It was night time and a special event was taking place.
Like a herd of cattle we were ushered into a giant indoor arena with two or three tiers. Our tickets were for one or two rows back from the front and when we arrived I was surprised to see a few empty seats and my friend Simon sitting on the front row with his wife and children.
The first band came on stage and played their songs. But we were too far forward as the main PA speakers were behind us and so some instruments dominated others. It was annoying but suddenly the scene shifted and the band was replaced by a football game on a large TV screen. It was England against Germany and the audiences roared their appreciation.
|“Come on lads”, somebody shouted and the atmosphere became alive with a passionate desire for England. “Beat the Germans, beat the Germans.” It was almost rhythmical and it reminded me of the cheer in Roman times for gladiators to conquer and destroyed their prey. The crowd were baying for blood.
Of course I wanted England to win the game. I loved football but I did not feel as intense as the people around me. I wanted a good game of football and England to win but they wanted so much more. England was their lifeblood, it was more than football. They and the team were one and victory meant life would be a winning streak of good fortune. But defeats would result in anger flowing freely into their marriages and onto their children; into their jobs and of course, onto the Germans and anyone else who happened to get in their way.
England were attacking down the wing. The ball flew into the area from the right and among the collision of competing players, someone in the front row, just yards along from Simon, clambered up onto the arms of his seat and headed the ball into the net.
The players on the big screen stopped in stunned disbelief. For a few moments they didn’t know what to do but then some of the England players started celebrating and the referee indicated a goal. Of course the Germans began protesting that back in the cinema the crowd were going wild in celebration.
I was bemused, glad that at least the goal hadn’t gone the other way and being credited to Germany but also incensed that someone felt they had to cheat to win. It made me feel nauseous and now I found the crowd disgusting. They didn’t care about fairness or justice or anything good, it was win at all costs.
I looked over towards Simon and saw that his head was sunk low in his hands. He too was appalled at what happened. I sensed other Christians were here in the arena, equally sick at the display of evil.
An amazing band
The scene shifted once again and the giant football screen was replaced by another band. My eyes lit up in excitement and the thrill of anticipation rushed through my veins. This was the band that represented the best British music could offer. They were living embodiment of Coldplay and Snow Patrol, Franz Ferdinand and the Foo Fighters, in fact all bands that I loved.
This concert was going to be amazing and so there was no way I was going to stay in the seats where the PA was so rubbish. Swiftly I made my way to the back of the arena and then up the stairs to the top tier where I found to my relief there were less people and a space to sit.
The band started playing and the music was electric and upbeat. Absorbing anthems were ringing out and we all sang along until suddenly it halted abruptly and the band disappeared. In their place, there now stood five men, one of whom was their introducer who looked a bit like Cliff Richard.
I was angry, I felt as though I have been robbed of ecstasy. I had been short-changed and the anger started pulsing in my veins. It was the same with the crowd, everyone felt a lot of their deserts, of what they wanted.
“Don’t worry!” Smiled the ‘Cliff-lookalike’, “it’s not Songs of Praise, but we are going to sing about God.”
Obviously I now realised that they were Christians but that didn’t make me feel any less angry. There was a time and place for God and this wasn’t it. This was about me and my enjoyment. The crowds fidgeted too, restless in there indignity, and the atmosphere became thick with hostility, although they still remained silent.
The lookalike must have sensed what we were thinking, for he went on to say “I don’t know what you’re so angry about.” He paused and then continued, “After all, the only one dead here is God isn’t it? You got what you wanted; you killed him, so surely you don’t mind us singing a few songs about him?”
This was too much. Finally a man near me cracked and shouted, “We hate God!”
Someone else cried out, “It’s not logical, a load of rubbish, there is no God!”
Now my anger turned towards the crowd. Pure hatred surged through my veins and I yelled out “God is great, I love God!”
I looked over at the second man who had shouted out and our eyes met in violence. We wanted to kill each other. He was a thick-set slob with gross tattoos and a huge beer-belly. I now noticed other people in the crowd were also slobbish folks – blokes who lived by their muscles and tattoos and whose God was themselves. I hated them all and they hated God and they hated me. The hatred was going to be enough to kill me. I knew they were going to stop at nothing to kill me but my anger was just as strong and I felt bad enough to die.
I woke up, still feeling the anger surging within me but now God was talking. “You do not fight anger with anger, hatred with hatred. These are weapons of the devil and only a child of the devil uses them.”
My mind flashed over to Simon on the front row and I sensed that as the hostility towards the five men on the stage began and as he recognised the situation for what it was, he quietly gathered up his family and left the arena.
This crowd was the same crowd who killed Jesus all that time ago. Mankind was still the same and I had behaved like Simon Peter who sliced off the ear of the soldier in Gethsemane. “This shall not happen to you Lord”, said Simon when Jesus told him previously of his impending death. “I will not let it happen to you Lord, I will fight it, I will fight them all.”
“Get behind me Satan”, replied Jesus, “you are thinking as he does and how evil men think.”
I grimaced in pain at the evil which was within me. What was this anger that was prepared to fight a fight that God had not called me to? This fight belonged to the five men on the stage. God had called them there, like Jesus led to Jerusalem. Perhaps this was their time to die because a ‘seed needed to fall to the ground’ so that fruit may come, but it was not my time or indeed my battle. All that would have come of my involvement would have been a family left to live without a father and no fruit at all.
There is no place in the heart of a Christian for the kind of anger I was experiencing. Suddenly I realise that Jesus also said as he died, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”.
Within the pain of his suffering was also the pain he felt for an angry crowd that were punching and kicking and spitting themselves into hell. Jesus knew that the horror of hell was worse than the horror of his suffering. This is why God does not come right now and end the suffering in the world. As the Bible says, “He is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with us, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” This is because the horror of hell is worse than the present suffering of the world. God does not want anyone to go to hell and he waits and waits until there can be no more waiting and then finally he will come.