Things Are Getting Worse…
It is a fact of life that often things have to get worse before they get better.
I had a friend with a bad knee, but the doctors would not do anything until it became worse, so he went running, and lifting until it was bad enough to require treatment. Worse led to better.
Sometimes a marriage has to go through the pain of counseling before it can get better. Sometimes an economy has to go through an era of high taxes before it can recover.
According to Luke 21, things will get worse before they get better. And that is hard to live with given our inheritance.
One of the great cultural trends which emerged during the Enlightenment of the 17-18th centuries, was the idea of progress. Every day in every way, things were getting better and better. The Enlightenment was a period which built upon the optimism of the industrial revolution, emerging science and humanistic philosophy.
Nothing was impossible for man. Human self-confidence shone through.
Philosophers like Nietsche asked who needed God when humanity could accomplish so much. Hegel said a divine spirit was causing us to progress. Then along came Marx who applied it economically and reduced humanity to its ability to labour and produce; the ultimate form of materialism.
Then when World War One exploded, humanity was stunned that such barbarism could emerge in an era of progress. Perhaps there was something about human nature that a little philosophy or a little Rousseau could not solve.
For a while there was an openness to the Gospel, and we are heirs of that optimism. In some areas there has been great progress: medically, technologically and politically, but in the realm of the spirit: values, morality and wisdom, there has been regression.
John Dewey said that all was needed in response to this was more education. Violence, war, drug-taking, crime, car-theft and white-collar-crime would all be banished. All we had to do was to point people to their faults and they would respond.
However, so much of human behaviour is dominated by irrationality, not rationality. For example, no generation worldwide has ever known so much about the effects of smoking. Packets say they kill, they cause cancer, undersized and premature babies, even cot-death, and yet it is still a worldwide epidemic. The underlying problem is addictive behaviour, of which smoking is simply a symptom.
If we were rational we would not smoke. Yet something deeper than human rationality is at work here. The human heart, values and human minds need changing.
Enlightenment optimism has no place in a world where Serbian massacres target Muslims, where Iraqi dictators gas defenseless people, where Dutch politicians legalise a form form of murder we call euthanasia, where there is a dramatic increase in the number of second trimester abortions, where partial-birth abortion is permitted, and where Little Athletics matter more than Sunday School.
We are discovering that stiffer jail sentences, higher fines, and more actions labeled offences, are doing nothing to change the human heart. More laws do not make us better people, and a new police station will only help in suppressing odious behaviour, not changing the human heart.
Our society is reaping the fruits of a Christless society. And Luke 21 reminds us that human existence will get worse before it will get better.
Humanity must see the fruits of its unbelief; in its culture, environment and relationships before it will turn back to the Lord – who is coming.
We must face the consequences of life apart from Him before we appreciate what He has to offer.
Jesus says that there will be a time where human community will fall apart through its unbelief. He warns the people of his day that Jerusalem will be destroyed by the Romans because of unbelief and disunity. That happened in AD 70. The Jews were dispersed until the modern state of Israel came to exist again in 1948.
But Jesus says more than that will happen. There will be a time when there will be events over which humans have no control. There will be cosmic events, changes to the earth and even its environment that are beyond human experience and power to change.
However, through all the chaos, God will end human history when He chooses. As He created human history, so too will he end it. Humanity will not end it.
History has a conclusion, and this offers hope for all in Christ, rather than Enlightenment religions which see humanity as a circle. Cycles of repetition rather than a road leading somewhere.
And humanity is personal. The Lord is involved in its joys and pains, not aloof, detached and disengaged.
All this is not to say that Christians should just sit back and be observers. We need to do what we can, where we can, but Scripture says that there will be events that will occur that we cannot change. Only God can, and in His own time. His ending will bring hope to all who love Him.
Two things help us to remain strong. First, verse 36 says prayer. Passionate, excited, committed prayer.
One of the most exciting times of the week is the Wednesday morning prayer meeting. It is exciting. We all feel disappointed when 7:30am arrives, but when we leave we are all empowered for the day.
Prayer will make us strong for times like these.
Second, we can be strong for these times like these by heeding Paul’s word in Thessalonians. He says that while you are waiting for the end, see that you grow in love and fellowship.
I wonder if behind his words, Paul has that secret dread that all preachers have. This is the fear that we are sometimes see about twenty minutes into a church service, and that is that we are ignored. We are heard, then ignored. That no-one ever really changes. No-one really loves more or forgives more, blesses more or loves God more. No-one thinks of the impact of their words and actions on other believers.
We fear our words are ignored and that people will resist that call to unity in Christ and form little factions, divisions and pressure groups, just like worldly bodies. Preachers dread that people will go home unchanged and confirmed in all the views and attitudes they came to church with.
In short, we dread that we are wasting our time; that we are heard then ignored. We look for the reassurance that we are not; that people don’t just think of how others in the congregation need to hear that message and change.
Are we open to change, growth and new life when we come to worship. I hope and pray that we are.
We need to be strong as a church if we are to be strong for each other, and the potential congregation in this area. Then, amidst the things we cannot control in these moments of end times, we can anticipate Christ’s coming with joy.
By George Robert Iles