It has been a rough week for America. Senseless, tragic deaths have shocked our national consciousness yet again. And social media is filled with vitriolic, emotionally driven responses that do little more than lay blame at somebody else’s doorstep. The accusations and acrimonious diatribes fly and tempers flare. And sadly, part of what we saw happen this weekend in Dallas was the misguided attempt of an angry few taking matters into their own hands. And in doing so, they deemed themselves on an equal level with God. They displayed their belief in dispensing not only justice, but final judgment. And we have to face the sad reality that there are those within our law enforcement communities who take advantage of their authority and use their position to further their bigoted agendas and enforce their own brand of vigilante justice. This violent minority are guilty of playing God as well.
I have watched the Facebook posts and Twitter feeds as people have responded to this week’s events. Some are filled with anger. Others with disbelief and sadness. There is no shortage of judgmental, hateful posts. Sides have been taken. Opinions have been expressed. The police have been mourned and defended, and rightfully so. But they’ve also been vilified and portrayed as race-baiting storm troopers. And these same types of bipolar, antithetical opinions have also been shared about minorities. The minority community has been characterized as innocent victims and demonized as violent radicals. Each side judges the other. Disgust and distaste for one another have replaced dialogue and civil debate. And the nations suffers.
But what is behind all of this? What is it that is driving this kind of self-destructive behavior that is tearing our nation apart? The apostle Paul gives us some insight into our collective problem as a country. We have stopped honoring God and, in the process, have deemed ourselves His replacement. “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:21-23 ESV). We are a nation of God-less fools. It doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist or that there are not those who believe in God. But for the most part, we have denied and dishonored God as a nation and have elevated ourselves to the position of judge, jury and, sadly, executioner. James writes, “There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:12 ESV). This world if full of evil. It is populated with fallen individuals who can and do commit incredibly heinous acts against one another. We are each capable of doing great good and grievous harm. But it usually when we attempt to play God that we end up doing the most harm. When we think we can solve mankind’s problems equipped with nothing more than our own wisdom and well-intended acts of philanthropy, we place ourselves in the role of God. When we judge others and deem them unworthy of our love and undeserving of our mercy, we make ourselves out to be God. When we seek vengeance against another, either through our words or deeds, we are playing God. The apostle Paul reminds us, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Romans 12:19 ESV).
Taking another person’s life, unjustly or unlawfully, is the ultimate act of self-deification. God made His will quite clear when He told Moses, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13 ESV). But Jesus, in His Sermon on the Mount, took this command one step further, saying, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:21-22 ESV). It is so easy to allow the events of the last few weeks to cloud our thinking and distort our view of the world. We can become self-righteously indignant and angry at what we see happening all around us. We can explode in rage. We can lash out in hate-filled judgment. We can cast blame like so many stones intended to pummel the opposition into submission and repentance. We can fight for our rights. We can defend our point of view. We can seek vengeance, demand retribution, call for justice, enact our own brand of judgment, and push God out of the way while we attempt to do His job for Him.
But the solution to this world’s problems won’t be achieved through anger, affirmative action, peaceful protests, violent demonstrations, wealth redistribution, political appointments or attempts at racial reconciliation. What we need is God. But as long as we choose to play god, He will allow us to experience the folly of life lived in a world men have deemed themselves the all-wise, all-knowing, all-powerful arbiter of their fate and the answer to their own problems. What we have is a God vacuum. And until we realize that the dark void in which we find ourselves can only be filled by God, we will continue to suffer the sad fate of a nation who has turned its back on God. Paul paints a pretty bleak picture of the outcome of a God-less existence: “They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth” (Philippians 3:19 NLT).
The same thing could be said of us that was said by God about the people of Israel thousands of years ago: “‘My people are foolish and do not know me,’ says the LORD. ‘They are stupid children who have no understanding. They are clever enough at doing wrong, but they have no idea how to do right!’” (Jeremiah 4:22 NLT). What this nation needs is for God to be God. But that won’t happen until the people in this nation are ready to stop playing god and admit their need for the one true God. There is hope. We can experience restoration, healing, and the blessings of God as a country. But it will only happen when men and women of all colors and walks of life are ready to place their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior and the only means of enjoying a restored relationship with God. Jesus made a very bold claim when He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). So He offers us an invitation. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV). Our country is weary. It desperately needs rest. But it will only find it through Christ. Playing god is a tiring game in which nobody wins.