Is There No Balm in Washington?

Last week marked another tragedy in our country—more children dead at the hands of a peer. The story is all too familiar and it reflects how desperately sick we are as a people. The chaos, strife, and anger in our hearts have flooded into our streets, our schools, and our discourse. As a people, few of us would say we are healthy and are heading in the right direction. Our trajectory is clear, yet we are blind, or unwilling, to admit it. The latest tragedy is just that, the latest one. There will surely be more of the same.

Evils like this do not happen in a vacuum. There are a lot of contributing factors which have led to such tragedies being commonplace. Mass shootings are not the disease, they are the painful symptoms a society which has been declining in health for some time. What is the illness? Sin. Specifically, high rebellion against God in every area of a life. The disease of unbelief has spread like malicious cancer into every corner of our society and its fruit is evident for anyone observing from a Christian worldview.

The driving ethic of our sin is replacing God with lesser things. We have told ourselves and our children that life is all about me. My goal in life is to seek myself, to be true to myself, to do what makes me happy. The problem is we cannot satisfy ourselves, let alone make ourselves happy. When we turn inward to replace God with ourselves we always come back dissatisfied. The further down this path we go the worse it gets. In order to justify our pursuit of the self, we have told our children there is no right and wrong. Do what is right for you.

This pursuit of the self is killing us. We have convinced ourselves we are descended from animals, and then we are shocked when our kids act like animals. We have held survival of the fittest as the ethic by which the universe moves forward and then we are dismayed when people live like its true. If it isn’t wrong for a lion, gorilla, or shark to kill his adversaries, then why would it be wrong for us? Ideas are important. They have consequences. We cannot teach these things to entire generations and expect it to not bear its fruit. To reject God always leads to death. 

In response to the latest tragedy, Christians have rightly offered prayer. They have turned to the God who hears and who saves.  The response of many has been to attack prayer as useless to our problem and with this we go further down the rabbit hole. What would the secularists then offer as hope? They turn to their god, the government. They plead with Washington D.C., “Save us! Do something!” In the vacuum we have created by rejecting God something always takes his place.  The problem is the government not only can’t stop our current downward spiral, turning to the government instead of God is just another step toward death, chaos, and strife. Things will only worsen because there is no power in Washington to heal our wounds. 

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In Jeremiah 8 the prophet laments the state of his people, Israel. They had rejected God in favor ofidols and the wisdom of the world. The result was the same as it is for us today—chaos, strife, discord, and violence. The people were falling apart. Their sin was consuming them. This always what sin does. This is God's world and if you reject him, it will not go well for you. 

In Jeremiah 8.21-22 the prophet says, “Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn, and horror grips me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?”

Jeremiah weeps for his people and their current suffering, just as we do. Then he asks the important question, “Is there no balm in Gilead?” Israel had turned to Gilead time and again to fix their problems, but it wasn’t working. They turned to the wisdom of their age, to the medicine of their day, the doctors of their day to fix what was ultimately a spiritual problem. The point Jeremiah is making is obvious, “Why do you keep hitting your head on the wall and expect a different result? Why do you keep going after that which is killing you expecting it to save you?” If there was actual power in Gilead to save, then Israel would have been already been healed. Instead, it was Gilead who had taken the place of God in their hearts.The pursuit of healing from Gilead was killing them.  

This is us. We turn to our politicians, our government, and our rebellious ways of thinking expecting it will bring healing. The problem is: the farther we go on this road the worse our illness gets. Is there no physician in Washington to heal us? Is there no balm there? If there is, then why are we getting worse? 
The solution for Israel and for us is the same—turn in repentance to God.

I am not advocating for belief in a general god. Most Americans profess belief in a god (who happens to look a lot like us). What we need to do is turn to the God who is there, the one who created everything. The one who has revealed himself in Scripture and through his Son Jesus Christ. This is the only way for healing to ever truly come. 

As a people, we need to do an about-face, a full 180. We must walk the long road of repentance in all areas of life and it must start now by acknowledging our sinful rebellion against our Creator and his Son. The truth is there is healing available, but we must humble ourselves before God in dust and ashes. I am not calling for the mere mental belief that God exists, but genuine faith which is marked by hearts broken over sin and a humble obedience to the commands of God.

This must pervade every area of our thinking. Man is not an animal, but he is made in the image of God. There is a universal moral standard of right and wrong. Life is not about pursuing ourselves, but about dying to ourselves and following Christ. Parents are to raise their kids, not to look to schools to replace them. Ideas have consequences. If we will walk this road of repentance, then we can find the healing eluding us. There is power in the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is power to heal and to change hearts, but first, our sinful hearts must be replaced with hearts of flesh by repentance and faith.

So I will continue to pray. To pray for widespread repentance and faith. This is our only hope, and it is a glorious hope because unlike Washington it has the power to heal the wounded, forgive sinners, restore families, and bring people into right relation with God and others. To this end, the church of Christ must labor by preaching the gospel of Christ's sacrificial death and his victorious resurrection.