If the Lord had not been my help, my soul would soon have dwelt in the abode of silence. If I should say, “My foot has slipped, ”Your lovingkindness, O Lord, will hold me up. When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul.
- Psalm 94:17-19
As I sit here and type, a hurricane is growing in the Gulf and heading toward our neck of the woods. Maybe… Really, it’s hard to pray that it goes someplace else. “Not here, Lord, over there! Push it toward those people!” If 2020 were a fish, I’d throw it back. So far, we’ve faced a pandemic, lockdown, racial tension and hostility, a contracting economy, jobs lost or on hold, protests, rioting, destruction and death, vicious presidential politics, and now… just two days after a tropical storm, a hurricane, spinning, strengthening, and wobbling… seriously? The other day I saw a caption that said something like, “I can’t believe we cheered and wasted perfectly good champagne on the arrival of 2020.” Thus far, there doesn’t seem to have been much to celebrate this year.
Everybody is weary from the constant drain caused by events beyond our control. While we all know life has some challenges, I’m not sure we have ever faced as prolonged and intense collective problems and difficulties. The truth of the matter, however, is that sometimes, life is just like this. Here, we have been largely insulated from so much human suffering, unrest, and misery that we do not realize how often others in the world live under a fairly constant state of insecurity, disease, violence, and national discord. Really, it’s hard to imagine living life in a near-constant state of uncertainty, although that is exactly what we are doing currently. However, I expect things will calm down soon enough, probably right after the election depending upon who wins. Then, in the not-too-distant future, life will return to some semblance of normalcy, even if it’s not ever quite the same as it was. My guess is that most people assume the same thing.
Before we hurry back to complacency, I think there is a hidden gem in the midst of all this turmoil and confusion. When we come to the realization that we – ostensibly the freest people on earth – actually have very little control over our lives and circumstances, maybe, just maybe, we will remember how great is our need for the strength and encouragement of our God. And, then, perhaps, we will recall how deep is our need for a Savior.
It is an odd thing to suggest to Christians that we need to be reminded of such obvious truths, but we are not just any Christian in any country or any century. We are American Christians. We have more of everything than everybody else. The poorest 20% of Americans have more goods and services than do the vast majority of people in the world, so much so that to be impoverished in America is to have as much as the average citizen in most of the wealthiest nations in the world today, at least in terms of goods and services (often provided through government programs such as aid for food and medical care). I point this out because, when we provide all that we need, recognizing our need for God is hard for us. Unquestionably, we need God, but knowing we do, when we need nothing else, is often hard to remember.
When we reach such a stage of comfort, our expectations of God are significantly diminished, and many of us never grow beyond “bless me, keep me safe, and, please, let me into heaven when I die.” Such a faith is superficial, at best, and too weak to bear the burden of prolonged troubles. Then, when faced difficult times, we persevere under through our own determination, and inevitably, we falter. As we are learning, the burdens of human life can become far heavier than we can carry alone.
Additionally, we in America have created a strange and incongruent ethos in which to live. On the one hand, because we’ve been so successful, we are overconfident in our ability to control our lives, circumstances, and destiny. The arrogance of belief in human capability alone is inversely correlated to the level of fear, anger, and anxiety we experience during the ongoing chaos.
On the other hand, we cultivate a cultural sense of entitlement to happiness and ease, a belief that everyone should be able to have what he or she wants. This underlying assumption that we each deserve to be coddled and not confronted with bad things we don’t like is unreasonable, but persistent and pervasive in our society. Thus, we are encouraged to have a pampered mindset at the same moment we are being reassured that human beings are up to the task of building a comfortable cocoon where everyone can be anything or do anything.
These two emphases of contemporary American life are contradictory and mutually exclusive. One can either work hard and sacrifice to impact one’s own circumstances, or one can allow others to create a happy place in which to dwell without affront. However, both are not attainable together, and neither will attain to true satisfaction and richness of life apart from the presence of Christ in us.
Christians are just as subject to the tides of our culture as everyone else, but we should not be. We should have known from the outset that to be faithful means our destiny is in the hands of God, not our own. Likewise, if we read the Scriptures with the serious intent to know God in Jesus Christ, we must also know our comfort and ease are not God’s first intention. His intent is to save us from the plague of sin that destroys us from within, which ultimately brings us great joy in every circumstance. David understood both of these principles. Even as king, David knew his soul would have dried and deadened into silence were it not for the Lord’s help. Likewise, he knew that the lovingkindness and encouragement of God brought joy to his soul. Peace of mind came from the Lord, not from within himself. The strength to live, to thrive, and to lead depended upon God’s activity in David and in his life.
American Christianity declines because too many of us seek value and good from someplace other than the throne of God. We search for comfort, peace, satisfaction, security, meaning, and everything else the human heart and soul require to flourish in all sorts of things that are not Christ, but the only truly abundant life to be had comes from Him. The gem hidden in this multi-faceted chaos and confusion is that all we need is found in our Lord alone. None of grand expectations and worldly comforts were ever dependable.
If you are choking on anxiety these days, be honest with the Lord, and tell Him your foot is slipping and you are falling. He knows. He’s just waiting for you to ask for help. Do not expect this world to go well, but rather, expect your soul to delight in Christ. When you begin there, no darkness can ever conquer or destroy you, no matter how bad things get.
Our life is hidden in Christ. I’ll meet you there at the foot of His throne where justice, mercy, joy, love, and life are His unlimited gift to all who ask.
In Christ –
Rev. Elizabeth Moreau