The last couple days have been… shall we say… grim. Besides the official election of a controversial and volatile president sparking protests and further tearing our social cohesion at the seams, an ambassador was assassinated in cold blood and on live television in Turkey, twelve people were killed at a Christmas celebration in Germany as a crazed truck intentionally drove into the crowd, and the evacuation efforts in Aleppo continue to reveal to the world just how terrible the Syrian situation is. Before that, the State Congress of North Carolina (led by a lame-duck governor) held a secret, surprise session effectively changing the rules of the state before the new electors take office, the CIA and FBI agreed (a rare, unsettling feat in itself) that Russia hacked the US with the intention of swaying the election, and the Vatican’s newly-issued statement about homosexual clergy served only to reignite angry debates in the Church. Oh, and there was of course the 10,000 children of the world under the age of five who died from preventable causes, the 28,000 people in the US who were physically abused, and the 4,600 US residents who were diagnosed with some form of cancer, all of which happen every day.
Yeah, it was a grim day.
If you’re an idealist like me, someone who takes our collective “created in the image of God” seriously and thinks that we’re but one human family, days like these can be extremely troubling. How can there be so much wrong in the world? When days like these happen—when the reign of God seems further away than the day before—I find myself pulled three different ways.
Especially this time of year, it can be really easy for me to disengage from the problems of the world. At a time when we’re supposed to be merry and celebrate “peace on earth,” the existence of cruelty, sadness, and downright evil can overwhelm me and ruin the atmosphere of the season. Other times, I’ll admit, I’m just too exhausted to care about anything else—my heart simply can’t handle more bad news. I know that there are bad things in the world, but I can’t do anything about it but weep, and so all I can think to do is look away. Turn off the news. Sign out of Facebook. Don’t read the newspaper. Just pretend it doesn’t exist.
At the same time, there is a part of me that can’t look away… but also can’t do anything about it. I’m a silent, helpless spectator watching a car crash. At these times, there is a strong temptation to resort to cynicism. The world is messed up. Nothing is ever going to change. What can I really do? Whether it’s enormous, systemic problems like global poverty, or minuscule, petty problems like the unrelenting bad habit of a roommate, my frustration and dissatisfaction can get the best of me and I can be left in a state of emotional and spiritual paralysis, unable to work or hope or live for something better. The only thing left to do is give up trying.
But there is a third voice that calls to me. Beyond the initial defense mechanisms of denial and learned helplessness, deeper than my gut reaction to run from pain, there is a voice that is not guided by fear, but by trust. In the midst of a torn apart world, it calls to me not to look away, but to let my heart be broken by what I see. When it feels like nothing can be done, it calls to me not to flee, but to go down with the sinking ship. Letting myself be truly moved by the horror of the world—to the point of anger or tears—is not time wasted. It is time spent converting my heart to the heart of God. Refusing to give up in the face of imminent failure—potentially losing something in the process—is not futile stupidity. It is an act of solidarity with those who cannot run away, who cannot give up, who cannot stop trying. There are some who are not afforded these privileges. All they can do is trust. Trust that reminds me that there’s more to the story than I can see and more being down that I can know. Trust that reminds me that, even in failure there are opportunities for growth and love and progress. Trust that reminds me that the world has survived much worse in the past, and yet keeps turning. Trust that reminds me that God created all that is, came to be a part of it, and never left us alone to figure it out.
It is from that trust—something, I will admit, is not always present—that I am able to see through days like yesterday into a greater world. I am able to see that it is this world, our broken and imperfect world, that Jesus chose to come into. Despite the chaos and the disappointments, the tragedies and confusions, the messiness and defects, God chose and still chooses to act in this world. It is tempting to turn away and not look, to give up and no longer try. And I get that. I’m chief among those who shut down when things aren’t perfect. But I also know that when we look away or give up, we fail to see God entering in our midst.
Don’t look away.
Don’t give up.
Trust in the God who is with us.