With Deliberate Malice

I’m not far enough into Moby-Dick to speak with any authority to its meaning. Nor am I sufficiently advanced in wisdom to untangle the spaghetti-like complexity that is human sin, divine providence, and demonic havoc. Nevertheless, Melville’s Ishmael at one point defends the notion that a sperm whale would, under certain conditions, act with malice.

Again, it is very often observed that, if the sperm whale, once struck, is allowed time to rally, he then acts, not so often with blind rage, as with wilful, deliberate designs of destruction to his pursuers.

As a pastor, I hear about and often witness great acts of harm done by people in the name of the church. The authority and trust given to Christians in general and Christian leaders in particular are often mishandled and grave damage is done. I understand why many fear if not hate the church and the god in whose name men and women in the church often act. And Christians and Christianity come under particular scrutiny for acts of betrayal and abuse and control as these run counter to the ideals for which we should stand. The more passionately we embrace the ideals, the more clearly we see what the church should be, the harder it is to accept the aberrations, and the darker we will paint her when she fails.

And fail she does. She fails because people fail. She fails because she confuses her purpose. She fails for all kinds of reasons. Among these, I am persuaded, is the ‘wilful, deliberate designs of destruction’ of the one who is the enemy of God and of his people. We cannot bow out of responsibility by saying ‘the devil made him/her/me do it’ but we cannot ignore the deliberate malice with which he who stands against all things good will lash out at that which is closest to God’s heart.

With all I know, with all I’ve seen, and with all I’ve experienced, I can’t look at the church with anything but the deepest affection. I know that is hard for many, for those who have been wounded at the very deepest places. I understand. And so to counter those feelings of harm I want any church of which I am a part to be as genuine, and as safe, as possible.

Yes, it is not the church we are to trust, but God. And yes, it is not the church with whom we are in union, but Jesus. And yet the church, as broken and as failing as she will, through acts of goodness, often obscured, be that which will strike the blows that will stir the blind rage and deliberate malice of the enemy. This should surprise us not the least and should only incite us to aim with other saints eager to strike such blows. These blows can only be struck, however, by acts of integrity and genuineness and compassion and sacrifice. Let him rage against that.

Unsupported Assumptions

A pastor queried for a series being run on the website of The Gospel Coalition made this observation to support his advice to young pastors:

Much evangelical preaching tends to be either therapeutic or moralistic, regardless of theological persuasion.

That may or may not be true, of course, but there is no way of disputing it. The man making the claim preaches most Sundays, so he can’t have much personal experience by which to make such a judgment. I can’t imagine how he has researched this claim, nor does he cite the research of others. How can he make the claim? Is it because we grant such leeway unthinkingly to prominent pastors?

I’m not sure why without support we are supposed to accept such claims. Maybe no one does. Or maybe they do. I can’t claim to know one way or another.