Reading the news, I can see how one might be overcome with a sense of hopelessness and despair.
Everywhere you look it seems the news is bad, prompting one Associated Press writer to ask "Is Everything spinning out of control?" He writes, "Midwestern levees are bursting. Polar bears are adrift. Gas prices are skyrocketing. Home values are abysmal. Air fares, college tuition and health care border on unaffordable. Wars without end rage in Iraq, Afghanistan and against terrorism … Food is becoming scarcer and more expensive on a worldwide scale … In California, leaders warn people to use less water in the unrelenting drought …" On and on it goes.
In the last national opinion poll, carried out by ABC News and the Washington Post two weeks ago, only 29 percent approved of the way Mr. Bush was handling the job as president—it's even worse for the Democratic-led Congress—and a whopping 84 percent of voters think the country is going in the wrong direction. (Among those surveyed making less than $25,000 annually, the figure tops 90 percent!) Finally, the percentage of those who think the country is going in the right direction is the lowest it has been since Jimmy Carter was in office. In all, Americans are suffering a hypersense of pessimism.
Of course the "news of the day," as Neil Postman observed, is a "figment of our technological imagination media. It is … a media event" (Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, p. 8). It is a concentrated compilation of the most distressing, sordid, and scandalous events that appeal to our voyeuristic tendencies and heighten our sense that "everything is spinning out of control."
For many Christians, this sense of frustration with the country's direction is not all that new and recent events, as well as the news, have only exacerbated their concerns. However, I am amazed at the level of pessimism among so many Christians that I encounter. I think this may also be a product of too much reliance on politics. This is, after all, the pressing concern of the population whose frustrations center mostly on the failed expectations of their political leaders and government: the economy, the war, fuel prices, and so on. Add to that concerns over the moral direction of the nation, and the church often appears indifferent or defeated.
This is puzzling to me. How can Christians be pessimistic about the future when they serve the risen King whose kingdom has no end? Do so many fail to realize that our God reigns? Do so many fail to understand that God is sovereign over all things and that His redemptive work in the world is and will be carried to its full completion? There is nothing in the world that can stop the redemptive mission of God as Daniel reminds us:
His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: "What have you done?" (Daniel 4:34–35, NIV) God and His purpose in the world transcend all powers, events, and people. There is no one and no situation able to overcome or disrupt His redemptive plan. Politicians, economies, and circumstances are merely temporal events; they are bound to a time and place … as in "these too shall pass." God is transcendent—being outside and apart from His creation—but still exercising dominion, even to the ordination of worldly powers and events. We may not always know to what end, but we can trust in the character and nature of God that whatever end, it will be to His glory and that makes it a true good.
Granted, this is sometimes difficult for us to understand but it is here we trust, by faith, in the God who "demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8, NIV).
There is a cure for this pessimism that dominates so much of the population and the church: seek first the kingdom of God, which is also the "good news." As I shared in my last commentary, I spend each Tuesday in a Texas state prison leading a discipleship group for men, and every week I come face to face with the redemptive power of the Living God. I have come to know and love these truly wonderful brothers in whom sin has tried to do its worst; former criminals, addicts, and gang members and yet today—while they remain behind bars—they have indeed been set free! They are living testimonies to the fact that our God reigns and He has come to seek and save the lost. You cannot spend time with such people and not be encouraged by the overpowering good news that Jesus is bringing into the world each and every day!
What hinders our grasp of the good news is revealed in the parable of the sower, specifically the seed that falls among the thorns, in which the kingdom message is obscured by "the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful" (Matthew 13:22, NIV). We progress to a point in the Christian life only to become diverted by the worries of this life; we become "unfruitful" and we compound this when we look to political schemes for solutions, which only hasten our gloom. Again, the political implications of Christianity flow from the conversion of lost souls and teaching converts to be disciples.
However, if we seek first the kingdom and turn ourselves over to God for participation in His redemptive work in the world, not only will we bear fruit, we will be overcome with the hope that flows from seeing Christ's victory over sin played out in real human terms. By participating in the proclamation and demonstration of the gospel, we are less likely to succumb to the bad news that surrounds us. We become more than conquerors, who wade into the muck that is the fallen world with the real and good news. The light of Christ shines forth and the darkness flees!
In other words, we give ourselves unreservedly to God. We seek after Christ and keep seeking until we are conformed to Him. We deny the flesh and crucify the old self and sin. We go where He wants us to go and not where we are comfortable. We go to those unlike us. We go to the widow, the orphan, and to all who are oppressed, and we go with the same anger toward sin and its effects that Jesus manifested in His compassion toward those so affected. We serve and share the love of Christ with our neighbors, the lonely and brokenhearted. It is here that we will witness the redemptive power of God overcome all that is broken—and when you see the redeeming grace of God fall on the lost you simply cannot be pessimistic anymore! Pessimism is replaced with optimism, frustration gives way to expectation, and despair turns to hope. How on earth can those who have known God be pessimistic?
This, of course, is foolishness to the world … but how much more foolish is it to continue to trust in things that perish, things that change, and things never have and never will change the culture, much less a human soul?