Watching the World Burn

“Some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

So said Alfred Pennyworth, butler to Bruce Wayne, the Batman. Pennyworth was right.

When people began to protest against statues erected to honor men who fought for the Confederacy, reasonable people across the political spectrum agreed that a national conversation about such monuments was long overdue. When protests then turned to vandalism, some people lamented that vigilantes had taken the law into their own hands, while others felt that vigilantism is—sometimes—justified, especially in the face of long-standing offenses. But the destruction of statues and monuments has now become largely indiscriminate.

On June 10th rioters in Philadelphia defaced a monument to Matthias Baldwin, an abolitionist who fought to end slavery prior to the Civil War. On June 19th rioters in San Francisco destroyed a statue of Ulysses Grant, whose battlefield prowess drove the final nail into the coffin of the Confederacy, and who, as President, helped to destroy the Ku Klux Klan. Just last night, rioters in Madison, Wisconsin tore down a statue of Hans Christian Seg, an anti-slavery activist, who died during the Civil War fighting for the Union. To top it all off, the same mob that tore down Seg’s statue also assaulted and beat up a 60-year-old, gay, Democratic, progressive state senator who was supporting the protest.

This is no longer about racism or the Confederacy. It’s about watching the world burn.

But it should not surprise Christians. It is in the heart of fallen men to love wickedness, and to usurp a peaceful protest to incite violence, to twist a good cause into an evil act, and to employ the cover of night to loot and to destroy. Even as Proverbs 21:10 teaches, “The soul of the wicked desires evil; his neighbor finds no mercy in his eyes.”

When men want to watch the world burn, any attempt at rational argument about the relative merits of a given statue proves fruitless. The answer to mindless, indiscriminate destruction is not to argue politely in favor of keeping some statues free from scorching. You cannot engage in a rational conversation with irrational men.

What then is the answer? Rather than wringing our hands, rather than lamenting the loss of a “kinder, gentler” age, and rather than looking for political figures to fix what is most fundamentally a spiritual problem, Christians must proclaim the truth, declaring that evil committed in the guise of a protest against racism does not fool the LORD. Wickedness done in the name of reform is wickedness still. Every protestor—every human—is accountable for his actions before a Holy God, and those who are using peaceful protests in order to wreak havoc will incur wrath. Judgment is coming, and it belongs to the Church to warn everyone who will listen that the only escape is found in Christ. Christians must proclaim Christ. Jesus alone subdues the hearts of men, making servants of rebels, and saints of sinners. The Church must extend far and wide Christ’s invitation to mercy and forgiveness, and his promise of coming judgment.

Some men do just want to watch the world burn, and no legislation or political leader or social movement will change that. No wringing of hands will put an end to it. No polite conversation will curb it. People act from their hearts, and Jesus alone changes those.

Those who repent, turn from their burning, and embrace Christ will soon find a purpose much greater than watching the world burn, while those who reject him will eventually get more of a fire than they ever bargained for.

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