After solemnly swearing to myself that two columns on the same topic were probably more than enough, here I go with yet another. I promise this will be the last.
Two issues ago, I asked whether in today's gloomy climate you are (1) a bit of an optimist, (2) a bit of a pessimist, or (3) a doomsday cataclysmist. Your responses began immediately to flood my mailbox-and they're still coming.
I have to tell you how surprised I am at what you're saying. I'm picking up the theme for this third time because the alarmist tone from so many of you has begun to-well, yes, I'd have to say it alarms me.
I reported to you in our last issue that in the "early returns" to my informal survey, almost three times as many of you were pessimists as were optimists. More than 40 percent of you fell into the third "really bad" category. Since then, that percentage has increased every day-so that more than half of all respondents expect that Armageddon-like scenario. Together with the "slightly pessimistic," you dark-siders make up 75 percent of the total response!
"Are we so arrogant as to think that America cannot fall?" asks Laurence Mellen of Cleveland, Miss.-sadly summarizing what many others of you have suggested. Many of you add to your fearful intuitions a deep sense of biblical inevitability; you interpret the Bible as almost necessarily predicting dire events in the near future. "I'm just glad that God says he's 'slow to anger,'" one reader said.
All of which produces in me an eerie kind of déjà vu. Weren't we here just a bit more than a decade ago in the countdown for the purported Y2K disaster? It wasn't just in the "letters" columns of Christian periodicals. It cascaded off the shelves of Christian bookstores and cluttered the airwaves of Christian radio. Now it's as if, having been insufficiently embarrassed by our Y2K behavior, we have to come back for another "fix" of crisis living.
So I want to repeat what I said here right after Y2K. For Christians to be living in the regular context of alarm is to deny their birthright. For us, the future isn't scary. Unsettling, perhaps-but not scary.
Let the rest of the world conjure up every worry it can imagine. We are the ones whose hearts are not supposed to be troubled. We believe in God, and we believe also in Jesus, who is God come in the flesh to demonstrate how Jehovah can enter time and space and make all things certain. That is precisely what He means to do with and for His people-and we are most faithless when we act otherwise.
Richard Spears of Tulsa, Okla., wrote: "What surprises me is that 25 percent of WORLD's readers are mildly positive. I'm surprised it is not fewer! We Christians complain, but we don't confront. When we confront, it is to destroy, not to build up. We complain about our jobs, we complain about our politicians, our neighbors, our friends, our weather! We know how to criticize, but we don't know how to create."
Maybe I posed the wrong questions. Maybe I should have structured my survey with more room for biblical optimism. And I should be emphatic that many of you who predict that things are going to get very bad made it a point to stress your confidence that God is in control. You just didn't make such confidence sound all that inviting! What sounded more inviting was a note from Laura Law in Glenwood Springs, Colo., who told me about having just planted her garden this spring, even in the context of dire world events. She quoted Martin Luther, who said: "Even if I knew the world was going to end tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree today."
Instead of emphasizing a confused and insecure future, shouldn't we be stressing what is clear and secure? Shouldn't that be what we are known for? About end times, maybe it's best for us to say-taking a cue from Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 3: "Might be just around the corner. Might not. Either way, we're OK. The Lord is our God."
Email Joel Belz