One of those “social experiment” videos popped up on my feed this week. In this one, a man pretended to kidnap a woman in the middle of a busy sidewalk, in broad daylight.
Each time he did it, no one helped her.
I was immediately skeptical. It was probably staged! Or it was edited to look worse than it actually was! Who would really just ignore her like that?
Then in the comments someone brought up the bystander effect.
In other words, when we’re surrounded by other people and something goes down, we’re more likely not to take action because we assume someone else will. So we standby quietly.
And as much as I’d like to think otherwise, I know I have a bystander mentality. I don’t like to cause scenes or take the lead or be the person who speaks first.
I’d rather wait until it’s safe.
That wasn’t an option for Joshua and the children of Israel in this chapter.
God was sending the Israelites directly into battle – with the city of Ai. He explained the strategy He’d chosen for them – an ambush. He reminded them not to be afraid. He assured them that they would win.
Then they went.
And just like God said, the Israelites were victorious. They took out the entire city of Ai.
Amazing, right? What a great story. Good thing we don’t have any crazy battles to fight today! Good thing we’re here in modern times, safe and comfortable!
The bystander effect isn’t just something that manifests itself when a crime is taking place.
Some of us are bystanders in our churches.
Some of us stand to the side in our communities.
Some of us sit quietly in the corner throughout our whole lives.
In other words, we know that someone needs to take action, but we’re too scared to do it ourselves.
We know that someone needs to reach out to people who are homeless or jobless or just helpless, but we assume someone else will take care of it.
Or we know that someone needs to start up more activities and outreach events at our church, but we don’t want to take the lead.
Or we know that God has given us a talent and a calling, but we’re too afraid of failing to take the first step.
The funny thing about the bystander effect is that it doesn’t really feel morally wrong in the moment. Most of the time, it feels like the right thing to do! We shouldn’t push ourselves so hard! Only do what you’re comfortable with. It isn’t safe to take too many risks.
Meanwhile, the story of the battle of Ai is waving its hands at us, telling us to think again.
Joshua didn’t hesitate. He didn’t wait for someone else to do the hard work for him. He didn’t sit back until the butterflies in his stomach died down before marching on Ai.
He just went.
He went because he knew he wasn’t alone. He went because he knew he could put his faith in God. He went because he believed that God had promised him victory.
But what about us?
“Don’t be afraid. Go.”
This is easier said than done. Except for the fact that we have something that your regular bystander doesn’t – a Protector.
We have a Father and a Friend supporting us, watching over us, and helping us.
We have a God who is so powerful, He can guarantee our victory.
We have the antidote to fear and apathy and doubt – a God who is on our side.
This is good news, because even though we don’t have a city to destroy, we are still under attack.
The same Enemy that fought against the Israelites is fighting to destroy our relationships and our churches and our mental health and our futures.
That same Enemy is attacking our family and our friends and our communities.
We could stand by and watch. We could wait for someone else to step in.
But we are not bystanders. We are the followers of a God more powerful than any Enemy.
And it’s time we start acting like it.
What do you think? Where in your life do you see yourself standing by? What is action is God calling you to take?