When the righteous triumph, there is great elation; but when the wicked rise to power, men go into hiding. Proverbs 28, verse 12.
What would you have done if you were a Christian in 1938 Germany? Would you have turned a blind eye (as so many of our brothers and sisters did) to the rising anti-Semitism and violence against Jews? Or what would you have done in Iran in 1979, when the Islamists were returning and seizing power as the iron-fisted reign of the Shah ending? Would you have clung to your faith, would you have fled, or would you convert to Islam? What about if you were in the library at Columbine?
We have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight to say “I would have done X” because we know this is hypothetical and nothing will happen to us. It’s easy for you and I to say what we would want to say when things are going well in our lives (and when we have the luxury of being disconnected from the actual situation). What about when things get tough? What would we do when our faith is put on the line? Today’s verse tells me that God is interested in our responses. He knows already what we will do, but He wants us to navigate our choices and side with Him. Too often, our choices disappoint him.
They always have. Don’t you think He was disappointed in the Garden? Or watching Judas betray for measly silver? What about when you stood by as your friends ridiculed that kid? It’s easy to say “I would have been Corrie Ten Boom and hidden the Jews” or “I would have stood up for my faith in Tehran” until the persecution actually begins. It happens still every single day in our world. Today, in Indonesia, you can be caned if you speak against Islam. In China or North Korea, you get hard time for even professing belief in God. In Saudi Arabia and Iran, if you profess belief in Christ, you can be executed. Those are real places and real people are persecuted.
You don’t need to go too far, though, to see that, when the wicked rise to power, people of faith go into hiding. In the high schools, when the cool kids pressure the un-cool kids, the un-cool kids often shut up. In the suburbs, complacency runs hand in hand with keeping up with the Joneses and if you aren’t complacent, you’re in the silent majority which is silent none the less. Even in your own church, when the strong-willed have the loudest voice and a place of prominence, the strong-willed don’t necessarily have the Godliest posture. Everyone usually swims along like a lemming. Don’t believe me? Turn on the evening news, or get online and read up. Better yet, try speaking up against a popular but ill-guided notion in a church meeting.
So I’ll say it again: the verse tells me that God is interested in our responses. He is interested in hearing us say what is on our hearts because, to paraphrase what His Son said, out of the mouth come the things from the heart. He doesn’t just want to fore-know what’s on our minds in this matter: He wants to hear us, what we believe, who we are. He wants us to stand up for Him, join the front lines at His side, and make ready for action. He wants us to stand with Him because he knows that true righteousness starts with Him, and that wickedness and evil are real things that cause good women and men to clam up. He knows that we, as frail people, need these types of gestures to build up our faith.
He knew it in Gesthemene, when He asked His friends to stay up, keep watch, and pray for him. Instead they caught forty winks. He knew it when Saul was overseeing the stoned murder of Stephen. He knew it just last week when the gossip started, or the kids started talking, or during those talks around the water cooler. He knew it when you and I were caught silent as the louder voices in the crowd spoke over the rest.
Good men and bad go into hiding when the wicked rise to power. Despotism often rises to power under the auspices of popular consent, using the legitimate means of ascension to gradually box their opponents out of existence. Yet it is wickedness all the same. When they can afford to get away with it, off come the gloves and out comes the bared teeth. Whether it is political control of a nation or erstwhile control of the ladies aid society, peoples’ agendas often have more to do with themselves than the things of God. When that happens, we run for cover.
How much better would our world be if, instead of running to hide, we ran back to God and stood up? How many fewer problems would there be if people relied on God for solutions to them? Wouldn’t this be a better world if we firmly, quietly, but resoundingly kicked Satan in the teeth every time we were confronted with a choice between right and wrong? That’s what God wants us to do, you know. The verse is an observation about what happens when we don’t do it.
Pollyanna and Billy Graham? Sure. But it only takes one person, standing up, to inspire a movement of righteousness. I’d much rather occupy a place on God’s side than Wall Street, LA, or some makeshift camp.
I’d rather do that because, as long as there is a world, wickedness will have its day while hiding its true nature. Hitler didn’t seize power: he was elected, and after honestly winning Germany’s equivalent to the Medal of Honor twice. The penny-ante Hitler’s of our time – Chavez in Venezuela, Ahmadinajad in Iran – were elected; they didn’t overthrow any government. They were chosen. It can happen anywhere, even here. It happens every year in our world, and it could happen here too. What will you do when it does?