"We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed." – 2 Corinthians 4:8-9
The world feels like a pretty dark place right now. Outrageous acts of mass murder have become horrifically common; nations are volatile and racked with unrest. An estimated 24 million human beings – so many of them children – have been displaced by domestic crises and are forced to live as refugees. It's only natural to look at the past and yearn for the 'good old days' through rose-tinted spectacles, but there's no doubt that the last few years have seen an escalation in global instability.
The Bible predicted all this stuff of course. In Matthew 24, Jesus tells his followers that there will be false prophets, "wars and rumours of wars... famines and earthquakes." He says nations will rise against one another; that persecution will increase, and that in a fallen world, all of this is inevitable. But then he says something else, in verse 12: "Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold."
I don't know about you, but I find that incredibly challenging. I know that I am intensely aware of that "increase of wickedness"; I know too that I'm prone to respond not with greater fight, resolve and love, but with a creeping sense of apathy and resignation. I can feel that flame of compassion within me flickering, even as I know in my heart and head that it must not sputter out.
Michael Gungor is one of my favourite musicians, and also a tremendous prophetic voice. His few words on this subject in a recent tweet shook me out of my spiralling sense of despair at the state of the world. I found them staggeringly helpful:
Don't let politics and chaos fool you. This world still brims with glory.— Michael Gungor (@michaelgungor) July 21, 2016
He says a number of other wonderful, helpful things afterwards, which you should look up for yourself, but it was this short phrase which struck me right between the eyes. "This world still brims with glory." And as I realised the moment I read those words, of course it does. We know it when we stop to look at it for a second in all its natural wonder; we know it in the faces of our children and the people that we love. There's glory in the stories of people overcoming adversity, big and small, every day; there's glory in art, and in scientific breakthrough, and in every moment that someone chooses good over evil, love over hate.
The trouble with 24-hour rolling news media is that it bombards us with the sort of bad news that keeps us interested and watching (but which also degrades our sense of wellness). The problem with portable, always-on technology is that we never take our attention off it for a moment to see the world around us. We walk past a glorious sunset without ever looking up from our phone. We miss the glory when we focus too much on the despair. And I think it's part of our job as Christians to make sure that everyone remains aware of the glory.
I'm not for a moment saying that we shouldn't care deeply about the state of the world. But if we're going to truly bring hope to that world, then we need to feel it deeply in ourselves. And the simplest, greatest way to refill our own hope reserves is to take time to see and bask in the wonder of God and his creation. Not to stop caring, but to take our attention away from the state of things sometimes and deliberately focus on what is good; what is glorious.
In a world of bad news, Christians are meant to be the good news people; a people of hope. Yet we use that word 'hope' so often that I wonder if we've allowed it to lose a little of its power and meaning. At its core, our faith is about light breaking in to overwhelming darkness, love defeating hatred, life conquering death. That's what hope is really about: being able to point to the indefatigable glory in the midst of despair. The world needs a whole lot more of that right now, and that is exactly the message and the lifestyle that we have to offer.
And it's not all bad news, you know. We don't hear the good stuff nearly as loudly or as often as perhaps we should, but when you look at the facts, the world isn't quite as bleak as we might imagine. A recent Vox.com article calls the current period "by objective metrics, the best time in human history." Global life expectancy is up, worldwide poverty is (while still serious), in free fall. HIV is in steep decline; immunisation programmes are saving hundreds of thousands more children from preventable deaths. Signs of hope; signs of that brimming glory.
Jesus says the love of most will grow cold in days like these. Well I don't want that to be true of me. This world still brims with glory; it's my job to look up and truly see that for myself, and to help others see it too.