There is something about bad news that paralyzes us.
Maybe you’ve experienced it when someone called you to tell you that a loved one suddenly died. Your reaction to the caller on the other end may have gone something like this: “What? What are you saying? What do you mean? I don’t understand!”
Of course, your problem in that moment isn’t that you literally didn’t understand the bad news or that you failed to hear the news properly. You’re just so emotionally stunned, so unable and so unready to accept the bad news you’ve just received that all you can do is freeze. You’re paralyzed and, therefore, unaccepting. “What? You’re kidding. What?”
That kind of reaction seems to be all around us in America right now. Except instead of receiving one stunning phone call and having days or weeks to process it and eventually having the chance to accept the bad news, we’re drowning in a tsunami of “stunning phone calls,” one right after the other, day after day and day, leaving us paralyzed by all the bad news.
Read, for example, a few of these recent headlines and note how they make you react:
“Obama’s Most Flagrant Violation of the Constitution Yet”
“Is There No Lie Too Big for Hillary Clinton to Tell?”
“White House accused of burying damning DHS border security report”
“Why Trump Claims the Election Could be Rigged”
“Can the Head of the IRS Lie and Get Away With It?”
“Pastor Facing Child Sex Abuse, Sodomy, Rape Charges”
Did those headlines depress you? Make you angry? Or did they paralyze you … just a little bit?
I am convinced that, aside from the particulars, what is overwhelming us at root is the widespread corruption in our nation. All around us is a hyper-intensive, ever-present, sweeping corruption that is so pervasive — and, dare I say, so seemingly normal — that most of us can’t even take it in, much less respond to it. We get about as far as, “What? You’re kidding. What?” Until the next “stunning phone call” is patched through. And then we go through the cycle again.
Part of this, I believe, is because the growing corruption sometimes seems to have taken over everyone and everything. It isn’t just corrupt Washington politicians that plague us. It’s corrupt state and local governments. It’s corrupt institutions, like schools and businesses. It’s corrupt churches. Corrupt people, absolutely everywhere. Lying, stealing, fornicating, cheating? No big deal. Everyone does it. And no one cares much if you do those things, either. Except the law of God is written on our hearts, and we know it’s wrong to lie, to steal, to commit immorality, to break the law. So why do so few people seem to care?
And there’s when the paralysis hits. How do you respond to corruption everywhere? How do you clean up everything?
Oh, sure, sometimes people fight back against corruption. Like the Virginia gun-rights group that filed suit against journalist Katie Couric for intentionally and deceptively editing the documentary interview she did with them. Or the women who bravely came forward to accuse former President Bill Clinton of sexual crimes. Or the families of the Benghazi victims, who cried out that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lied to them. Or certain congressmen, who held hearings on the outrageous Obama IRS and Clinton email scandals. Sometimes, people even speak up against corruption in the church, like when widespread sex abuse is covered up or a pastor is on the take.
But too often — and this is not lost on any of us — those who mount efforts against corruption simply lose. Worse, they’re ignored. Their cases are thrown out. Their rape accusations or congressional hearings are shrugged off. Their exposure of corrupt pastors is met with indifference. And the corrupt keep on going, probably snickering, because they know that even if they are exposed, no one really cares.
Yet unfortunately for them, the Lord cares about corruption — so much so that He once wiped out most of the earth’s population over it.
Think back to how the Lord responded to the condition of mankind just before the Flood: “God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah, ‘I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them ..'” (Gen. 6:12-13a) The Lord had had enough of the sin and corruption! He made it rain for 40 days and 40 nights, and He wiped out everyone on earth but Noah and his family.
Another example of the Lord’s reaction to corruption is in Isaiah 1 in His complaint against Judah, whose people had resisted His will, yet continued their religious ceremonies and offerings: “Woe to the sinful nation, a people whose guilt is great, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him. … Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me.” (Isaiah 1:4, 13)
In the case of Judah, the Lord’s response was not to wipe them out, but to call them out and urge them to repent! “Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice ..” (Isaiah 1:16) And yet, Judah didn’t repent — and the people eventually were carried off into Babylonian captivity.
Even so, the Bible gives us examples of those who were corrupt, repented of it and found the Lord’s forgiveness. Zacchaeus was such a man. Luke 19 tells us that he was chief tax collector, a profession known in his day for rank corruption and ripping people off. But when he climbed up in a tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus, the Lord called to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” And what was Zacchaeus’ reaction? “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus then said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
One thing is for sure in these examples: The Lord is never paralyzed by corruption. He always deals with it, one way or another. Sometimes it’s by wiping it out. Sometimes it’s by warning the corrupt, then punishing them. And sometimes, when the corrupt listen and repent, it’s by forgiving and saving them through Jesus Christ.
This is why Christians cannot be complacent about corruption. We may not be able to expunge it all, and those who engage in it may not always listen to us, but we can never fail to call it out. Corruption is not just toxic and destructive to institutions and nations — it’s an eternal offense to our holy God! Yet how often do we proclaim this to our corrupt society?
Remember Ezekiel, whom the Lord told to speak his words to His people in exile? God told him: “Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says,’ whether they listen or fail to listen.’” (Ezekiel 3:11) This is our call, as well — to tell a corrupt world what the Lord says about their sin and the judgment to come if they do not repent.
Additionally, in the midst of a corrupt world, we must be careful to live lives that are free from corruption. Christians must stand out to the world for our godliness! As Paul told Titus, “For the grace of God .. teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:11-14)
One thing is sure: The unrepentant corrupt will be punished, either here on earth or for eternity in hell; sometimes in both places, but never in neither. And when we let that sink in, we can no longer remain paralyzed by corruption or indifferent to the fate of those immersed in it. After all, such were some of us!
Jesus Christ died and rose again for the corrupt. And as the standard-bearers of God’s kingdom, we have to offer them both a word of admonishment, and yet a word of hope — that the corrupt who repent and believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ will be saved from their sins and assured the promise of eternal life! As John the Baptist proclaimed, “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:5)
Corruption need not paralyze us. It ought to remind us that, more than anything else, the corrupt need a Savior.
And so for those of us who know that Savior, it’s time to get unstuck.