Shark attacks increased by 50 percent last year. A new Omicron variant has been reported in at least four states and on three other continents. The stock market continues to “swing wildly” in response to inflation, the surge in Omicron cases, supply chain woes, and fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
An earthquake struck Tonga yesterday, following the tsunami that devastated the region on January 15. The northeastern US faces heavy snow and blizzard conditions this weekend, bringing back memories for those of us in Dallas of the winter storm that decimated our city last February.
The midterm elections may be especially challenging for Democrats. However, the announced retirement of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer is a setback for Republicans who hoped to take the White House in 2024 and then nominate his replacement.
Here’s what these stories have in common: they illustrate the degree to which you and I are susceptible to forces beyond our control.
How is the Christian faith relevant to such challenges? We claim that God is all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful. However, he has not stopped the pandemic, ended aggression by nations against nations, or healed our partisan divides and animosity.
What good, then, is our faith in perilous times?
When we take our last breath here
Let’s begin with three biblical answers:
One: God shares our suffering.
He promises that “when you pass through the waters, I will be with you” (Isaiah 43:2). He is holding us in his hand right now (John 10:29), feeling everything we feel (Hebrews 4:15) and weeping as we weep (John 11:35).
Two: The worst that can happen to us leads to the best that can happen to us.
Jesus was clear: “Everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:26). When we close our eyes here, we open them in paradise. When we take our last breath here, we take our first breath there. We are home and we are well.
Three: God redeems all that he allows (cf. Romans 8:28).
He grows us spiritually (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:9–10), uses our witness powerfully (cf. Acts 4:13), and humbles us to become even more dependent and thus empowered by his Spirit (cf. Acts 4:29–31; Ephesians 5:18).
However, there is a fourth answer to our question that we often overlook.
A claim only Christians can make
Jesus famously encouraged us, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself” (Matthew 6:34). However, this assurance is preceded by numerous instructions showing us how we are to live in collective community:
- Do not allow our anger to damage our relationships with others (5:21–26).
- View others with respect rather than with lust (5:27–30).
- Honor marriage and oaths (5:31–37).
- Love our enemies and refuse to retaliate against them (5:38–41).
- Give to the needy (6:1–4).
- Pray in ways that focus on God and others (6:5–14).
- Practice fasting to focus on God rather than ourselves (6:16–18).
- Lay up treasure in heaven by serving God and prioritizing his mission over personal gain (6:19–33).
In other words, faithful courage in the face of perilous times is empowered by living in community with the family of God.
This principle makes sense in light of the fact that every Christian is inhabited by the Spirit of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:16). This is a claim Christianity uniquely makes among all world religions. Muslims do not believe Muhammad lives in their bodies as his temple; Buddhists do not make a similar claim for Buddha or Jews for Jewish rabbis.
We are therefore the collective “body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:27). As a result, we can respond collectively to the issues we face in ways no other group can. Some of us are a “foot,” while others are a “hand” (v. 15). Some are an “eye,” while others are an “ear” (v. 17). We can serve the common good together in ways no individual can alone.
And when we act in this way, our witness glorifies our Lord and advances his kingdom.
The path to peace and joy
In How to Reach the West Again, Timothy Keller perceptively diagnoses our cultural moment and challenges, then he encourages us to take practical steps to build communities that respond redemptively to our collective challenges and serve the common good.
He cites Michael Green’s estimate that “80 percent or more of evangelism in the early church was done not by ministers or evangelists, but by ordinary Christians explaining themselves to . . . their network of relatives and close associates.” As Keller notes, “People paid attention to the gospel because someone they knew well, worked with, and perhaps loved, spoke to them about it.”
He then urges us to “intentionally adopt ‘missional living’” in our daily lives and relationships. He adds the insight of Alan Noble in Disruptive Witness: people in our day are more open to considering Christianity when reading or watching stories and narratives that witness to Christian insights during times of stress, disappointment, difficulty, or suffering.
This is because no other worldview meets human needs as Christianity does. No other faith offers the hope an all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful Father can. No other movement is empowered by God living in its adherents as Christianity is.
Frederick Buechner noted: “Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.”
How much “peace and joy” will you experience today?