It was the strangest of times, it was the most frustrating of times. How else could one revise Dickens’ famous opening line to describe our current cultural era?
Foundational ideas and understandings are changing at lightening pace. The majority opinion from twenty years ago regarding marriage is now viewed as oppressive and unwelcome in public discourse. Definitions established for much of human history that differentiates a man and a woman are now viewed as abhorrent. Basic biology and common sense are thrown out the window to create a new normal. Like a square cat or smelling seven, much of the language of today is illogical and unscientific, yet the culture demands full acceptance without discussion or debate.
Watching the culture go down such a dark path brings about a great deal of discouragement for believers. Some Christians have given over to despair, while others have embraced a blind optimism that doesn’t take seriously what’s at stake with the current issues.
In his book Strange New World, Carl Trueman warns believers against both despair and blind optimism: “To fall into the former would be to fail to take seriously the promise that the church will win in the end because the gates of hell shall not prevail against her. To engage in the latter is simply to prepare the stage for deeper despair later. And both will feed inaction, one out of a sense of impotence, the other out of naïveté.”
Instead, as believers traverse these dark roads, we do so with hope. Not a false hope that pretends problems don’t exist, but a hope that sees the issues and yet perseveres; a hope rooted in the ultimate reality of who God is, the good news of the death and resurrection of Christ, and the imminent return of Christ. As Trueman explains, “Christian Hope is realistic. It understands that this world is a vale of tears, that things here are not as they should be, and that…all life death does end. This world is not the Christian’s home, and so we should not expect it to provide us with home comforts.”
Christians have hope no matter what happens. While some well-meaning believers may argue otherwise, Scripture never tells us that we will win the culture wars. The Bible never states that if Christians vote correctly or boycott the right companies the kingdom will spread and the church will grow. In fact, most often the Scriptures warn that believers need to prepare for persecution.
Christian hope keeps us going when all seems lost. Resting in the eternal truths of the gospel, longing for Christ’s return and the new heaven and earth, we keep persevering when it seems like darkness is winning. When the news headlines breed frustration, when the politicians lie to us, when we don’t know what news we can trust, or when confronted with death and sadness in this world, through it all the Christian’s hope remains unshakable.
In order to persevere, we need a Biblical understanding of success. Success doesn’t mean we will always conquer every ideology that rebels against God. Success doesn’t mean we will get every godless law changed or take over political establishments. The early church in the book of Acts saw great revival and still faced persecution. We live in a fallen world and no matter how faithful the church remains, evil will continue to exist until Christ returns and finally destroys it.
Rather, success for the church is faithfulness to God and remaining steadfast in Christian hope. When the church remains crystal clear in proclaiming the truth of Scripture and the good news of the gospel, she is successful whether or not the culture heeds her warnings. Many of the Old Testament prophets faithfully warned of God’s judgment, but their voices were rejected and they were silenced, often by death. Hebrews 11 testifies to many of the faithful saints of old, some of whom “conquered kingdoms,” while others “suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment…they were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword.”
Most of us naturally want to “fix” things. We see our culture going down a dark path and our natural tendency is to think we can do certain things and make it right. We should speak God’s truth clearly and faithfully, but we have no promises that our voice will be heard or things will go well when we do. We don’t get to pick whether we conquer kingdoms or suffer mocking and flogging, that’s up to the Lord. We strive to live faithful, bold, and courageous lives and let God do what he wishes.
What Should We Do?
A well-grounded Christian hope perseveres through all the confusion going on in our culture. Live each day to the glory of God by displaying this hope to those around you. Love God, enjoy him each day, care for your family, care for your neighbor, and rest in Christ. It’s possible to be so caught up in changing the world that you don’t even influence those in your circle. Serve faithfully where God has you and never lose hope. We will see hardship, but do not give in to despair nor buy into a naive optimism. Christ is building his church and the gates of hell will not prevail against her.