The awful shootings at the U.S. Capitol building are a reminder of the question we all have to keep asking in both our institutional and personal lives: Is our biggest enemy without, or is that enemy within? Is our most feared foe pounding down the gates from outside, or working traitorously among us on the inside?
The answer matters. It matters in terms of how we set our defenses. It matters in terms of our day-by-day priorities. It matters in terms of our own physical, spiritual, and mental posture.
Anyone who's visited Washington in the last dozen years knows there's been a sea change in the accessibility sightseers enjoy-not just to the U.S. Capitol building, but to most federal buildings. (Government buildings in your own town may also have tighter security.) Our Department of Defense may be headquartered at the Pentagon, but the defenses you tend to encounter during the day are set against the citizenry.
Still, while you fret about waiting in line to empty your pockets of change and head through one more metal detector, ask yourself honestly: Are you most worried by the deranged Russell Eugene Westons of the world, ready to rush in and shoot up the Capitol building, or by the men and women who belong there, sitting not far away in the Senate and House chambers, regularly blasting away at the soul of the republic?
To bring the question closer home, consider the 2 Chronicles 7:14 argument. The big problem in our society right now is not all the bogeymen "out there"; it is instead the bogeymen stashed away in our own Christian closets. It's the unwillingness of Christians to "humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways" that is so costly to our society as we close out this decade and this century.
The truly wise person refuses to be preoccupied looking either outside or inside for the ultimate bogeyman. Attacks will come from both directions; God's people have always been beset from without and within, and the whole history of God's dealing with his people has emphasized his equipping them for both kinds of struggles.
Romans 1, for example, is a vivid and pretty grim picture of that awful world "out there." Given Paul's description of what rebellious people can become, it's easy to conclude that all our time and all our resources should be devoted to the construction of fortresses against such evil.
But then there's Romans 2. There, the apostle hurries on to warn anybody who gets too uppity an outlook that he should be careful about passing judgment overly quickly on someone else-lest that judgment come back to haunt the person passing judgment. It's the same note the same writer sounds in 1 Corinthians 10:12-13 when he warns: "So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man."
As the Bible does so often, it reminds us with such teaching not to forget either set of enemies, but also not to get preoccupied with either set, as if it were the only one. Anyone who has tasted God's grace knows that change is possible, that the ugliness of sin doesn't have to remain the norm, and that it's right to raise a standard against sin. But none of us has won that battle completely, and none of us knows our susceptibility to setbacks along the way. These things temper us even as we engage the enemy outside.
Some are so wimpish, or so pacifistic, as to pretend there is no outside enemy. The Bible is never that naive. It regularly records and always assumes that there are evil people who want to destroy good people, that there are serious God-haters intent on profaning all that is holy. The Bible's reality is fully aware of an enemy "who prowls about like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour."
Again and again, though, the Bible also reminds us that we too were once such enemies of God. The big difference is that he has begun to conquer us. The fact that we have been assured of his victory-and the fact that we have even begun to savor that victory-should do two specific things for us as God's people:
(1) It should prompt us first to cooperate more energetically with God in his making us fully his people. We may not know which of his other enemies he is going to win over, but we do know his work on ourselves-and should therefore give ourselves to that cause with enthusiasm.
(2) It should make us just a tad more patient as we call on God's other outside enemies to give up. Not patient with the wrongdoing, the lying, and the rebellion. But patient with the people who may be in the early stages of getting turned around.