Decades ago, a very difficult lesson was learned. In late September 1982, not too terribly far from our central Indiana community, there was loss of innocent life that changed the course of an entire industry.
If you were around in those days, you may remember the Chicago Tylenol murders. The name gives away obvious details, but initially, there were seven incredibly mysterious deaths that left the national community in shock. It became a practice in searching for a metaphorical needle in a haystack. Detectives looked for some common denominator between a number of victims, most with little in common except for a similar result – an extremely swift death.
The story began on September 29th with the death of twelve-year-old Mary Kellerman. Shortly thereafter, Adam Janus (27), his brother Stanley (25) and sister-in-law Theresa (19), Mary McFarland (31), Paula Prince (35), and Mary Reiner (27) lost their lives in similar fashion. It was determined that the one thing they all had in common was the ingesting of Extra-Strength Tylenol, of all things. With time ticking while panic spread, the authorities were able to advise the general public via the media and even loudspeakers in the streets that an unknown suspect had been tampering with random bottles of the medicine and lacing them with lethal doses of potassium cyanide.
Despite this remaining an open case, the result brought the drafting and approval of a variety of anti-tampering laws by the federal government, bringing efficient safety seals to your neighborhood pharmacy and pushing back against the potential of recurring victimization.
Though this story may seem out of place for a theological blogpost, it is actually an illustration of a solidly biblical idea. There is a strange assumption these days that safeguarding oneself is a mark of fear or a show of weakness. An odd way of thinking suggests those who seek to steward themselves and their families well have a lack of trust in God’s sovereignty. However, safeguarding oneself in a variety of ways is actually a sign of a mature Christian.
One of my favorite passages is 1 Peter 5:5-8. In verse 5, Peter is speaking to the Church, and even more specifically to its leaders, when he tells them to clothe themselves “with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” This is a command to safeguard yourself. What might we safeguard ourselves with? Humility. This is a quality that is hard to develop in modern first-world nations where independence and self-sustenance is such a powerful idol, but it’s what God has called us to all the same.
What does this humility look like? In verse 6, Peter states that this humility is “under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time”. In other words, humility (or rather a pretense of humility) is not a currency in which to barter for influence or show one’s own piousness like the Pharisees. Rather, true humility holds a recognition that God is our authority and He alone can lift us up. Only He can bring protection.
This may cause us to pause. If He brings protection, then this is an argument against safeguards, perhaps? After all, verse 7 tells you as the reader that you should be “casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” Therefore, we should not bother ourselves with safeguards that are results of fear and anxiety. I don’t believe that’s where Peter meant for us to land, though.
In verse 8, Peter tells the original audience that, in the midst of their sufferings, they must still “be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” This is a call from Peter, once again, for safeguards, even in the midst of persecution unlike anything American Christians have ever experienced.
There is a pride that comes with persecution, real or perceived. There is a self-pity which actually blinds us to God at work. Satan uses those opportunities to pounce. He understands this to be a large weakness of ours and, if this passage is not heeded, what can happen looks somewhat like this: we go through trials which have us focused inwardly and away from God’s work. It causes us, in pride, to actually hold on to our anxieties, which you may be feeling in these modern days. This self-focus is like a drug or alcohol which we are now under the influence of, rather than the Spirit. Once self-focus is drawn into the Church, Satan begins his fun.
In a world where safeguards and safety seals are not present in our bottles of Tylenol, a person who means harm can cause incredible damage. In a world where we do not safeguard ourselves from pride, Satan can cause incredible damage. However, when we safeguard ourselves, Christ will exalt us, not by crushing our perceived enemies, but by drawing us to Himself where we will be empowered to remain throughout any continued trials. And one day, He will put an end to our sinful pride altogether when He glorifies us in heaven and we will finally see these things clearly.
Love you all,
Young Adult Minister – Evan McNeff