Randy Greenwald

Concerning Life as It Is Supposed to Be

Category: Hope

The Sky Is (Always) Falling!

The fearful cries are all around us. “The end of Christianity is imminent! Soon the American church will survive only underground!” “Moral degradation is eroding all decency!” “American freedom will soon be no more than a distant memory.”

Chicken Little
[uncredited image from http://www.terryburnham.com/2016/01/chicken-little-portfolio-performance_29.html]

Or, more succinctly, “The sky is falling.”

The sky, it seems, is always falling. Fear is such a powerful, and useful, motivator.

According to historian John Fea, evangelicals cast their votes in recent elections motivated by fear. More broadly, it is fear that has lead some Christians to make rules (such as “Don’t dance!”) to protect against the possibility of sin. It is fear that leads some to create fortresses or to demonize their neighbors. Fear leads some to be intolerant of those different lest they or their children or their churches be corrupted by those differences. Fear of losing otherwise good things like freedom and money turns these things into idols to be protected at all costs. Fear becomes the leash that a charismatic leader uses to retain access to the contributions and devotion of his followers.

Fear is powerful and ubiquitous. And though it is effectively used by all sides in social and political disputes, I’m concerned most when it is used so effectively among those who have the least cause to fear. And Christians, we have the least cause to fear.

I was reminded that the sky is always falling when I read this paragraph a few months ago.

“America and the rest of Western culture now seem to be more on the edge of dissolution than on the point of renewal.… The situation in this country seems to call for a jeremiad, not a celebration.… Race prejudice, latent under the surface of political campaigns, seems intensified by our very efforts to correct it. The crime rate is outstripping police restraint and turning private surveillance into a growth sector. Pornography and violence fill the media, and a host of other social problems run in counterpoint with an uncertain economy.”

That which could have been written yesterday was actually written in 1975 (by Richard Lovelace in his Dynamics of Spiritual Life.) Lovelace was not panicked or seeking to induce panic. But his observation simply illustrates that the sky that is falling now was falling 40 years ago (and centuries before that as well, in different ways).

To know that the culture can always seem to be in some ways on the verge of collapse should temper our response to the news of the day. Problems have been met before. They will be met again. Fear should not be our guide nor should we follow a leader just because he/she promises to keep the falling sky at bay. Our response to issues, which certainly should be vigorous and based upon an accurate assessment of reality, can afford to be thoughtful because the difficulties are not really new. Panic leads us to be hasty. Christians should not be hasty.

Christians can afford to be un-hasty because they know the one who upholds that falling sky. It is not inconsequential that ‘Do not fear’ is one of the most repeated refrains of the Bible. Preachers should make more of this, and of the power and ways and faithfulness of God, and less of the symptoms of the falling sky. Fear drives us into the arms of the demagogue and the false messiah. Eyes cast upon the living God, on the other hand, grow in confidence and perspective. And courage.

Yes, the sky is probably always falling. But those who “…believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible….” should be the last to be motivated by fear.

Breaking Good?

BREAKING NEWS: Bad stuff happened in 2016.

Among the many things I might say, that sentence is one which could probably get the most universal affirmation. Bad stuff has happened. The year that is past seemed to feed us an over-the-top diet of death and violence and loss and disappointment. I have seen many online express a longing for this year to be gone, a longing I sincerely get.

But, of course, we all know deep down that there is an artificiality to that longing. January 1 is an artificial marker in the temporal sand that could just as easily be drawn in mid March or late August. The rising of the sun on 1/1/2017 simply marks a time when we can turn our backs on what has passed and renew our hope for what might yet come, something which we could do any day if we chose.

At the same time, without disavowing the hard losses of 2016 it is important, it seems to me, to consider that the only thing we note in history is loss. We grieved his death this year, but no one but his immediate family took any notice of the birth of Alan Rickman. Even they, unless they were possessed of a prescience of which I’m unaware, did not look at him and say, “He will make such an endearing Professor Snape some day.” And I’m guessing there were no newspaper articles celebrating the birth of David Bowie and the gifts he would bring to the world. There were probably only a few that paid any attention when Prince was given his first guitar. Only a few are present at a birth, or at the beginning of any other path of greatness. And that makes me wonder how many paths to greatness were begun in the year past?

Perhaps fifty years from now, people will look back upon 2016 with different eyes and see that that was the year that the world was given an insightful novelist that everyone adores, or a gifted politician who brought an unprecedented unity to the world’s divisions. Perhaps 2016 was the year when a 15 year old girl is inspired by a science teacher whose name is known to few to pursue medical research, a girl who fifty years later is renowned as the single most influential person to arise in the fight against debilitating cancers. Who knows what might have invisibly happened this year that has set the world on a path of life and healing.

I’m a pessimistic sort. My muse is Eeyore and my bosom pal is Lewis’ Puddleglum. But weak as I am, I know that it is not a string of days we call a year holding the world together. Rather it is a God, whose ways we often don’t understand and frequently dispute. But his purposes for this world are ultimately good, and that knowledge enables me in the midst of the darkness to believe that something better will come.

Something better may, in fact, already be here. We just don’t know it yet.

Happy New Year.

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