Peace! On Earth?3
The new year has barely started. The decorations have been put away, and we have closed the door on a year most of us are glad to see end. Exactly one year ago, we had no idea what 2020 had in store for us, any more than we currently know what this year will bring. Even though in some ways, it feels like life is less certain than ever, the truth is we are no more and no less in control than we ever were.
We like the metaphors of a new year: fresh chances, do-overs, leaving behind the undesirable, making new memories, simply hoping for the best possible outcomes. But just because the ball has dropped, signaling the new year, doesn't mean the troubles will go away. No doubt some are hopeful the future will bring better days. But if I were a betting person, I would put my money on the probability that most folks are afraid. Afraid of losing loved ones, jobs, health, security. Afraid of a civil war in our country. Afraid to die. Afraid of what else can go wrong?
The bad news is this year may not be brighter than the last. The good news is that even if it's not, we have hope. And not only hope but certainty. I have read the Bible cover to cover, and it looks like things are guaranteed to get worse on this Earth before they get better. How is that good news? Because it does get better! For those who have put their trust in the Lord and receive His gift of salvation by grace through faith, whatever happens on this Earth is not the end of our story.
We are guaranteed to see the human race fall into corruption and hatefulness, among other troubles (did someone say "pandemic?"). While some would understandably argue this isn't really a new condition for the human race (pandemics included), others may argue that we have reached new depths of depravity on a global scale. Regardless, we see scripture – the Word of God – proving true in all accounts time and time again. 2 Timothy 3:1-5 says: "But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people." And if scripture is correct about ALL things, the good and the bad – that means we can put our trust in the One who always tells us the truth, taking comfort in the fact that if we are His, we are ultimately going to be ok even if things on Earth aren't ok right now. Because even though this world is out of our control, it is not out of His [control].
Jesus, knowing firsthand the human condition and the limitations of even those who dearly love Him, said to his disciples, "These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid" (John 14).
Jesus also highlighted the stark contrast between our relationship with Him and our relationship with the world: "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world" (John 16). I don't remind you of these things as someone who has had an easy life or who finds trusting the Lord always the most comfortable option. 2020 was not kind to me either. I am compelled as much as you are not to LET my heart be troubled or afraid. This is the decision we are each faced with daily.
Instead of focusing on our comforts and obtaining peace on Earth, let us focus on peace with God. I realize it's not an altogether popular view. Especially around the holiday season, we love to think about "peace on earth." But is that really going to happen? Why is our focus on Earth instead of on Heaven anyway? If our hearts and minds are at peace with God, what is going on in the world isn't nearly as daunting when we accept that whatever is happening around us is not the end-all/be-all of our existence. After all, our response to our Creator is one of the few things we actually can "control."
I will leave you with this encouragement from Romans 5: 1-5, "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."