I am writing today to make a case for Christian optimism.
My argument is not based on post-pandemic hopes, though the International Monetary Fund predicts a remarkable global economy this year and people are already discovering exercise routines and cosmetic procedures intended to help them look their best as they reenter society.
Nor do I intend to ignore evidence to the contrary such as the horrific mass shootings in Bryan, Texas, and in South Carolina or the record-high violence by Islamic extremists in Africa. The CDC estimates that more people died of drug overdoses in the twelve months ending in August 2020 (the latest figures available) than ever before in a single year. The pandemic sent rates of depression and anxiety soaring. We are facing attacks on religious liberty that threaten the nature of our democracy in a time of growing secularization.
My case for Christian optimism transcends the good and bad news in the news. In brief, I want to convince you that negativism and pessimism are self-fulfilling prophecies that have no place in a biblical worldview.
“Seek the welfare of the city”
Jeremiah 29 finds the Jewish people exiled in Babylon. The Lord sends them a message that must have shocked them: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (v. 7).
Like them, we are called to pray for our nation and her leaders, whoever they are (1 Timothy 2:1–2). Our call to “honor everyone” includes the injunction to “honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:17). We are to serve Jesus by serving those in need (Matthew 25:35–40) and to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), beginning in our Jerusalem and extending to “the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
God calls us to pray and work for the salvation of all because he “is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). He “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
This does not mean that all “reach repentance” or “come to the knowledge of the truth.” To the contrary, Jesus stated clearly that “whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18). In the final judgment, “if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15).
Are we the last generation?
We may be the last generation before judgment. We may be living in that generation that refuses to repent and return to God and is so far gone, a holy Lord has no choice but to judge us. As is often said, if God does not bring judgment against America, he owes Sodom and Gomorrah an apology.
But we may not be that generation. It may not be too late. It may be that many in our nation will turn to God in repentance leading to genuine spiritual awakening.
Every spiritual awakening in American history was preceded by desperation. Perhaps the immorality and spiritual destitution of our day will turn God’s people to him with passionate humility and intercession that sparks the awakening we need.
However, if we decide beforehand that it is too late for America, obviously we will not pray and work for America to turn to God. We will not risk our social status by standing for biblical morality in our anti-Christian culture. We will not share Christ with those who are likely to reject us and our witness. We will not pay a price to take the light of Jesus to the darkness of our world (Matthew 5:14–16).
In this case, giving up on America will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If God’s people stop sharing God’s truth and standing for God’s word, the lost culture will obviously become more lost. The light will stay under a basket while the darkness persists.
This is not our decision. You and I have no right to tell God that our nation is too far gone and that we will no longer pray and work for the spiritual awakening America needs. No one but God knows the final “day and hour” (Matthew 24:36). Our job is to stay faithful to our kingdom calling until Jesus calls us to heaven or returns to earth.
Choosing a “culture of #JOY”
I plan to continue this discussion on Monday. For today, let’s close with examples of God’s work demonstrating that he’s not yet finished with us.
Churches across America baptized multitudes of new believers during last Sunday’s Easter services. So long as we can partner with the Spirit in bringing the lost to Jesus, we must.
World Vision announced recently that its COVID-19 response reached fifty-nine million people (twenty-six million of them children) with compassionate aid and the good news of the gospel. So long as we can meet needs in Jesus’ name, we must.
The Scottish Parliament has congratulated evangelical churches and ministries for their service supporting people and communities in need throughout the pandemic. So long as we can glorify our Lord by sharing his love, we must.
The official Twitter account of the Baylor University men’s basketball team states: “Culture of #JOY.” Head Coach Scott Drew explained after his team won the national title last Monday: “Our joy is Jesus, Others, Yourself.”
Will you choose this “joy” today?