The picture has been etched in my memory. I had looked at it briefly in the morning paper, not wanting to examine it because it was so stark and ugly.
And yet, that morning as I was praying, the Lord brought it into my vision again. A naked man doubled up on the floor with pain written on his face and a young woman soldier posing at the side holding on to the leash that was tied to his neck. It was one of many photographs of American soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners that outraged the world.
What were these soldiers thinking when they tortured their prisoners? They were sent there in a war against terrorism and a quest for freedom so that mankind could live life in its full blessing. It was a war which claimed it freed Iraqis from Saddam. Saddam and the axis of evil. Saddam and his wicked regime. Saddam and his torture chambers. Saddam imprisoning innocent people.
And then, this?
These Americans soldiers are no better. What hypocrites! They rave and shout against the injustice. They represent the fight for life and liberty. And look, now they do the very things they were sent to fight against. It is so easy to make these statements.
The photos of the war crimes press home the extent of how perverse our modern culture has become. What drove them to not only do this evil, but to capture it on film? Posing with the evil that they perpetrated?
It does not take a godly person to look and see they were wicked. Even the average Joe is repulsed and outraged by such images. So easy to look in horror. So quick to condemn the evil in those young soldiers. Especially when you have not lived in it.
I felt the Lord tell me that we are no better. I am no better. I can stay in shock and point fingers at how evil they are but each and every one of us is driven by the evil inclinations of our heart. If such struggles face us in everyday living, I cannot even imagine what it must be like in the midst of war.
We may have wonderful ideals but we can be caught up so quickly by the winds of what is happening around us. We get swayed with its evil. In a blink, we lose our vision. We fall off-balance, we fail, not even realizing it until the evil deed is done.
I know from experience. I have just returned from a womanís retreat. For weeks I had prayed that as a group we would seek the Lord and remain still so we would hear him and gaze at his holiness. I had hope for this because I wondered if the retreat meant only a chance to get away from their families to have fun and a break with other women. I had cried about it because I so wanted us to be centered only on God.
But when the time came, I fell headlong into the activity, the busyness, the frenzy, the fun and the games. Donít get me wrong, these things are not wrong in themselves. Many of us needed the fun and games to lighten the burdens they carried before and would have to carry after the retreat. Where I had failed was to live up to my own expectation to seek God. Because I was not still, I was distracted. I want to blame outside forces for throwing me off, but honestly, my own selfish needs also got me sidetracked. I blinked. And I lost sight of the vision he gave me. I had the chance to speak of his love and his promise but I lost the opportunity to uphold his name. I failed to walk my talk. My carnal nature reigned and his holiness escaped me.
I should have known better. God has so blessed me with such amazing love and grace and intimacy. And I failed. I profaned his name.
I had been captured by evil itself. As I thought about this, I saw that the picture showed me that in fact, this world is like that. The evil one has us all in a leash. He has us chained to the ways of this world and he is very pleased. The only difference is that unlike the Iraqi prisoner who grimaced in pain, we have been so misled by lies and so anaesthetized by the devilís trappings that we do not know we are in bondage. Evil has become the norm, even something to be desired.
How transgression from God is slowly becoming the norm: It is healthy to live with your boyfriend to try out before marriage. Homosexuals should have the right to be married. Not ready to have the child? Get an abortion. Youíre in an enviable position if you ďgot someĒ on your first date. Revealing cleavage and thong underwear is something to be coveted. Check up your week on your Sunday horoscope. How exciting to watch someone being fired on national television. The list goes on. To think differently would be politically incorrect.
All our righteous acts are like filthy rags, we all shrivel up like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, sweep us away, as Isaiah 64:6 said.
This morning, the Lord brought me back to that photo again. This time, I saw that it was the Lord on the leash and we are the captors who hold him there. All that he has given us, all that he preserved for us in the Bible, we have rejected and ignored. We have forgotten who is in control. We have taken the rein from him. Even in our prayer, we tell him what we do. We advise him the best way to go and then ask him and expect his approval and his blessings.
I saw that I had done this with him about the retreat. I made my god much smaller than who he really is. I told him what to do and when it did not turn out the way I expected it, I judged that he did not meet the women the way I wanted him to. Who am I, I felt him say, to decide who and how and when he will meet the women when he wanted to? My godís hand was too short to save.
I had put my god in a leash. When it was convenient for me and when I wanted to have him walk by my side, I would yank the leash my way. And when it pleased me I would look at him in pleasure. I want power over him. It was all about me and not about him.
Oh, how I have got it all wrong. I have made him in my own image. On his face is one of extreme sadness at how I have failed to understand his omnipotence, goodness, mercy and holiness. He came to us in love and instead of responding in love, I put a chain around his neck and keep him at armís length away from me, until it suits me.
If we are to recognize him as God, the only way is to let him reign as lord and ruler. Not now and then, but all the time. In fun and in trouble, in chaos and in the stillness. He has no desire to put us on a leash. His plans for us are far better and more glorious than our pitiful ambitions and carnal chasings. He longs for our devotion as a lover and not as a prisoner.
He and he alone has and can set the captives free. Because he died for us, we need not be imprisoned by evil. If we could only grasp the greatness of his love and the holiness of his being, then we will realize the only way for us is to yield completely to him. May every fiber of our being and will be completely captured by him. Even then, we cannot do this on our own. But we can--and must--ask if he would do this for us.