russians as Hitler. The Russian people left all thoughts of Jesus and goodness behind them as they exacted vengeance on the Germans who invaded their motherland – the death toll in civilians killed by the Russian Army as it marched across Germany is staggering.
Ghastly evil was justified under both banners because the monster out there was so much worse than the monster in here they reasoned. You don’t understand it is justified, we just have to protect what is good to stop the other side from ______ (insert justification here) so it is ok to be doing our evil thing now.
Even the churches got on board, with some exceptions, and created great stirring images of the people on a sacred march to protect their God loved country. It was a holy war against Communism/Nazism/Jews/whatever cause was handy, you have to follow me they implored. The Bible has no relevance right now, we are in a crisis, your eyes have to be on the threat it is just so bad. They, the ever handy and convenient they have to be stopped!
The result was that Hitler pitted his people against Stalin using fear and they killed millions of Stalin’s people and often were killed by Hitler while doing it. Stalin pitted his people against Hitler and they killed millions of Hitler’s people and were often killed by Stalin while doing it, not to mention after the war. No good came from people making a deal with the devil for protection from the devil. Jesus doesn’t work that way.
Great, barbaric anti-Christ evil was sanctioned because of the claimed evil on the other side of the battle. Both sets of bad guys claimed that they were the ones who were truly the good guys, despite all evidence to the contrary.
I was thinking of this tragic history while watching the events of the last few weeks and reflecting on the last few years on the American and world stage. The clouds that have been forming during the prior administration and after Donald Trump’s victory and inauguration have been troubling.
A divide that had been present in the US and been deepening during the Presidency of Barack Obama seems to have been completely torn open and the familiar tactics trotted out.
Parties with agendas and little scruple on both sides of the debate are lining up to paint people on other side as the great boogeymen of our day and use that to throw off all bounds of love, restraint and civility.
You don’t understand, it is justified because we have to stop him or her or them – it doesn’t matter how we do it – we have to break the law to fix the law. We have to destroy the village to save it.
The love of many is growing cold and lawlessness is abounding and being sanctioned as good.
Even in the church, eyes are being drawn away from Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith to focus on the economy, national security, rights, privilege, race and of course – the others. On both sides, kind-hearted believers are falling for the bait of boogeymen and taking their eyes off of Jesus and His Way.
Depending upon your political orientation, the others will be different, but there is never a shortage of causes of fear in our always messed up world. In this life we will have troubles Jesus promised, it cannot be avoided but perfect love casts out fear. That is why the keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source of that perfect love is so important.
People with agendas will do anything to remove that focus. Hitler despised the German church and despised Christianity. Yet, early on he did everything possible to get them on board with his program with promises of a better society and protection from the godless Communists. The church largely bit and fell in line behind Hitler for fear of chaos, economic problems and Stalin. In lieu of Jesus, they chose to keep their eyes on the world.
The US is far from Nazi Germany or Stalin’s Soviet Union, make no mistake about that, and none of the leaders involved are Stalin or Hitler but the same tactic is being trotted out by both sides and a spirit being emboldened that seems to be leading us down an ugly and dangerous road.
As the church, as the only light and the only salt in this world we must resist the temptation to fall in line behind those who would lead us to a place of lawlessness. A place where Jesus Himself, our King of Kings and Lord of Lords would never lead us. The Fruit of His Spirit is:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. 24 And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
If we find ourselves embroiled in anything that is ostensibly to protect us from monsters and boogeymen on either side but is not filled with the love, joy, peace, patience and the other fruit it is a good sign that we have taken our eyes off of Jesus and are not in line behind Him.