My father-in-law (Ted) passed away several months back. It was a difficult time for the entire family as we lost a man we dearly loved. Understandably, my mother-in-law got the worst of the deal. Not only did she lose her faithful husband of almost 60 years, her entire way of life was radically changed.
Working through our grief, we set about the necessary task of preparing their home for sale. One of my jobs was to clean out Ted’s “hobby closet” as well as the garage. Practically every item uncovered brought a strange mix of warm memories combined with the sad realization that our lives would never be the same.
I chucked as I came across one particular item in the garage—an old gun rack once used for the back window of Ted’s pickup truck. It came from an era when guys kept their hunting rifles within easy reach—even in the high school parking lot. Now a distant dream, such practices were once common in rural America.
As a general rule, using a hunting rifle to shoot another person was not something that ever entered into the average guy’s mind. Sure, an intense argument might lead to a bloody nose or a broken tooth, but things rarely escalated beyond a few punches. Life in America has obviously changed, and so I knew the gun rack held little value for our upcoming garage sale.
Our World Is Different
Those of us with graying hair remember a different nation than we see today. For the most part, life was secure and filled with hope. Our parents didn’t fear allowing their kids to run free through town because we always came home at night (usually after several shouts to the effect of, “This is the last time I’m calling you, so you’d better get in here right now!”).
Of course, people “back in the day” had problems, but somehow we always felt hopeful for the future—that things could and would get better. September 11, 2001, I continue to say, changed everything; the world has become increasingly harsh since.
Sometimes, it feels as though practically every facet of society is characterized by vitriolic rhetoric at best, and intense violence at worst. From nasty online comments, to bizarre incidents of road rage, to mass shootings in our schools, our culture has become increasingly unfriendly. And with radical groups such as ISIS bent on committing acts of terror, things aren’t trending any better worldwide.
Of course, Christians have a habit of saying that when darkness increases, our light shines only brighter. And while this is certainly true in principle, I believe that our American light is sputtering to stay lit.
The argument over what to do with Syrian refugees makes an excellent case in point. I have friends on both sides of the argument adamantly claiming a biblical basis for their stand. Even conservatives are split amongst themselves. I get that the issue is nuanced and difficult to process, but the caustic vitriol characterizing this “discussion” (it’s more like a cultural war) doesn’t give me any sense of a bright light shining in the darkness.
In seeking to understand this conflict, I finally realized that the refugee issue is only a symptom of a far deeper conflict. A large number of conservative Christians are grieving over a way of life that is slipping through their fingers—a sort of death which they feel powerless to stop. And for this, in large part, they blame liberals and Muslims.
To many staunch conservatives, President Barak Obama and his allies are the archenemies. Through their conservative eyes, it was the liberals who shoved Obamacare down our throats and further upset the financial security of middle-class families. It was the liberals who broke constitutional law and pushed through same-sex marriage, destabilizing the entire fabric of American society. Now we’re being confronted with gender neutrality and the forced attempts to allow men in women’s restrooms.
No doubt, our nation has changed radically since our current president took office. But on top of our internal conflict is the external threat from radical Islam—or, depending on whom you ask—all Muslims. Of course, making President Obama to be a subversive Muslim simplifies the issue tremendously. Liberals and Muslims are all the same anyway. Aren’t they?
As a theological conservative, I believe the Bible to be the inspired, infallible, and authoritative Word of God. And because of this, I am deeply troubled by the caustic attitudes that pervade our stand for “biblical values.” We seem to have lost sight of a revolutionary faith that loves and blesses even its enemies.
Why is the light (love) of biblical conservatism faltering? In large part, because we refuse to let go of a much-cherished way of life—one that is slipping away, never to return. Our world has changed. Mayberry U.S.A. is gone, and no matter how hard we try, we can’t get Andy, Aunt Bee, Barney, or Opie back. Even if we could, our American Dream perspective is innately off base because it violates Christ’s New Testament mandate to pursue the kingdom of God first (Matthew 6:33).
The Kingdom of God
The kingdom of God bears very little resemblance to the American Dream. His kingdom is not about eating and drinking and houses and cars, but about righteousness, peace, and joy in His presence (Romans 14:17). The kingdom’s advance involves seeking to draw all others to Christ through the practical evidence of His love. And if we read through the book of Acts, we will find that well-intentioned attempts to preserve a cherished way of life presented one of the biggest obstacles to the early advance of God’s kingdom.
The kingdom of Heaven coming to earth promises a quality of life that far surpasses anything we’ve ever known, but to fully experience the new, we must first let go of the old. I’m not talking about abandoning biblically-based standards of morality, or even our attempts to influence the cultural landscape, but about finding the nearness of God in the midst of constant change.
You see, we aren’t the only ones lamenting the loss of a past way of life. A large percentage of the Syrian refugees are heartbroken over what has happened to their land, and would give almost anything to return to the peace and stability of days gone by. I would venture to say that their plight is far, far worse than ours.
In no way am I suggesting that we ignore all wisdom by opening the U.S. borders wide, but we can at least look for practical ways to extend love and compassion to those in desperate need while minimizing the risk to our vulnerable children and grandchildren.
In closing, I have three suggestions for those who consider themselves to be Bible-believing Christians.
- Let go of the past, and lift up your eyes to the new. Discover what God is doing now in our world, and get fully on board with His plan to bring the kingdom of Heaven to earth.
- Overcome evil with good by making an investment of love in the mission field (i.e. refugees) that is already coming to us. Skip a meal to pray. Donate funds to help a Christian relief organization. Or, like kingdom-minded friends of ours, contact a refugee center and offer to provide transportation for those currently being settled in the U.S. Opportunities always abound to overcome evil with good.
- Develop an attitude of gratitude. It’s nearly impossible for caustic vitriol to spew from a thankful heart. Gratitude is characterized by a strong faith that believes in the advance of God’s kingdom no matter what the external circumstances.
My personal world has drastically changed since my father-in-law died. My first fishing and hunting ventures after his passing proved to be terribly painful. I hit a point, though, when I realized that I couldn’t live in a perpetual state of grief. I needed to move on from the past and discover my “new normal.” Consequently, I’m learning to cherish the memories of days gone by while also looking for God’s blessings in the now.
One day, the kingdom of God will fill the entire Earth. Yesterday’s promise will indeed become tomorrow’s reality. But if we refuse to let go and move forward, we’ll miss much of what God seeks to do. I, for one, don’t want to miss the abundance of a future life because I’m grieving over a romanticized past.
“Do not call to mind the former things,
Or ponder things of the past.
Behold, I will do something new,
Now it will spring forth;
Will you not be aware of it?
I will even make a roadway in the wilderness,
Rivers in the desert.
The beasts of the field will glorify Me,
The jackals and the ostriches,
Because I have given waters in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert,
To give drink to My chosen people.
The people whom I formed for Myself
Will declare My praise.” Isaiah 43:18-21
Ours is a different world, but His kingdom excels all that we know, see, and remember.
O Lord, bring forth Your rivers in the desert, and fill us with Your hope, love, and wisdom!