Someone asked why I am hopeful when so much anger and chaos swirls around us. One answer: Jesus. He is forever one of us through the Incarnation. He is the compassionate one in his maturation and mission. He is our Crucified Savior atoning for our sin and bearing our sorrows, sufferings, and unanswered questions. And now he is the Risen, Ascended and Coming King who is making all things new. He is with us by Holy Spirit is, offering foretastes of the future.
“Nice words, Dr. Self. But I live in the real world and so much is collapsing around me…how does any of this apply to my everyday life? I see moral decay and economic distress, social media meanness, and I wonder what world there will be for the next generations. I get your eternal hope. But what does all this mean for NOW?”
God’s mission of restoring all things has real-life application today – if we trust the revelation and obey his principles in response to grace. Here are some immediate paths forward:
- We can receive healing from our past and real hope for the future from the inside out as we agree with Scripture that we are NOW “new creations” in Christ. As we accept our identity in Christ as primary, we are able to affirm the best of our cultures and ideas while letting go of unneeded emotional and ideological baggage.
- The Holy Spirit empowers foretastes of the future: a future with joy and justice, worship and meaningful work, all in a transformed community. With these thoughts in mind, we can apply our energies and skills in our work to make our communities safer, sustainable, and beautiful.
- We now have the ability for critical thinking free from a critical spirit. Put simply, we can evaluate ideas and evidences, policies and programs while showing love and respect to all – even those that oppose all we stand for.
- We can forge alliances with people of conscience of all faiths or none that care about a better future. Leaving the anger behind and the untethered from grasping for power, creativity and innovation become possible.
There is much more that Christian hope brings to the world. Humble confidence and hopeful realism infuse our daily lives. We can labor with love for God and our neighbors, knowing that are efforts have meaning and will serve generations yet unborn.
The American Experiment continues as a beacon of freedom in a world where billions live under oppression. Our founders and framers made many mistakes (especially retaining slavery and failing to start the road to emancipation, among others.). As the Bill of Rights was presented, the first sixteen words of the First Amendment changed history: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” For the first time among modern nations, there is no state religion and the federal government cannot interfere in freedom of conscience or faith. This is NOT a prohibition of religious influences in politics or public speech. The “wall of separation” Jefferson affirmed in later writings was protection for religious communities, not divorcing faith from society.
The Church (and other religious communities) have enjoyed much favor for over two centuries. In the last half-century, secularizing forces have sought to limit Christian influences from public institutions. Christians have felt marginalized and persecuted as the civil consensus has devolved from universal affirmations of reverence of God and moral absolutes to a fragmented, pluralistic competition among narratives and “truths.” Many academic and political elites view Christianity as belonging in the rearview mirror of history.
Biblical believers in America and the West find themselves in a similar place to the Jews who were exiles in Babylon in the 6th century BC, and later established small enclaves in Judea and throughout the Mediterranean world under multiple empires. Although limited in direct political power, Jewish communities and leaders exercised significant influence in economic, political, and social circles for centuries. The stories of Daniel, Esther, Ezra, and Nehemiah, along with historical narratives outside the Bible all affirm these positive influences.
This current moment offers the opportunity for the Church to be a different voice than the polarized political powers or the amoral and anarchistic cultural “influencers.” Though we have less direct influence, the commissioned and empowered members of local churches can be “salt and light” in their arenas of work and play, influence and service. Just as the Jews were purified from their idolatry through divine judgment, perhaps this moment will help Christian believers recover the depth and breadth of God’s kingdom and become effective witnesses in deed and word.