As 2015 began I had my hopes up for an enlightening 12 month journey back to a high level of spiritual growth. I had reason to believe so. I’ve recognized a pattern in my 20-plus years as a born-again Christian. In 1995 I came face-to-face with my own sinfulness, beholding the face of God in Jesus Christ. God poured His grace on me in January of that year and my life has never been the same. Then, a decade later in 2005, I had a powerful personal reformation of my foundational theological beliefs and again, my life has never been quite the same.
So, here comes 2015, full of the promise of even greater blessings from above. I couldn’t wait to see what God had in store for me on the 20th anniversary of our reconciled relationship. Little did I know the heavens would open up and rain fire down on my family. We’ve been afflicted with trials and tribulation the likes of which I’ve never witnessed. Many sorrows have pierced us over the past 6 months and I can openly and honestly say to you that as I write this, we are broken and bleeding. The wounds we’ve received are deep, wide and will leave permanent scars on our souls.
But let me start at the beginning. An ill omen for our family came prior to 2015. In the latter half of 2014 we found out that our niece of only 25, who had recently married and had a baby, was diagnosed with brain cancer. It took us all by surprise. There were no early indicators that this kind of thing could happen. At least not until my niece started having balance and coordination problems just prior to diagnosis. The good news is she’s currently undergoing treatment and doing well.
A few months later, in January of 2015 my mother became ill. She lost almost complete use of her left arm and leg. Medical evaluations determined she had lung cancer that had moved to her brain. The diagnosis came as little surprise to us. My mom had smoked nonstop for over 50 years. However, this did not make dealing with her failing health any easier. In June she died rather unexpectedly due to an infection. My dad had passed on 13 years earlier so now I found myself without the family I had always known and relied on. Ever since then my brother and I have been dealing with all the legal and financial issues of the estate she left us.
Then, the most cataclysmic event of my entire life occurred on October 24th. You may have heard about it in the news. My precious and adorable two-year-old grandson, Nash, was murdered at the Oklahoma State University homecoming parade in Stillwater. That was the worst day of my life. It’ll forever be the bleakest of all my days. It’s hard for me to look back on it without holding back tears. The images of the unfathomable loss of a boy so dearly loved by all are permanently seared in my heart and mind. Our family will never be the same. We may mend but never truly heal. A broken heart can never be made whole again this side of the Resurrection.
We’ve survived the holiday season – if only just barely. Nash’s death, still so fresh in our hearts, made our annual family gatherings quiet and empty, devoid of his usual rambunctious antics. The undercurrent of sadness ran throughout every conversation and forced smile. I, for one, am glad Christmas is behind me. I’ve never felt this way before. Christmas is always my favorite time. Not anymore. Maybe never again.
That’s enough heartache for one year. Mercifully, on a personal level, the remaining two months brought no new sorrows, seeing as we are drowning in the ones already laid upon us.
However, the year brought many tribulations and trials to me in other ways. World events both near and far have affected me deeply. The rising power, influence and depravity of ISIS has led to the subsequent relentless persecution and butchering of my Christian brethren in the middle east, bringing Christianity in those lands to the brink of extinction. The Islamic State’s grip extends far beyond it’s own fluid borders. Widespread Islamic terrorism from Paris to San Bernardino showcases that religious extremism has spread to every corner of the globe.
Gay marriage becoming the law of the land in 2015 is a sign of God’s judgment upon this nation and the world. The rise of transgender rights and the resulting rejection of common sense binary gender classifications exhibits the rejection of rational thought in favor of feelings-based moral judgments. The people are doing what is right in their own eyes. This new morality is centered on equal rights for all regardless of belief. The treatment of all religions as equally valid, including Satanic sects, starkly exhibits the moral blindness of our modern culture of death. Speaking of death, the videos made public demonstrating the absolute barbarity of the abortion industry and the culture’s subsequent adamant defense of such evil is beyond abhorrent.
The media’s relentless assault on the Christian faith and Christians themselves has reached a fever pitch. Never in my life have I read such scathing, hate-filled rhetoric . Day after day I find articles mocking and denouncing our precious faith in almost every major publication. And this is in the good ole US of A!
I could go on, but you get the point. Dark days are upon us. Human depravity has infiltrated every avenue of life and thought – both in the culture and in the world. Evil has even found us in our little corner of the world, afflicting sufferings upon my family.
How long O’ Lord? How long must we wait for your vindication? Evil has flanked us about, we are surrounded by our enemies. Sin has destroyed the ones I love. Our innate sinfulness has blighted the image of God we were created in. Corruption, pain and suffering are our lot. Sickness and disease ravage our bodies, inflict trauma upon our hearts and take us to the grave. What now? How should we react in such dark times when evil is waging an unending two front war – from without and within?
In answer, Scripture still speaks. I’m reminded of Romans 12:21. The apostle Paul wrote. “Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.”
Easy words to read, much harder words to live out. But as Christians these words do not comprise mere advice to toy with at our leisure but a divine command that must be obeyed. We can all shout out the unfair circumstances thrown our way to excuse ourselves from obedience but all such efforts shall fail to vindicate us from our obligations as Christians.
So, how do we as Christians, in an overwhelmingly evil and hostile world, overcome evil with good. The answer is in the verses preceding verse 21:
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Out do one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 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.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:9-21 ESV).
Looking back on the hardships of 2015 brings to remembrance a great quote from The Fellowship of the Ring. At one point Frodo laments the circumstances that have brought him such misfortune:
I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
To which Gandalf replies:
So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.
I would not have chosen the trials God has appointed for us to endure but I didn’t get a vote in the matter. The issue is settled in my heart. I’ve decided what to do with the time God has given me. In 2016 I will not be overcome with evil but will overcome evil with good.