Senseless violence. Starving children. Guns firing in anger and fear. AIDS epidemic. Polluted water. Hate and racism. Dehumanizing abuse.
Those are the words in today's frightful newspaper headlines. Sadly, the datelines for such news could be from many countries of the world -- including Haiti, where we've been missionaries. Television news often portrays a world seething with pain, chaos, treachery, and abuse.
The world wasn't always so rotten. On the sixth day of creation, God looked at what He had made. The Bible says that what He saw was "very good" (Genesis 1:31). Indeed, it was good. In many ways it still is.
Years ago the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association introduced us to a Swedish song we know as "How Great Thou Art." The first verse expounds the believer's awe as he sees creation's marvels. Don't you like that song? I like it in English. I like it in Italian. I like it in Haitian Creole. In whatever language I've learned it, that song's message always thrills me.
Haiti's flame-red flamboyant trees, its mango trees festooned with ripe fruit, the tiny hummingbirds darting around hibiscus blossoms -- all show the Creator's artistic tastes. Haiti's coastal waters contain some of the most beautiful coral reefs in the world.
God did create a very good world. Yet some ghastly scars mar the marvels of God's creation. That scarring began in the Garden of Eden, an earthly paradise. There, human beings were to live forever in close communion with his Creator. Unfortunately, Adam and Eve didn't stay content with their status as created beings. Following the tempter's suggestion, they sought to become like God, to become complete in themselves. Their revolt unleashed a chaotic train of events that scarred not only all human beings but also the whole universe.
Following Adam and Eve's monstrous choice, things like death, hatred and anguish, isolation and emptiness invaded "normal" life. Even worse, God's image in human beings was horribly defaced. Because of their estrangement from God, things not part of created human nature now seem "natural." A crippling spiritual disease attacked the very center of the human self. The apostle Paul described the resulting corruption as "the carnal nature" (see Romans 7:14; 8:6, 7, KJV).
Following Adam and Eve's disobedience, sin's depraving power snowballed. In a fit of rage, Adam and Eve's son, Cain, killed his brother. Sometime later, his descendant, Lamech, killed another man. He moved beyond Cain's fear of discovery to near boastfulness over the murder. Seeming to revel in snuffing out a human life, Lamech dared the world to do something about it (Genesis 4:23-24). Nor did it end there. Through the centuries human beings have has sunk lower and lower under sin's hardening power.
That's tragic. Human beings were God's crowning act of creation. Even today there's still evidence of that. The rich cultural traditions of Haiti are a delightful treat for tourists. That's true also of Zambia or Peru or New Zealand. The photographers of National Geographic traipse around the globe, thrilling us with photos of the exotic and colorful. That inward bent toward sin that was caused by Adam and Eve's disobedience has, however, led people of every age and of every culture to fill their lives "with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity" (Romans 1:29).
Our plight as depraved sinners shouts at us from the pages of daily newspapers from Boston to Bangkok. Even utopia-minded historians concede man's inhumanity to man. Sociologists and psychologists ponder sin's corroding effects (even if they refuse to call it "sin").
While the history of any nation can easily illustrate sin's cataclysmic effects, let's take Haiti as our "Exhibit A." This small nation lies just east of Cuba on the western third of a mountainous island called Hispaniola. It was this island that Christopher Columbus discovered in 1492.
Spanish settlers followed Columbus to Hispaniola. They tried enslaving the native Arawak Indians. As you might expect, some of the Indians resisted losing their freedom. They were slaughtered on the spot. The rest of their fellow tribesmen began dying from gross maltreatment. From the first page of Haiti's modern history thus oozes the ruthlessness that Romans 1:31 associates with godless human beings.
Things did not improve in Haiti. French pirates arrived, hiding in coastal coves. Some started plantations of sugar, coffee, cocoa, indigo, and cotton. Plantations needed lots of cheap labor. By then the Indians had all died. So these Frenchmen headed for Africa to recruit workers at gunpoint. At the height of the West Indies slave trade, more than 700 ships regularly crisscrossed the Atlantic. Their cargo? Chained human beings. For thousands of Africans, a tropical paradise dissolved into a living hell.
In the late 1700s those slaves successfully revolted against their French masters. Tragically, even liberty from colonial masters did not stop the bloodshed. Repeated periods of civil unrest, brutal kings, and cruel dictators led one American couple to write a history of Haiti called Written in Blood. Another author poignantly says that Haiti is a country "whose soil has drunk more blood than sweat."
Adam's cosmic treason shattered his close ties to his Creator. The aftermath of his fall poisoned relationships between people. It also damaged the natural world in ways we still don't understand. With the Fall, the whole cosmos -- in addition to the human heart -- became riddled with evil and the spirit of rebellion. I don't believe that sin directly causes all human suffering. Yet the anguish caused by disease and natural disasters is somehow linked to sin's curse. Because of humanity's sin, Paul writes, the universe is in "bondage to decay" (Romans 8:21). The diseases plaguing Haiti today -- malaria, tuberculosis, hepatitis, gastrointestinal problems -- were unknown in the Garden of Eden. Before their fall, neither drought nor typhoons nor flash floods troubled Adam and Eve.
Furthermore, human beings have caused a progressive deterioration of their own environment. Ecologists tell us that we have irreparably spoiled parts of this planet. They say we've fouled our own nest!
Sin's double-whammy blows to the moral quality of life and the physical environment show up clearly in Haiti. Plagues of disease, soil erosion, overpopulation, illiteracy, poverty, and superstition cloud the future of every newborn Haitian. To many people, Haiti's plight looks futile. Haiti seems so hopeless that one international commission labeled it a "bottomless pit" for foreign aid efforts. This prestigious group recommended ending all outside help to Haiti.
What a dismal picture! There is, however, some good news for this troubled world and its human tenants. When God ejected Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, He did not desert them. Their sin may have wrought terrible havoc and ruin. Still, there soon shone a glimmer of hope.
The shock waves of their disobedience were still shaking the universe when God promised a Redeemer (Genesis 3:15). As God passed judgment on Adam and Eve, He also held out a promise. His kingdom, He said, would be striking back. He had a plan to undo the fateful results of their fall. In the end His hosts from heaven would put to flight every enemy of divine rule.
It took a while. Then one starry night in a little village south of Jerusalem, the promise began to be fulfilled. In an animal shed near Bethlehem the kingdom of God re-entered this sinful world. A few years later God incarnate in Jesus emerged from a Nazareth carpentry shop. Setting the stage for His ministry had been His cousin, John. John's prophetic ministry was brief but powerful. His major theme: The long-promised Messiah would soon appear. That Messiah, he said, was a man of fire who would inaugurate a new kingdom.
When He was ready to begin His public ministry, Jesus found John down at the Jordan River and asked him for baptism. That day God used John the Baptist to announce that the promised Messiah had arrived. But then months and years passed, and Jesus did not become the hoped-for political savior. Nor did He march into the Temple and take over as a new Jewish religious leader.
This disappointed some. Those who watched Him closely, however, marveled at His potent power over nature. That, coupled with the masterful way He spoke, convinced many that God's kingdom had indeed invaded the world. The strong and mighty overlooked it, but God's kingdom had begun striking back.
Meanwhile, John's bold charges of sexual sin in the palace landed him in prison. Prison is a dreary place. Your mind can play tricks on you there. Languishing in a dungeon at Machaerus, John's mind returned to a spot in the Jordan River valley. There he had proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah. Now a tiny doubt crept in. Was Jesus really the Anointed One? Knowing he might soon die, John craved reassurance. So he asked some of his close followers to investigate again.
Going directly to Jesus, they asked point-blank: "Are You the One who was to come?" In response, Jesus did not say a simple "Yes" or "No." He pointed instead to the wondrous things happening in His ministry.
"Go tell John," He told them, "that the blind are receiving sight. Tell him that the crippled are walking. The deaf are hearing. The lepers are being cured, and the disinherited of the earth are having the gospel preached to them" (paraphrase of Matthew 11:5 and Luke 7:22).
Old Testament prophets had said that the Messiah's coming would be accompanied by just such miracles. Jesus pointed to the miracles in His ministry, leaving John and his disciples to draw their own conclusions.
After only three years of a ministry featuring these kinds of miracles, Jewish religious leaders arrested Jesus and quickly put Him to death. Three days later He rose from the dead. Six weeks after that, He ascended into heaven.
Now what would happen? Jesus was no longer present in bodily form. Perhaps the miracles would disappear. They did not. That should not surprise us. Jesus himself had promised that the signs would continue. He even said they would increase. After all, the Kingdom had come. On the night before His crucifixion, He tried to prepare His eleven remaining disciples for the future. One of the things He said was that His followers would do "even greater things" than He had done (John 14:12).
So it has been. After Jesus' ascension, Spirit-filled believers scattered across the globe. They went preaching and teaching the good news of the Kingdom. Wherever they went, God's mighty works revealed His power. Through the years, His kingdom has broken chains of disease, madness, sin, and death. His kingdom's invasion of this world has opened blinded eyes and given hope to the oppressed. Whatever the sources of human heartache, God in Christ has sought to destroy them.
Penetrating the darkened corners of our world has not been easy. We fight amid the rubble of hate, injustice, disease, and violence. Often the battle rages at what seem to be the very doors of hell itself. At hell's gates is precisely where Jesus told Peter that the Church -- the missionary people of the Kingdom -- would triumph (Matthew 16:18). Triumphs over the effects of the Fall may sometimes seem partial and insignificant. Still, each victory points to the Kingdom's coming final and complete conquest.
Along the way there have been doubters and scoffers. To some, real Kingdom miracles never seem spectacular enough. That's nothing new. When Jesus was here, His miracles did not convince everyone either. So we can't be too hard on modern-day doubters. Even Jesus' cousin, John, needed some reassurances of His Messiahship.
Around the turn of this century, the Holy Spirit raised up a revival movement called the Church of the Nazarene. Today, sanctified believers who belong to this movement preach the good news of the Kingdom in more than 145 world areas.
I'm part of that movement. In our midst the blind have received sight. We've seen dying people cured. The lame have walked. One of the 16 Nazarene Articles of Faith boldly proclaims God's miraculous healing powers. To top it all off, we've sometimes been scorned as a church made up of the poor rather than the upper levels of society. We believe Jesus is the Messiah. We've seen the signs of His kingdom's presence. In Haiti tens of thousands of Nazarenes see daily encounters between God's sovereign reign and Satan's evil hordes. Holy Spirit-inspired ministries of Haitian Nazarenes include medical work and economic aid. Nazarenes are aggressively evangelizing and planting churches in Haiti. Our education program includes elementary and secondary schools as well as training for pastors and evangelists. The Kingdom is striking back. We're convinced (doubters and scoffers notwithstanding) that this Jesus -- in whose name and under whose power we preach -- is the Christ, the promised Messiah. . . . [ continue
The blind are seeing
|The response of Jesus to John's followers finds an echo today in a Caribbean island. Those who have been in physical darkness, spiritual darkness, and intellectual darkness are having their eyes opened. . . [ read more ]|