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Ever feel “the end of the world is nigh?” As you scroll through social media and talk to your friends, this might be a feeling with which you’ve become familiar. But is it right?

“The world is not coming to an end,” reads the caption of a popular cartoon from The New Yorker. “Therefore you must suffer along and learn to cope.”

Might the cartoon prophet be onto something?  And what does “coping” look like for the modern Christian who might be agitated and unmoored by the news of the day?

In this week’s Good Faith podcast, my co-host David French and I discuss:

  • What seems like “the end of the world” is not the true end of the world;
  • How we are not guaranteed a suffering-free life;
  • How human kingdoms will fall (yes, even America);
  • How we should interpret disorder as it pertains to God’s sovereignty;
  • Why Christians should have a strong impulse to protect society from convulsions;
  • Why binary “right” and “left” categories don’t make sense anymore;
  • The proper Christian response to cultural chaos, and
  • How Christians should properly affect change in three words.

DAVID FRENCH: I’ve written about a famous poem aimed at young men by Rudyard Kipling called “If.” I’m not going to read the whole thing, but it begins with a memorable formulation which many describe as a poetic vision of virtuous stoicism.

It begins like this.

“If you can keep your head when all about you   

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;   

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise.”

It goes on from there. This is a poem about balance. If people are losing their heads, you should keep yours. You should have a degree of self confidence, yet also open yourself up to critique. You should have a degree of patience about falsehood, even falsehood directed at you, but be truthful yourself.

This has always appealed to me, but I want you to put on your pastor hat and interpret that through a Christian lens.

CURTIS CHANG: Let me offer what I think is the biblical answer to the questions Kipling’s poem raises. How do we live that way? How do we actually think and behave in that balanced way you’re talking about when everything feels like it is out of kilter?

I want to invite listeners to take a look with me to the biblical answer found in Psalm 46.

If you’re listening with me, pull open your Bible or pull open your Bible app. We’re going to have a little Bible study right here on the Good Faith podcast. I think it’s helpful if you can see the whole passage, but I’ll start by reading the first three verses of Psalm 46.

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble,

therefore we will not fear. 

Though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam, and the mountains quake with surging.”

Now those three verses actually have been a balm to many people in personal times of turmoil, and that’s totally appropriate. But the original intention of this psalm was actually to address social and political turmoil and instability. You can see this when you just skip ahead to verse 6: “nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall.”

It’s critical to make the distinction that this is a poetical representation of that feeling of instability. The psalmist is not actually talking about physical mountains falling into the heart of the sea and mountains physically concretely quaking with surging. The Bible uses earth shattering kind of metaphors – mountains falling and waters roaring and foaming –  throughout Scripture, especially in the Book of Revelation.

There’s at least a stream of Christianity that’s tempted to read those descriptions and think, “oh my gosh, we’re talking about the physical disintegration of the world and that’s the end of the world.  That is where this world is headed, until some of us get raptured out of it and go away to heaven.”

That is not actually the biblical worldview.  

When a journalist writes “earth shattering events,” they’re not talking about the earth actually cracking and the seismic tectonic plates falling apart. They’re trying to describe the feeling of it. The actual biblical vision of the end of the world is not a physical disintegration of the world from which we’re then raptured away. It’s actually God returning to this world, not ending this world, returning to this world, and restoring this world.

That’s the real end of the world. Christians are called to have faith in the end of the world, in the sense of the end of the story, the conclusion, the destination to which we’re headed.

You see this in Psalm 46.  If you skip ahead with me to verse 8, there’s this really interesting phrase, “come and see what the Lord has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth.” Now some might say, “Oh, okay, this is the desolation, the apocalyptic ending of the world that he’s talking about.” But go on to the next verse which describes the desolation that the Lord is going to bring on the earth. Verse 9.

“He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth.

He breaks the bow and shatters the spear.

He burns the shields with fire.

He says, ‘be still and know that I am God.

I will be exalted among the nations,

I will be exalted in the earth.'”

So the earth is still going to be here, right?  God will be returning to this earth. This is a prophecy of Jesus. But the desolation he’s going to bring is the end of strife, the end of war, and the restoration of this world.

That’s the big picture is that Christians, to answer the Kipling question. We’re called to have faith in: the true end of the world, not the disintegration of the world.  This world is headed towards a destination, a conclusion, an end-of-the-story when the Lord comes to bring peace and restoration in the end.

DAVID FRENCH: Curtis, experience inescapably shapes theology. Here’s what I mean.

When you started talking about Psalm 46, you were talking about it as being social and cultural and societal.  You’re talking about what’s happening to nations, not just a personal crisis like bankruptcy or troubled marriage. Much of the American church has caused us to read out of our theology the social, cultural and systemic aspects of Scripture.  Instead, we read into it a lot of things that were written from a social, cultural, national perspective.  Therefore, as we move into an area of instability, a lot of us are going to be re-reading Scripture and seeing how much it has to say about social, cultural, and national instability.

CURTIS CHANG: That’s a great point. We’ve taken for granted political, economic stability and therefore we shrink scripture to actually talk about a very narrow scope of concerns.  We think all the other stuff is already taken care of. When, in reality, that’s not been the case for most of humankind. 

DAVID FRENCH: Even though both the Black church and the White evangelical church are “small o” orthodox (they have the same high view of Scripture, they have the same view of a lot of sort of those personal moral issues), the Black church has long had a view of the scripture as speaking an awful lot about national, social, and cultural issues. But this is going to be a challenge for American Christians who are used to a trouble free existence in the broader social and economic sphere.  They are going to have to get used to actually experiencing trouble, disorder, and chaos in a way that most of the rest of the world realizes you have to do as a human being. Americans are going to have to grow and realize, “oh, this is part of life.” Right?

CURTIS CHANG: Again, I want to read Psalm 46:1: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble.”

An “ever present help in trouble” is not an ever present help to guarantee I never encounter trouble. That’s not what the passage says. It’s an ever present help in trouble. The assumption is you will experience trouble.

This doesn’t mean that God is not in control. God is still sovereign, he is directing the world to its ultimate conclusion: the restoration of all things, the peace that’s described at the end of 46.

But God exercises a very profound and interesting (and I just think a loving) form of sovereignty.  This is not a sovereignty that says, “I will control every single minute event,” but rather a sovereignty that shares power with human beings.

Because he has chosen to share power with fallen human beings, this world is going to experience trouble caused by troubled and fallen human beings. Their actions – wherever they are on the political spectrum – will have consequences and cause trouble. Humans will mess things up.

Ultimately, God is going to still be in control, and we can be assured of the end of the story. In the interim, human beings can act in bad ways, can disrupt things, and can cause suffering and inflict suffering to other people. None of us are guaranteed a trouble free life in any sphere – including our political and social sphere. We have to learn how to deal with that.

I’m reminded of a famous New Yorker cartoon which shows a bearded street prophet holding a sign on the street, which says, “the world is not coming to an end, therefore you must suffer along and learn to cope.”

That’s actually the message, the prophetic message to us.

First of all, the world is not coming to an end. Because the end is guaranteed and assured in God. Yes, there is going to be trouble, and you must suffer along and learn to cope.

But we should not equate disorder in the political social realm as a sign that God is not sovereign.  Some Christians look and say, “Oh, my gosh, the world is spinning out of control. Now, I doubt whether God is sovereign.” 

DAVID FRENCH: Or, “I’m gripped by fear.”

CURTIS CHANG: Yes, or “I’m gripped by fear.” That only comes when we have been conditioned to expect we shouldn’t suffer trouble. That’s false logic.

As that New Yorker cartoon says, we must learn to suffer long and learn to cope.

That’s reality.

[This excerpt was lightly edited for clarity.]

HOSTS: Curtis Chang and David French

PRODUCER: Kris Carter

The Good Faith podcast comes out every Saturday on The Dispatch. Listen and subscribe here or wherever you listen to podcasts.Curtis Chang is the founder of Redeeming Babel.

1 comment

  1. Thayne Muller says:

    “When I took my canonical examinations in Arkansas in 1960 in order to be ordained deacon, Bishop R. R. Brown had a favorite question he asked of every seminarian. If your church burned down, what would be the first thing you would do?
    “The answer he wanted was, ‘I would take up an offering for mission.’
    “I believe he was attempting to teach us that there are no circumstances, however destructive, that give us license to give up our calling as disciples to be faithful. We are not in control; we are sometimes humbled by events, but that does not change our calling to proclaim Christ and Him crucified.
    “In a time characterized by the words ‘Crisis, Crisis Everywhere,’ what is God calling us to do? My answer to that is full steam ahead. As Bishop Brown would say, ‘Take up an offering for mission.’ I don’t believe that circumstances, whatever they are, change the shape of discipleship to which we are called. That does not mean that we are unaware of the dangerous time in which we live both in the church and the world, but that doesn’t change the Gospel demands.”
    –The Rt. Rev. Edward L. Salmon, Jr, Address to the 213th Convention. March 7-8, 2003

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