And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. Hebrews 11:6
2014 was a pretty good year in the United States. Just before we entered 2015 the Dow Jones Industrial Average broke the 18,000 mark with economic indicators showing the U.S. economy expanded in the third quarter by the most in 11 years. Unemployment numbers are declining, interest rates continue at an all time low, gas is under $3 a gallon, relations with Cuba are thawing, and in the mid-term elections we once again witnessed a peaceful transition of power in Congress. Thanks to an advanced medical system, the Ebola virus was a non-event in North America. These are good times to live in America.
Things are different in much of the rest of the world. The chaos and carnage in the Middle East is having a ripple effect in many countries. At the epicenter of the turmoil is the failed state of Syria. A rigorous new study by the United Nations Office of Human Rights has confirmed 191,369 deaths from the Syrian civil war since it began in 2011, of which about 100,000 have been killed in the last 14 months alone. ISIS continues its barbaric ways: beheading, sexual enslavement, and the murder of anyone not ascribing to their narrow view of Islam. Iraq has still not recovered from their war and the people continue to be plagued by inept government. Islamists are decimating ancient Christian communities in the Middle East. A few weeks ago, Taliban fighters attacked an army-run school in Peshawar Pakistan, slaughtering 152 people, including 133 children. Acts of terrorism continue to plague both the Middle East and the West.
Russia has annexed Crimea and continues to be militarily aggressive in Ukraine while the Ruble tumbles and their economy is in shambles. As its people suffer horribly, North Korea continues to exist in its own surreal bubble. This isolated dictatorship became so incensed over a fictional movie that they ostensibly brought the world to a new era of cyber warfare with their multi million dollar hacking of Sony Pictures. Iran quietly makes progress with their nuclear program as the West seems impotent to have an influence. This past July, Israel went to war with Hamas as they bombed Gaza in retaliation for rockets launched from that narrow strip of impoverished real estate. About 2,000 people died in this conflict and much of Gaza was utterly devastated. Boko Haram has kidnapped hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls, most of whom have yet to be rescued. Many are now comparing the despicable antics of Boko Haram to those of ISIS. And, sadly, the Ebola epidemic has killed close to 8,000 people in West Africa. Over 800 million people go to bed each night hungry as malnutrition kills more people each year than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined.
More travesties could be mentioned, but the point is obvious. In 2014 there was a tremendous amount of suffering in our world and 2015 looks poised to bring much of the same.
The travail of so many in our world can cause the believer to question his or her faith in the benevolence of the God of the Bible. We can cry with the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, Righteous are you, O Lord, when I complain to you; yet I would plead my case before you. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive?(Jeremiah 12:1). Our faith is challenged as we watch many parts of the world spiral into hopelessness. The smug atheist sneers that there is no God to bring goodness and justice to the pain, suffering and cruelty that has enveloped so many. And the Christian’s faith is stretched, too. Why does God allow such suffering? What kind of faith does the Christian need to continue trusting in God? How does a Christian have faith in the providence of God in a world where there is so much pain and injustice? Consider a few thoughts for a sustainable faith in 2015.
While the world situation is dire and suffering seems to be ubiquitous, it is important to remember these are not the bleakest of times. Even a cursory reading of history reveals that there never has been a golden era of peace and justice. Ever since the rebellion in the Garden the world is not as originally intended. God’s people have always been called to faith in the midst of a broken world. And, it is a biblical world-view that adequately answers the why question to all that is wrong. Sin and rebellion from God’s rule has brought us to our present state of affairs. While Christians should be saddened at the brokenness around us, we should not be surprised.
Our faith is based on the character of God and a trust that he will bring to pass all that he has promised. When the Jews were tempted to distrust in God, the prophets would remind them of the mighty acts of God. Abraham, Noah, the exodus, Moses, the Ten Commandments, Jericho, Rahab, Saul, David, Solomon and then eventually the coming of Messiah, Jesus. What Isaiah and other prophets looked forward to, God faithfully brought to pass in Jesus. God’s record of faithfulness as recorded in the Bible should lead us to faith.
Karl Barth was the giant of twentieth century theology. Late on the evening of December 9th 1968, Barth spoke on the phone to his lifelong friend Eduard Thurneysen. In their lifetime, they had been through two devastating global wars, the Nazi regime and the crisis, the conflicts, the chaos of a turbulent century. The two old friends talked about the darkness of the world situation they had witnessed. As their conversation grew to a close Barth said, But keep your chin up. Never mind. And then he added the ringing affirmation,He will reign.
A faith for 2015 will rest on the belief that Jesus has indeed come as God promised he would. And he is coming again to reign. When he comes, the ugliness of our broken world will be healed as his justice and righteousness reigns. As C.S. Lewis said, We trust not because ‘a god’ exists but because this God exists. But as every believer knows, our emotional response to all that is broken around us can cause us to be faithless. Again, Lewis is helpful.
Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods ‘where they can get off,’ you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of digestion. (Mere Christianity, p. 123-124)
In the coming year there will be ample opportunities for our faith to be challenged. It may come as we cringe watching the 6 o’clock news, receive the unwanted call from our doctor, witness the wicked prospering, or the innocent suffering. Our faith may be challenged as we endure our fickle moods. We will be tempted to shout, How long O Lord? Are you there? God, do you see what is happening? God, do you know how I am feeling? The remedy for believers is to remind ourselves of the character of this God in whom we have placed our faith. This is the God who affirmed that, if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself (2 Timothy 2:13). The God of the Bible is the God who has been faithful to his promises in the past, will be faithful to his word in the future, bringing justice and peace as he reigns. Lord Jesus, come quickly!