The longer I live overseas and the more I disconnect from U.S. media, the more I recognize how little things change. Names have changed, but the stories have not. Tactics have changed, but the social issues have not. Leadership has changed, but the discord has not. Major media outlets offer evidence of this ongoing cycle, but newsreaders have witnessed it more specifically in the last several weeks as they have focused on Chicago. Expectantly, every Friday contains headlines anticipating the ferociousness of the weekend while Monday’s stories contain the tally of bodies.
Chicago has captured attention for several years for the brutality of every passing weekend. What draws scrutiny is not necessarily the circumstances or the severity, but the quantity that leaves the public with the question, “What is happening in Chicago?” The answer is not complicated but very simple. The events of Chicago are not different than the rest of the state, the nation, or the world.
Scripture identifies any number of specific attributes of a fallen society, but there are three to focus on here. First, we read the following in James 4:1-4:
What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
People are at war with themselves disputing, quarreling, and murdering, but while James uses several different words (lust, envy, pleasures at war) to define the motivation the source is always the same: the self. While each story usually implicates drugs, alcohol, gangs, disputes, and a host of other causes, the source goes back to the individual. It is a source that places personal passions, priorities, and preferences above the care and comfort of others.
Additionally, the issues in Chicago are representative of human pride. Selfishness and pride are a dangerous combination that results in destruction. When selfish needs are not met, human pride intervenes to break the stability of an individual causing them to defend their desires. It exacerbates an already volatile set of principles. The current cultural traditions display pride at an additional level not just through offenders, but the leaders designated to confront those offenders. More greatly concerned about public perception, leaders are quick to deflect responsibility and pass the burden elsewhere. This is part of the human condition demonstrated at the fall and seen throughout history (cf. Genesis 3:12-13; Exodus 16). Such pride resolves nothing and simply begins an ongoing cycle.
The final attribute is one of idolatry. Certainly, this is not a word one would expect to be the source of the confrontations taking place. Yet note that James refers to those in conflict as adulteresses (James 4:4). Idolatry is a grave sin because it replaces the worship of God with the worship of something else and ultimately takes away from his glory. In this case, the elevation of self above God is taking place as previously mentioned. The quarreling indicates the worship of one’s own desires and wants.
Each of these contributes to the ongoing problems being faced by our society. Yet, confronting a spiritual problem with secular solutions not only leaves the matters unresolved but allows them to persist. A continued reading of James reveals three characteristics that serve as necessary conditions for resolution. James writes:
But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, ‘God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you (4:6-10).
James offers a number of godly attributes, but there are some recurring points that attract our attention:
Humility: The antithesis of pride is humility and to the humble person God gives grace (v. 6). Moreover, humility elevates God and his priorities over the self. It seeks the best interest of Him, and thus the best interest of others over one’s personal desires.
Submission: Humility causes one to submit to the Lord’s authority. To overcome the spiritual problems one’s life must be in submission to God. Submission to Him compels a resistance to Satan (see v. 7) and his solicitations that fuel such street wars of our day.
Connection: Finally, more than mere submission to God, we must draw nearer to Him (see v. 8). Drawing nearer causes a heart change that generates transformation and long-term impact for His glory.
Submission to selfish desires will always result in conflict. Only when humility prevails and causes us to draw nearer to God will the solution be found.
While many are concerned about the circumstances in Chicago, the events and solutions are not exclusive to Chicago. They are represented every day at various places throughout the world. Redemption of such depravity is possible through humble submission and dedication to our Lord. There exists a great depravity, and thus a great need. But there also exists a great Savior to meet that great need.
Photo “Chicago Cityscape” courtesy of user Ken Douglas and Flickr.