Imagine how hard his heart had to be to do what he did.
But don’t imagine for a minute that that hardness made his heart strong. A hard heart is not a tough and enduring heart: a hard heart is hard in the sense of being brittle and susceptible. A hardened heart is like a defective clay vessel that, having been fired in the kiln, has nothing left to do but break.
A soft heart, on the other hand, is not soft in the sense of being weak and pitiful. The softness of a soft heart makes it expansive and resilient.
As a young man I tried one time to chop down a sumac. The sumac is a soft tree, and puny. The first few swings of the ax were gratifying as the outer bark fell away at the bite of the blade. But beyond the bark was a slick and rubbery core. Every subsequent swing of the ax made the whole tree shudder, but it only bruised the trunk and embarrassed the “lumberjack.” I want my heart to be soft like that tree. I also want my church to be soft like that tree.
I’ve been thinking about this in light of the shooting at Sutherland Springs. There will be a lot of conversations in the days to come about churches and security, and rightly so. Our places of worship could be targets any Sunday: do they have to be soft ones? But it’s in the nature of our churches to be eagerly (even naively) hospitable. Not only have our guards been down, there’s little evidence they’ve ever been up.
So what will it mean for us to be “shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves” in this alarming hour?
Churches should be alert and attentive. They should be on good terms with their neighbors, and especially those neighbors more likely to be found on their porches than in the choir loft on a Sunday morning. They should pray deliberately for their own safety, and then pray twice as hard for the persecuted church around the world. It’s a good idea to see church security as a ministry and to make some investment in it. Reasonable steps can and should be taken. But the church that puts more energy and resources into security than evangelism should take the ultimate security precaution and just close its doors.
I take it as a given that men who love Jesus will attend church with their families and will, if called on to do so, act with vigor and violence in defense of the defenseless. But I’m not impressed with faux macho Christianity. I don’t want to hear about pastors “packing heat” or graceless boasting about the unfortunate idiot who makes the mistake of messing with this church or that church. Such talk does not reflect the mind of Christ and is not persuasively masculine.
The impulse to make church safe makes sense, but the bravado associated with that effort does not. Real churches attract real mean because they are not safe. The proper church exists at the perilous intersection of the merely mortal and the dangerously divine. It is the sort of place where any Ananias might drop dead, and any Eutychus might be made alive. And it is the closest thing we have to a permanent address for the Holy Spirit, the disruptive wind that blows where it will.
Being the arena for God’s redemptive power, churches are dangerous in a way that no number of armed guards can make safe, and safe in a way that no number of armed assailants can threaten. But that will not keep the armed assailants from trying.
The church is only a target because it’s dangerous, and it’s only dangerous because it’s soft, and it can not be otherwise and remain “the church.”
In the end the church has no easy answer for the problem of the bad man, heavily armed. But I take some comfort from the knowledge that Satan has no answer, easy or otherwise, for his problem of the soft church, sweetly resolved.
Furnace Brook Wesleyan Church Blog