A sketch on a teeshirt I saw depicts an editor of the Victorian era sitting behind his desk, holding a manuscript and scoffing as he chides the man standing in front of him.
“Well, which was it, Mr. Dickens? Was it the best of times? Or was it the worst of times? It can scarcely be both!”
Yes, that’s ludicrous. Yet what’s even more ludicrous is that Charles Dickens might well have been writing about the year 2011!
Should you doubt that the year 2011 really is “the best of times and the worst of times,” you need only scan yesterday’s comments on Facebook to be convinced. In a single day, close friends of ours announced the happy engagement of their daughter while a young man who was part of my husband’s youth group thirty years ago despairingly reported that his wife had just passed away after a crushing battle with breast cancer; other friends announced the cheerful news that another grandchild is on the way while a young wife lamented her loneliness for her husband, a world away from her in the military… and the list continued on and on through multiple severe ups and downs.
But even beyond these simultaneous joys and griefs of life that are inevitable in any period of history, America in 2011 has reaped the additional burdens of a crushing economy, serious job losses, plummeting morality, increasing government control that is enslaving us while it squeezes the liberty out of life as we knew it– while simultaneously, we are enjoying unfathomable advances in technology, incomprehensible instant communication, amazing advantages in travel, medical interventions that we never would have imagined, and a host of privileges we would never have dreamed of.
Probably more than ever before in the history of the world, we’re living in the best of times– and in the worst of times.
Not surprisingly, it’s the best of times and the worst of times that also brings out “the best and the worst” in our character. As individuals whose desire is to please God and honor Him in all that we say and all that we do, these times are certainly a challenge for us.
Suffering can produce bitterness, as we’ve all seen it do. But suffering can also produce the amazing reflection of the unfathomable love of God, as we’ve also seen it do. Successes can produce arrogance and selfishness– or produce an incredible spirit of charity. In his book, “A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss,” Gerald Sittser says that what happens to us doesn’t matter as much as what happens in us because of it.
Romans 5:3-5 says, “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. And hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our hearts.” This is what our driving passion should be.
These days, we’re seeing things we would never have imagined in our lifetime. A neighbor, unable to make mortgage payments on her home, stopped payments, locked the door and drove away. Hard working friends are suddenly finding out their “secure position” was not secure, and now they are without jobs, going from frustration to frustration trying to provide for their families. A line of hundreds of individuals–all ages, all races– stood outside a local fruit packing business, desperate to be hired to pick cherries in the orchards near our home. People are literally without food for their families. We’re witnessing scenarios like the stories I’d heard from my parents talking about The Great Depression– never imagining we’d see the same things in our lifetime.
Yet on the other hand, with rising fuel costs, families and friends are reconnecting, spending more quality time close to home instead of constantly running off in different directions. My husband and I find we are walking more, driving less, and therefore enjoying the health benefits of the added exercise, as well as calming times to chat. I’m spending more time looking at the stars, clouds, or other details of God’s amazing creation that I tended to rush past too quickly when we hurriedly drove off to the next thing. With rising food costs, family members are rediscovering the joy of gardening. Can such good things come from adversity?
We listen to contentious political debates, and all of us think we know the answer to what ails the country. We’re all very vocal about expressing our opinions, yet the call of God for us right now is to stop the contention and put into practice the faith that we say we profess.
I believe–strongly– in the power of capitalism to bring about the freedom we once enjoyed. But capitalism devoid of a spirit of Christian charity will defeat us.
“Charity” isn’t just what’s external–donating cans of unperishables to food banks– giving money to causes we believe in with the hope of relieving those who are suffering more than we are– missions work, though these are important. These can easily relieve our pangs of guilt even while we continue to deride others who didn’t have their financial act together like we did.
In reality, charity is first a matter of the heart. Webster defined ‘charity’ like this: “Love, benevolence, good will; that disposition of heart which inclines men to think favorably of their fellow men, and to do them good.” True charity has no room for condescention. It has no room for impatience, or arrogance.
Unfortunately these days, far too often there’s an increasing display of self-centeredness and a “look out for number one” attitude, even among Christians, as the economy worsens. Yet at the same time, there have also been amazing displays of encouragement, help, support, and shared burdens. The year is 2011. This is definitely “the best of times” and it’s also “the worst of times.” It could well be our time, as Christians, for the love of God to really shine.
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