The church was panicking.
It was my previous church, the one I attended after my husband and I had moved to a new state. I don’t remember exactly what had caused the panicking – whether it was a piece of legislation or a violent act or a political statement. In this day and time of constant tragedy and trauma, it’s hard to remember. But something had happened. The entire congregation was tense. When the music minister made mention of “the world” and “forces of darkness” and “evil times” heads bobbed up and down in assent all over the congregation. Half the members were in tears – not from sadness, but from fear.
The pastor stepped out. “I was asked today to speak a soothing word to our congregation,” he began, “because I hear a lot of you saying that you are afraid and you are fearful and you are frightened. And what I want you all to remember is that it’s going to be okay.” The next forty minutes were a church-wide therapy session, with the pastor reminding the congregation repeatedly that even though the world was an upsetting place and upsetting things happened in it and believers were “upset,” “overwhelmed,” and “afraid,” it was going to be okay because God was in control.
I don’t begrudge him the sermon; the church obviously needed it. Confronted with the un-Christlike reality of the world, the congregation seemed to be falling apart at the seams. Thoughts of ministry and hope had vanished in the face of circumstance. And perhaps that’s what startled me most. All I could think of then, and sometimes all I can think of now in these trying times, is this:
Aren’t we supposed to be the calm ones?
We can’t say we weren’t warned about how the world is. “No one is good,” Jesus said bluntly in Mark 10:18, “except God alone.” Jesus all but promises in Matthew 5:11-12 that persecution is coming. And Revelation is a book that pretty much catalogs the continued downfall and disintegration of sinful man and the society he has created. Why the shock?
It’s not wrong to grieve about the state of the world, so long as the grief moves us to prayer and to service. But we ought not be shocked about it. Nor ought we fall into panic or terror over it, any more than the disciples did over the tempestuous storm that rocked their boat in Matthew 8. The world is the world, and it will do what the world does. Sin is sin, and it will do what sin does. Satan is Satan, and will do what Satan does. From the beginning, none of this was hidden from any believer. None of this is a surprise.
And God’s word backs this up. We are not to have a “spirit of timidity” (2 Timothy 1:7) in the face of adverse circumstance. In times of persecution we are to love and to pray for our persecutors (Matthew 5:44). We are not to let our hearts be troubled (John 14:1). We are to speak gently, to eschew harsh words, to maintain gratitude, and to present all our worries to the Lord (Phil. 4:6).
I understand that a lot of us don’t like the world we’re living in, rife as it is with violence, suffering, pain, and a general neglect of God and of the soul. We can grieve that. But we ought not fear it, nor ought we fall into terror, panic, or confusion because of it. To do so is to forget precisely who is at the helm and to invite the rebuke of Matt. 8:26:
You of little faith, why are you so afraid?
We are light and salt precisely because of our ability to represent Christ’s character in a dying world, to maintain our calm and our gentleness and our love and our servant hearts even when everything around us is a mess. To fall into hysteria and uncertainty and desperate fear is to be precisely like the world around us, and a greater shame altogether since we have the one Answer that ought to quiet all of those feelings.
I play video games a lot, and in one of my favorite video games the bad guys can inflict something called “status ailments” on players: curses that mess up the way a player can attack or function. One of these status ailments is called “berserk” and, if a player is affected with it, they lose the ability to control themselves in battle. They run around the screen stabbing themselves and sometimes other players; their actions run counter to the purpose of the battle. And so it is with fear. It scatters us, turns us around in circles, focuses our thoughts inward, demands selfishness, prohibits action, and turns us away from our purpose.
“In this world,” Jesus admits, “you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Strong’s Concordance defines “taking heart” as “emboldened to show courage,” with the root specifically referencing being bolstered by being “warmed up” – in other words, we might think of this as “radiat[ing] warm confidence.” Isn’t that a lovely image?
In the face of a broken world, we are to radiate cheer and warm confidence given to us and fulfilled in us through the Spirit. We were never meant to have a response of fear, timidity, rage, uncertainty, or confusion. We grieve, certainly. We sorrow. But above all we must not forget that when the world is broken, God may be glorified in the fractures as much as we – warmly confident, nourishing, strong, loving – allow it.