Last week I was shocked to hear of the airline copilot who flew his airliner into a mountain, killing many while taking his own life. But he was not alone in dealing out death. During the week there were suicide-vest killings in a Somalia hotel; killings in Nigeria, Syria, Tunisia, America, and more.
So my question: how are senseless killings birthed? By failed parents? Anarchic video games? Jihadic religion? Poor education? Poverty? Mental illness?
These links don’t offer real answers. Some affiliations between circumstances and tragedies can be made but there are no assured causal links: both weeds and wheat grow in the same soil. So these acts of murder seem inexplicable.
Jesus, however, did point to an ultimate source in John 8. He taught, using a binary opposition, that everyone is either a child of God or a child of the devil. And murder displays Satan’s paternity.
So what the copilot did—looking beyond any secondary issues, including mental illness—displayed that reality. And our list of distressing news reports reveals Satan’s indirect but very real role in the world today, a role going back to Genesis 3. If Adam and his offspring—all of us—had rejected Satan’s lie no murder, mental illness, or shattered lives would have followed.
What sharpens the issue here is that Jesus was speaking to an audience of professing followers. Profession wasn’t enough. He told them their continuing sins displayed an enslavement to sin, and they needed to become sons of God. Only sons, not slaves, share in God’s eternal life.
But the men quickly dismissed what Jesus said. And their dismissal pointed to an underlying resistance to God. So Jesus put it more bluntly: “You are of your father the devil.” And, “If God were your Father you would love me.” Two options—just two.
Was Jesus wrong or merely reacting when he made his binary claim? Or are we overstating the point if we apply it to today’s events? Our instincts certainly run opposite to what Jesus taught: isn’t the world ‘non-aligned’ unless, and until, people formally invest in a given faith? And, beyond that, enlightened people today know better than to believe in boogeyman stories of devils or demons.
But Jesus would treat our perspectives as so much nonsense. He saw all humanity as family members of Adam who share his spiritual DNA. He was enslaved to the serpent’s promise, “You can be like God,” and all his offspring are too. So there is just one paternity: the Liar and all who embrace his lie.
Except when someone is born of God. And here we return to John 3 and the need for new birth in a fallen world.
Jesus also knew Adam’s offspring share the devil’s ultimate ambition: “And your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning . . .” (verse 44). He was speaking of more than Cain killing Abel. The ambition of the serpent is to kill the Son and all his offspring.
But labeling everyone but Christians as children of the devil seems outrageous. For instance, if we compare the dedicated recovery teams at the crash site to the copilot’s evil actions we see a clear difference. So the assumption that all but Christians are under the devil’s leadership has to be a moral non-starter, even if Jesus held it to be true.
Okay, that sounds noble. But let’s step into Christ’s sandals and think again. The Bible tells us he created us and came to earth to take us as his own. But everyone rejected him except for a few followers who worshipped him. His crucifixion—an event we will recall this Friday—was the finale. Humanity loved darkness rather than his light and life. And today Jesus is still dismissed rather than worshiped by the world at large. Even among good folks. This was the devil’s ambition and he succeeded—except among those born of God.
That’s the point. The devil is satisfied with that for now. But an ambition to usurp God consumes him. He wants to show off his power and murder is his ultimate device. As such he’s the ultimate terrorist: he can blend in as an angel of light until he finds a good opportunity. Events this past week offered such moments.
So the certain litmus of Satan’s work is this: in denying or distorting what Jesus says. And the devil’s power to rule in a given soul comes through pride: the most ambitious among us are the most vulnerable to Satan and to his unseen minions. C. S. Lewis captured all this in his Screwtape Letters. Self-love is the devil’s lifeblood.
But enough of the devil. The Bible reminds us of his finitude: he is merely a creature gone sour. And God, as we read in Job, restricts his movements and trumps his ambitions. When sin prospers, grace is even greater.
Now the surprise: Jesus invites listeners who are grieved by hate murder, lying, pride, and loneliness to change parents! He offers this to all who will respond: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
This brings us to the joy of Easter. God allows us to taste evil to know its bitterness: its pain, death, and sorrow. And by that exposure—as we taste God’s love on Good Friday—we find what we were made for: to be lovers of God, not lovers of self. So—as in an immunization—our pain sets us up hate the Lie and to embrace God as our Father.
Jesus swallowed death for us and, as God, death couldn’t hold him. So by his resurrection we now live with him. And we come to trust him and his words forever.
Easter, then, is the ultimate answer to the tragedies of this past week. Our tears are dried as we come to the empty grave: Jesus has risen!