It started with a lack of bacon.
Too many people at Wendy’s ordered items with bacon, so the crew had to cook more. The bacon lovers in line were told it would be six minutes, so we gathered calmly off to one side and began to chat. One man steered the conversation to politics. In minutes, I wondered if a riot would break out.
While people were willing to wait patiently for food items filled with bacony goodness, patience is in small supply when it comes to waiting till November to “throw the bums outta Capitol Hill.” People aren’t just mad at the condition of America 2010, they’re downright enraged.
People are livid at overreaching government, at seeing their tax dollars given to scoundrels, at watching themselves move down the class ranks, at losing their jobs, at losing their homes, at losing out on every dream they once had.
They seethe because the gulf fills with oil while the people responsible for the disaster lie about its severity. Companies that created the economic mess ask for more aid and then give it as bonuses to leaders responsible for the mess. The country has lost control of its borders. Nuts and flakes in Iran build the Bomb. Corporations lay off hardworking people and reward sloth because the slothful know where the skeletons are buried. Health insurers begin terminating policies, arguing that Obamacare will take care of everyone—some day—leaving the average Joe buried in debt as he pays either outrageous costs for replacement insurance or nightmarish costs for health care, living in dread that he may one day get sick and need medical attenti0n that will cost him all his savings, his kids’ college funds, and even his home.
The inability to stop this downward spiral breeds fear. Like a tapeworm, powerlessness eats at people’s guts. They can’t stop the insanity; they can only be carried along with it. And that spawns this stark rage that many feel.
I have known Christians who seem to escape these trials. I have known Christians who have been buried by a relentless series of landslide-like events. Both groups have been faithful, yet one seems to attract trouble like a bare bulb at night brings in the summertime moths.
And it goes much deeper than just calamity or human failings. I was talking with a friend on Monday about the way we live our lives, and it seems to both of us that trying to fall back to a more sane position only creates chaos in the poorly thought-out systems we’ve created for ourselves. Eating locally grown food sounds like a wise idea, but what instabilities are created by a large-scale move away from food trucked in from long distances, instabilities whose ripple effects can’t be predicted easily?
It is one thing to pray that God will deal with the wicked people who knowingly hurt others in the pursuit of cold, hard cash. But what of the janitor who cleans the wicked people’s buildings? Is he in collusion with evil? And is he us?
And how does one pray about entrenched systems that are not so much empowered by evil principalities but by mistaken notions that were innocent five decades ago but which have now bred dependencies from which we cannot escape readily? Are all wrongs rightable? And was that wrong truly wrong at the time of its conception? What do we do when black and white have dulled over time to gray?
If others are like me, then I suspect more and more people wake up feeling inadequate to the task. In simpler days, choices seemed to come easily. Now, though, it feels as if every decision that life presents is like a bucket of murky water with something awful lurking at the bottom out of sight. We have made everything in life so complex that any simple act of deciding is fraught with danger, consisting, in many cases, of wondering whether the potential sea snake hiding in one bucket is more lethal than the possible blue-ringed octopus in the other.
What this means for modern Christians is hard to fathom. Are we immune to bad outcomes? If not, how then do we navigate the complexity of modern life? How does one break out of the system when one is a product of that system? Would Jesus even have us attempt to break out? Or does conformity and relenting not matter in the wider scheme of things? Is powerlessness good or bad? And is numb consent to the downright infuriating aspects of life a sin?
We in America are definitely control freaks; we want everything just so. That’s not of faith. But then the counter to that is to wonder whether simply allowing ourselves to be swept along powerlessly is not of faith either. And if it isn’t, where is the happy medium?
As a Christian, my tendency is to immediately answer by saying that faith, prayer, abiding in Christ, and Bible reading are the answers. Certainly, faith brings us through all trials. Yet what is the faithful answer to a nuclear Iran that will certainly attack Israel? How do we meet the health care needs of people without bankrupting our country? Does every issue have a solution, or are some problems destined always to diminish us?
And most of all, how should you and I, such small people, live in the face of these issues?
I feel for angry people. I truly do. Jesus has an answer for them. My deficiency is that I don’t always know what that answer might be or how to bring it about. And I believe that if we were honest with ourselves, many of us will realize that more and more issues are harder to resolve than we might think—that is, if we are thinking at all.
23 thoughts on “The Christian, Rage, and Powerlessness”
Amen (As Philip Yancey might say, “I Was Just Wondering”).
To which Yancey book are you referring?
“I Was Just Wondering” IS the name of the book. It is a collection of columns he wrote over several years in Christianity Today and, as I recall, they consisted simply of questions. Excellent read.
Thanks, Ocean Cider, I will have to look that one up.
Have had these same thoughts many times over the years – yet would not have been able to articulate them as well as you have. Lots to think on again. Thank you! I’d be deeply discouraged if I didn’t believe that the Lord has everything under His control. Hopefully He can use me to make a difference where He placed me.
Just wondering: What if the Lord having everything under control means that your child must face constant pain?
There are a few in my immediate family who deal with chronic pain, myself included. While I do not understand all His ways, I do trust that what He allows to happen is and will be for each one’s best interest. He will work it out for good!
While we should indeed be involved in politics, voting, and other areas of society, it is always helpful to remember that our hope is not in fallen principalities and powers but in Christ and the new creation.
Dr. Abraham Kuyper once referred to the state as an unnatural, mechanical post-fall addendum to the organic reality of life. The state is essentially a crutch, used to deal with the problem of evil before the final judgment. Unfortunately, the state itself is not sin-free. Simply viewing the state as what it is and not as the ultimate righter of wrongs can help us to cope with the frustrations of any failings we see around us in our nation.
The problem is that many people have an idealized view of America’s past (especially of the Founding Fathers) which suggests that things were better in “the good old days.” We can easily forget the message of Ecclesiastes, that nothing is new under the sun, and the previous generations had their own problems just as we have ours.
The State may indeed not be the ultimate righter of wrongs, but it’s a darned high one. Plus, its justice does not have to wait until one is dead.
That said, you are right in that we have an idealized picture of “ye olden days” when our country was new. However, it is hard to argue against the reality that, born again or not, most people back then had a greater fear of God and the public authorities than they do today.
I don’t have the answers to the world’s problems other than to pray, “Come quickly Lord Jesus.” He’s the only one who can restore right to the world. The world is a sinful, fallen place and all of our worldly solutions will never be the best.
But Christians don’t have to fear. We don’t have fear nuclear bombs. God may very well pour out His wrath on America, or Israel or elsewhere with a nuclear bomb, but His wrath is not for His children. We don’t have fear losing our jobs, etc. Not that we can never lose our jobs, but we can trust God to provide for us. We don’t trust our jobs to provide for us, so when lose our job we don’t have to fear. God will still provide. He doesn’t need your job.
We have to remember that tribulation is for our benefit. He works ALL things together for our good. It is terrific for the American church for America to go into depression. The church runs on money, not the Spirit. If the money goes, maybe some more people will start turning to God and relying on Him instead of “growth strategies.”
There is a difference between fear and loss. The fear that I may lose a loved one is quite different from actually losing that loved one. The fear that some pedophile newly released from prison on a technicality may rape my daughter is quite different from it actually happening.
I struggle with interpreting the Biblical idea that all things work together for good to those who are in Jesus. I believe that perhaps our idea of what constitutes “all things work together for good” and what the actual “things” and “good” are may be quite different than what God intended to mean. It is why the faith of so many solid people crashes and burns in the midst of the truly awful. Let’s face it, can we truly say a young child being sexually molested or a mother and child dying in childbirth will work together for good? (Having talked with those who were molested as children by someone of the same sex, and later watching those same children, now grown, dealing with homosexuality, I struggle to say that all this has worked together for good. The lament of “How could God allow this to happen to me, an innocent child of faith?” is a powerful and haunting one.)
Quote: “It is terrific for the American church for America to go into depression.”
Oh, that reminds me. Yes, we all know how spiritually declassé we bourgeois American xtians are, and how we deserve all the “depression” that we’re gonna get, real soon now. But what’s funny to me is every time some Third Worlder xtians comes here to America to pay a visit in our churches, they always fall all over themselves thanking us for all the financial support we send them for purposes A, B, and C over there in countries X, Y, and Z. (Sometimes, I begin to wonder if they like us only for our money.) Well, anyhow, once the Big One Hits, and we’re all out on the streets unemployed and begging, or sleeping under freeway overpasses, it’s gonna be tough for our Third World brethren too since our dollars will have been hyper-inflated away to Weimar Republic La La Land. Even if we sent them any, it won’t do them any good.
“Depressions” can have unintended consequences. Be careful of what you wish for.
I most certainly do not wish for a depression! And more than most, I am quite weary of being the one victimized by “unintended consequences.” I mean, if I had $100 for every time I have heard someone say, “We never intended to hurt anyone,” I could retire. After a while, it rings hollow.
Well, this is exactly why Jesus said “Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof.” Either God is in control or He isn’t. If He is-and I believe He is-none of this is a surprise to Him.
Our job is to live in a day to day dependence on Him, period.
Either the Holy Spirit thru the Word of God is enough to guide or steps or He isn’t-if He is, why worry? If He isn’t, then we are totally doomed anyhow.
So, as much of a mess as everything looks, I figure the simplicity of trusting my Lord one day at a time, obeying Him one day at a time, looking to Him one day at a time-well, that’s all I am supposed to do. The world is in a mess precisely because men think they know better than God, or that earthly wisdom is any kind of wisdom at all. So of COURSE it’s all literally going to Hades in a handbasket.
So, what else is new?
It is one thing to believe that God will take care of us. It is quite another to contend with worldly systems. We can’t NOT contend with them unless we intend to check ourselves into a rubber room. It is that contending that proves so wearying. “Let go and let God” works in many cases, but not when it comes to “tending one’s vineyard.” Someone has to prune the dead fruit, kill the bugs, and fertilize the thing; we can’t expect God to.
I’ve never read in the Bible “pray for bad things to happen so that we can grow spiritually”. We often sound like that, though. Do we have it so good in this country that we are led to pray for disaster? On the other hand, there are multiple warnings in the Bible not to put our faith in human institutions, but rather place our lives in God’s capable hands.
Love God, love others. There is no other commandment, occupation, or capacity for the Christian.
So true: Praying for calamity for oneself so as to grow never shows up in the Scriptures. If anything, God is there to help people avoid calamity, when possible.
I have Psalm 34:17-19 taped to my computer monitor. I read it every day. I believe it is true. But I also wonder if what I consider to be trouble and what God considers to be trouble are indeed the same thing. This may be the difference between falling off a cliff of disappointment and holding firm to what really matters.
You hit the nail on the head with this paragraph: “People are livid at overreaching government, at seeing their tax dollars given to scoundrels, at watching themselves move down the class ranks, at losing their jobs, at losing their homes, at losing out on every dream they once had.”
I think that pretty much sums up the current outlook of a lot of people in the US these days. I suppose this is true for Europeans as well with all of their financial catastrophes.
The hardest of the TEN Commandments perhaps is coveting.
I lament constantly how much better my parents had it. THEIR parents went through the great Depression, they as kids cared little about daily needs.
They bought a house for $20,000 or less which is now worth 20 times that. THEIR wages kept up with inflation so monthly mortgage payments became easier and easier. THEY have and had access to good health care.
I’ve been through 2 factory closures and have been sustained on daily bread for ten years, i.e. paycheck to paycheck.
My wife went without health insurance for months, finally after getting it went to the doctors and found she has a blockage and blood pressure was 200/100.
Your neck of the woods is like mine.
I get angry when I see a good way of life entirely possible but held back because of corporate greed.
If you get CNBC watch the documentaries “Enron the smartest guys in the room” and ” House of Cards” about the housing and mortgage collapse.
You’ll see how it ties in to this blog topic.
Was skimming around my NLT Bible last night and found this-Isaiah 8:12-14a: “Don’t call everything a conspiracy, like they do, and don’t live in dread of what frightens them. Make the Lord of Heaven’s Armies holy in your life. He is the one you should fear. He is the one who should make you tremble. He will keep you safe.”
Dan, I know you’ve written before concerning Christians needing to come up with alternatives to college. Here’s some evidence to back up your argument from today’s Washington Examiner:
It is my morning prayer before I leave the house that God muzzle my mouth and my negative thoughts. I have been known to be quick harsh with my words prior to my walk with God. In certain situations it bubbles to the surface and I have to remove myself from the situation before I go on a verbal slaughter. In my world religion series I had to conduct various religious experiences and I chose a vow of silence. I found it intriguing that across both Eastern and Western religions this was practiced. All with the purpose of using ONLY meaningful speech. We are often so driving by our ego’s to speak. It was eye opening to my own use of speech and how harmful and useless so much of it truly is.
I don’t know, running out of bacon seems worthy of a near riot.
Honestly, I think the problem may be in the application of our faith. I think that American Christians face some serious issues in that we are more focused on applying the Biblical principles to others rather than to ourselves. We want to use the bible to fix politics. We want to use the bible to fix social issues. We want to turn the eye of God onto everyone else, but not on ourselves. Because we are locked in this ideology, all we become is frustrated when the world doesn’t play our way.
If we were to turn the bible on ourselves, we would realize that we have much more to learn and that when Jesus said, “The first will be last and the last will be first,” he meant that we wouldn’t be perceived as the greatest by the world, but we would be by God.