Keep your mind and your heart, even through 'terrible times'
Though spring is in the air, and though we live in the land of the free, and though coffee and ice cream are widely available, yet a good many Americans are troubled. We had concerns and issues before this month, as the combo of COVID plus culture was weighing folks down. There was a cloud of insecurity in the land, with political division and inflation and crime and all of that layered over by the siege of the virus. The USA was a bit anxious.
And then along came Putin. His brutal invasion of Ukraine, and the inability of the West to stop it, colors our days with gray. The images of towns leveled and civilians slaughtered and refugees fleeing by the millions is a horror to behold. It is terrible. And it is not short-term. Our best minds are flummoxed about how this can end. We are already in awful territory, and the devastation could go global. It is terrible. Christians: Pray unceasingly and give generously.
In my morning Bible reading the other day, I glommed on to the phrase "terrible times." I am reading through the New Testament, and am now in Bishop Paul's second letter to Pastor Timothy.
Paul's "farewell address," from prison in Rome near the end of his life, has a heavy tone. Well aware of the world around him, he writes: "There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God" (II Timothy 3:1-4). He knows it and he sees it: "there will be terrible times." He fires out a list of our human sins.
Is he being too negative? Has he joined the gloom and doom club? Was he having a bad day? Or is his perspective dreadfully honest? Is the human race as terrible as Paul describes? Or is it just some times that are particularly horrible? Well ... whaddaya think?
As you view the world and evaluate how humans are doing, do you concur with Paul? Is life a miserable mess? Do we widely and repeatedly bring misery to each other? Is the mind of our times "depraved"? (v.8).
I would like to think not; I'd like to have a sunny disposition and a kindly judgment. But, that's a bit of a rosy stretch these days, with the war and the dysfunctional division and the stack of sins and sorrows.
The Bible teaches the two-sided reality of our human nature. We are dearly loved and greatly blessed as the creatures "made in the image of God" (Genesis 1:27). People can be sweet and fantastic reflectors of the goodness of the Lord. [You, for instance:] Rejoice in that. Praise God for that. Not all is lost.
And yet ... we are also often despicable. (And not just Putin.) People can be downright devilish. There are indeed "terrible times." Some Christians speculate that these are now the "last days" that Paul mentioned. When you peek in Revelation 6, about the end times, it does say that "four horsemen of the apocalypse" are coming: sword, famine, plague, and death. Between COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine, are we halfway there? Well ... Lord knows.
We do know that earth shall have tribulation, and that we dare not kid ourselves into believing in human righteousness. Even our upscale civilizations are often not civilized. Truth is: We get some heaven and some hell down here on earth. Terrible times do not disappear.
Christian: Carry on, come what may. As Paul instructed: "Be prepared ... keep your head in all situations ... endure hardship ... fight the good fight of faith" (II Timothy 4). We join Paul and all the Lord's people in proclaiming: "The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen." (II Timothy 4:18)
Chris Brekke is a retired pastor who served Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Rochester for 13 years and Trinity Lutheran in West Concord for 10. He and his wife live in Roseville, Minn., where he keeps busy with volunteering, church and family.
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