Last week’s vicious murder of nine worshiping members (including its beloved Pastor, Clementa Pinckney) of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charlestown, South Carolina by white supremacist Dylann Roof, ranks as one of the most callous, emboldened and shocking criminal acts this country has ever known. Its unbridled brutality was shown by the declared intention of the demonic killer who confessed that he simply wanted “to do something crazy” in order “to start a race war” as well as by the context of this crime – it was committed during that local church’s midweek prayer and Bible study which was also attended by none other than Roof himself.
We might well wonder, isn’t the church supposed to be a haven for God’s people? Did not the saints of old consider the horns of the altar a place of almost impregnable safety, 1 Ki 1:49-54; 2:28-35; etc. Indeed, the psalmist boldly affirms, “For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock.” Ps 27:5. Is it not the place in which God’s glory dwells and which God’s people love? There, the beauty of the Lord is magnificently displayed, 26:8; 27:4, especially as the gospel of the crucified Christ is publicly proclaimed, Gal 3:1. Surely it is the place that is altogether lovely and for which God’s people have a deep and continual longing! Indeed a single day in God’s courts is better than being in a thousand of the world’s most magnificent structures, Ps 84:1-2, 10. In the eschaton, God’s dwelling-place attains the apex of its beauty and glory for the Triune God himself is the source and center of its light, loveliness and splendor, Rev 21:1- 22:5. There, the saints dwell in the fullness of joy, security and satisfaction as they experience ultimate fulfillment in the Presence of their God. Since all of these proclamations are true and since the local, visible churches are an earthly representation of the heavenly reality, then why did the holy, wise, omnipotent and good God allow this heinous event to take place? “Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?" ” Ps 77:8-9.
The recent atrocities at Emanuel AME Church are a stark reminder of the tension in which we live- the tension between the already aspect of God’s kingdom which was inaugurated by the Incarnation of Jesus Christ and its not yet dimension which will receive its glorious consummation at the Second Coming of our Lord. Yes, some irrefutable proofs of the presence of God’s kingdom such as the provision of eternal life to sinners by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone; the defeat of Satan and his demonic minions at the cross of Calvary; the restoration of sight, speech, and so on, to the afflicted; etc., have already been ushered in by the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet, the best is yet to come for the kingdom of God will not be manifest and experienced in its supremacy until the full Day of the Lord. In the meantime, our lives are fleshed out in this present, evil age which is overlapped by the age to come. In these times, God’s people are not exempt from the harsh and horrible consequences of living in a fallen world. No place, not even the holy ground of the church of Christ, is immune from vicious intrusions of sin. In times like these, God’s people are to remember the promise of our Lord Jesus Christ to his beleaguered disciples on the eve of his crucifixion, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." ” Jn 16:33. In times like these, God’s people need to cling to God’s covenant assurances that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, Rom 8:31-39. In times like these, it is fitting for God’s people to cry aloud with eager expectation, “O LORD, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult? They pour out their arrogant words; all the evildoers boast. They crush your people, O LORD, and afflict your heritage.” Ps 94:3-5; cf. 13:1-2; 35:17; Rev 6:10; etc.
In times like these, we join the rest of creation in a harmonious groan as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, Rom 8:23. Above all, in times like these, we receive encouragement from the heavenly cloud of witnesses that sacrificed their lives on earth for Christ, as we faithfully run our race “.. looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Heb 12:1-2.
Armed with these abounding assurances, we can then confidently expect the Lord to bring us into his heavenly sanctuary when Christ comes again, to the place from which “.. the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, .. murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars..” are eternally banished, Rev 21:8. Then and only then can we receive our ultimate safety for the Lord God and the Lamb will be our Temple, 21: 22. In the meantime, while we mourn with heavy hearts the murder of the Lord’s servants, we also seek the Lord’s comfort for those that remain by recalling the strong heavenly solace, “.. Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on." "Blessed indeed," says the Spirit, "that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!" ” Rev 14:13. “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.” 22:20b-21.