Here's a quick quiz to sharpen your mid-springtime self-awareness. Into which of these three general categories would you put yourself?
(1) You think things are pretty bad overall in the world, but when you look ahead you expect that over the next three to five years, they'll probably get a little better.
(2) You think things are pretty bad, but when you look ahead three to five years, you think they're most likely to keep getting a little bit worse.
(3) You think things are pretty bad, but when you look ahead, your view of what's coming borders more on the catastrophic and the apocalyptic. They're going to get much, much worse.
You've been alert to notice, I'm sure, that my little exercise is not quite symmetrical. I didn't include a choice allowing you to indicate your expectation that over the next three to five years, things around the world are going to be getting much, much better. That's because, in my informal beta testing of the quiz before giving it broader exposure in this column, I couldn't find a single person who wanted to put a check mark in that category. If that omission offends you, let me know.
What's startled me in bouncing this off a number of folks, both individually and in groups, is the relatively even split I've discovered among the three categories. Responding to pretty much the same outside data-including everything from elections to scandals to subprime mortgages to earthquakes to volcanoes to biblical eschatology-about a third of all the folks I talk to turn out to be mild optimists, about a third are mild pessimists, and a final third are end-of-the-earth-phobes.
How is it that we see and hear the same evidence and yet come up with such starkly different conclusions and expectations? How is it that even the people of God-people who agree on the long-term picture and who say they have confidence that the King of the universe even now has things securely in His sovereign hand-how is it that even those people have so little agreement about what lies immediately ahead?
All this would be fascinating, but not terribly significant, if it affected no more than our personal decisions. If I decide to invest my modest retirement accounts based on a modestly pessimistic outlook, while you do your investing based on a your quietly optimistic perspective, the ultimate outcome will simply make for good conversation and a little good-natured joshing.
But imagine for a few minutes that you are one of nine (or 18 or 27 or 33 or any other number easily divisible by three!) members on the board of a Christian college, a Christian school, a Christian retirement center, a crisis pregnancy center-or maybe even a Christian magazine or publishing outfit. At this month's imaginary board meeting, you make the startling discovery that a third of you are setting important organizational policy based on quietly optimistic expectations, a third based on a modestly gloomy outlook, and a third of you based on the assumption that the world may soon be coming to an end.
Now your individual presuppositions begin to matter-and the results carry weight that goes well beyond lunchtime chatter. If your imaginary organization has an endowment fund, or if you have a building fund stashed away somewhere, how will the three disparate parties come to terms about how to invest the money?
How will you structure next year's budget-a little hopefully, a little cautiously, or with an all-out defensive mindset? What will your posture communicate to the newcomers and especially the young people in your orbit? What kind of leadership qualities will you exhibit?
In fact, the scenario I've sketched is anything but imaginary. WORLD readers tend very much to be leaders in a wide variety of Christian communities-and I have no doubt that many of them have already faced the tensions suggested here. If that includes you, or if you've been watching such leadership at work, take a minute and email me (email@example.com) to tell me simply which of the three groups you're in-and maybe, in just a sentence or two, why.
I won't tell you quite yet which group I favor. I will tell you I had lunch in New York last week with my 4-year-old granddaughter, Hope-whose mom and dad, I recall often with a thankful heart, had the courage to give her that name even in a fearful and uncertain time.
If you have a question or comment for Joel Belz, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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