Does this sound familiar?
“It is a gloomy moment in the history of our country. Never has the future seemed so incalculable as at this time. The domestic economic situation is in chaos. Prices are so high as to be utterly impossible. The political caldron seethes and bubbles with uncertainty. Russia hangs as usual, like a cloud, dark and silent upon the horizon. It is a solemn moment. Of our troubles no man can see the end.”
Today’s New York Times? The latest report from Fox News or link on the Drudge Report? A political press release?
It’s actually a passage from Harper’s Weekly – in October of 1857.
Headlines have been causing headaches and heartburn forever, of course. It’s been the case ever since Eve ate the forbidden fruit and gave it to Adam (Genesis 3:6), soon followed by Cain murdering his brother, Abel (Genesis 4:8). Keep reading and there’s no shortage of bad news in both books of the Bible.
It was William Shakespeare who wrote in Hamlet, “When sorrows come, they come not as single spies, but in battalions.”
Only a fool would deny evil’s existence. Its march is steady and strong. Bad things happen. Good people die. God is good, but life isn’t always fair.
But there’s a big difference to acknowledging something and being consumed by it.
Christian believers may not be inoculated when it comes to sin, sorrow and all the bad news of this world – but we do enjoy a major advantage compared with those who think this is all there is. But are we just supposed to ignore the negative and embrace the positive? Just channel Bobby McFerrin and sing, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”?
C.S. Lewis, who lived in war torn Europe, grappled with this very dilemma. Evil was all-around him, especially as Hitler and his henchmen amassed power and swept across the continent in the late 30s’ and early ‘40s. Here is what he concluded:
“If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable; think of it as a place of training and correction, and it’s not so bad. Imagine a set of people all living in the same building. Half of them think it is a hotel, the other half think it is a prison. Those who think it a hotel might regard it as quite intolerable, and those who thought it was a prison might decide that it was really surprisingly comfortable. The people who try to hold an optimistic view of this world would become pessimists; the people who hold a pretty stern view of it become optimistic.”
Stern optimism – what a concept.
The very best part of being a Christian isn’t ignoring the bad news – it’s knowing the best news is yet to come. It’s why the apostle Paul could write to the very first church at Philippi, “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:5-6).
This form of “stern optimism” should fill us with confidence and embolden us to action. Good days are coming. The lies and liars won’t last. Troubles come, and troubles go – but it’s the Word of God that will last forever.
God can be trusted. God’s promises can be believed.