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The Christian believer’s response to crisis in the world

By Rika Roeland[1]

Abstract: The world is currently engulfed in crises: dangerous illnesses, disastrous natural events, and hostile political environments. Jesus warned that these crises will take place[2] and that they will increase in intensity[3]. In 1948, C.S. Lewis questioned how to live in an atomic age (Hooper, 1986:1). Similarly, Christians are currently questioning how to live in a world where death is a constant threat. This article aims to address the contrast between living in fear and living in hope.

Introduction

In a world with ever-increasing threats of death, it is easy for a person to become overwhelmed, even for Christians. In society, there are various claims made on avoiding, preventing, and overcoming these threats of death. With God’s Word as ‘truth itself’ (Grudem, 1994:83), believers need to turn to His Word to find answers for living in today’s world. Instead of looking for hope in the world, believers are to find certainty within the Word on living in this world while awaiting the New World[4] (Rev. 21:9-21).

Discussion

Current society is repeatedly bombarded by the media, the Hollywood entertainment industry and policies that incite fear (Skoll, 2016:7). The professional opinion of media keeps the focus on bare life as the supreme object, with death the greatest evil imaginable, in contrast to life in the service of any higher ideal (McCarthy, 2020:8).

The intentional exaggeration of fear to further various interests within a culture has the effect of leaving the population in a perpetual state of fear (Konty et al., 2004:94-95). Although fear is an emotion, when it is applied to a culture, fear refers to a culture that is ruled by the terror of existential proportions (Skoll, 2016:24).

The fear that currently overwhelms society vastly exceeds the rationality of actual danger with paralysing consequences (Shields, 2016:17). People may be wilfully blinded by the distractions of the mainstream media’s deceptions of manufacturing fear or too numbed by their material comfort to notice or care about the present war that rages across the world (Broudy & Hoop, 2021).

Fear triggers the survival circuits in the brain (Coelhoe et al., 2020:1) and can be so powerful that it may deprive the mind of the ability to act and reason (Mieszkowski, 2012:101). Even though fear is a response that occurs within social interactions (Konty et al., 2004:96), the potential is always there that fear may be misleading as the mind is so focussed on the object of fear that the mind is unable to redirect his or her attention which causes a paralysing effect (Mieszkowski, 2012:102).

Being overwhelmed by life, people lose all hope, agency, and capacity to overcome their circumstances (Briggs & Fronek, 2019:157). When the person becomes demoralised [5], the person experiences significant emotional turmoil and feelings of being overwhelmed, making him or her unlikely to cope with stress, incapable of dealing with current life circumstances and worry-prone (Kremyar et al., 2020:341). According to McCarthy (2020:14), the truth is that people are currently suffering and perish from a deficiency of reasons to live.

Religion used to provide explanations for a person’s existence, but increasingly reasons to live are being left up to political ideologies (Murray, 2020:1). However, the human quest for meaning and significance can only be found by looking to God from whom human beings receive their ontological significance (Suderman, 2011:4). It is, therefore, only within a restored relationship with God that a person will find true meaning and a purpose in life (Swanepoel, 2009:77).

The focus of current societies is on man who uses economic and political symbols to gain perceived control (Swanepoel, 2009:86) and who removes all obstacles that stand in the way of this fulfilment (Kinnaman & Lyons, 2016:59). The perceived and misplaced trust is an illusion[6], and in the attempt to secure the illusion of self-worth and control, the person manipulates his or her world (Swanepoel, 2009:86). By focusing on the narrow horizon of one’s immediate needs, the individual does not see God and His purposes for them (Horton, 2009:41). Consequently, if the obstacle to self-fulfilment is a person, then this person must be an enemy, the embodiment of evil (Kinnaman & Lyons, 2016:59).

While the certainty that everyone dies may undermine a person’s attempt to find meaning in his or her life, the Gospel assures the believer that death does not speak the final Word [7] (Grenz, 2014:226). Ultimately, until the person is prepared for death, the person is not prepared for life (Horton, 2009:38). The illusion[8] of the person does not change the reality that everything falls under the reign of God (Swanepoel, 2009:87). The implication of Jesus being Lord of all is that He is also Lord over every area of the believer’s life[9] (Poythress, 2016:11-12) and therefore, whatever He thinks far outweighs all human opinion[10] (Poythress, 2016:43).

Christians are currently experiencing tension between their religious convictions and their desire to live peacefully with others (Kinnaman & Lyons, 2016:46). Unfortunately, through neglect or unwillingness, believers may promote the cause of the kingdom of darkness when they refrain from reforming society in obedience to God’s will and accepts the distinction between private religious life and secular public life (Swanepoel, 2009:125).

The new order of Jesus is a voluntary and integrated society that is counter-cultural (Acts 8:26-38; 10:1-48; Frost, 2018:126, 127). In contrast to the world, the Kingdom of God moves against slavery, political persecution, poverty, vulnerability, and suffering (Voster, 2015:163). Since the values of God’s Kingdom are justice, reconciliation, beauty, and wholeness, which is contrary to the character and values of this world (Lk 17:20-21; Frost, 2018:12), there is hope for the poor and suffering (Voster, 2015:163).

A person who lives in the presence of God is not afraid of people, circumstances, or the future[11] because the person is assured of God’s blessing and God’s presence (Breed, 2015:2). When faith is active and alive, it is a source of comfort and consolation (Mitchell, 2006:130). Therefore, since emotions may be fickle, misleading, and often simply wrong, a person cannot base his or her actions and decisions upon emotions (Mitchell, 2006:128). However, instead of turning faith into a work, the command to believe is to stop all labours and instead enter God’s rest (Heb 4:1-9; Horton, 2009:121-122).

Faith is a belief based upon facts (intellectual) and the surrendering of the heart (Mitchell, 2006:134). The standards of sifting through knowledge claims differ between believers and the world (Poythress, 2016:49). Consequently, the critical source for wisdom and knowledge is Scripture (Poythress, 2016:42). Since God cannot lie, there can be no untruthfulness in Scripture because the words in Scripture are the Words of God (Grudem 1994:82).

Additionally, God knows all future outcomes – He does not take risks like people do – and can therefore be trusted (Roeland, 2020:193). Knowledge of God’s character and the belief that He can keep His promises[12] leads to faith and trust in God (Mitchell, 2006:135). A person submits to God’s plan and purposes by trusting God within the bounds of a personal relationship (Swanepoel, 2009:86).

Whereas faith embraces this truth[13] (Horton, 2009:124), doubt in redemption plays with a person’s head[14], deadens his or her heart of compassion and keeps the person from serving others (Bentz, 2014:53). Therefore, every believer needs to have certainty of God’s love and that nothing can separate him or her from this love (Breed, 2015:4).

Believers must be defined by what they stand for and not merely by what they are against, such as whatever is unjust, immoral, or outright evil, like cultural views that life is disposable (Kinnaman & Lyons, 2016:67, 83, 144). Most importantly, the church is described as a therapeutic community where the seeker in the secular society is received and supported (Voster, 2015:156). This means that believers are to be a sign of God’s salvation and reconciliation in the world (Botes, 2016:130) and be agents of restoration by putting right the consequences of a broken, bent, and disordered world (Kinnaman & Lyons, 2016:71).

Since God is light[15] and believers are imitators of God[16], the question to be answered is: how do believers imitate God by being the Light to the world? Believers imitated God within the Christian community when believers put the Spirit of relational ministry (Domske, 2017:104). Within the Christian community, believers are therefore called to:

  • Love one another[17] – Love is more than a feeling: love is the commitment to take delight in others (Horton, 2009:41). Despite the circumstances of fellow believers, believers are to remain committed to love one another.
  • Serve one another[18] – Believers intentionally look for opportunities to serve one another (Bentz, 2014:119). Believers intentionally look for ways to assist one another physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
  • Comfort one another[19] – Believers can comfort one another as they receive comfort from God.
  • Support one another[20] – When the world’s crises impact the lives of fellow believers, believers are called to support one another in various ways, primarily through the Word of God.
  • Encourage one another[21] – The act of encouragement is to speak biblical truth into the life of another (Bentz, 2014:98). Despite the risk of being overwhelmed by various crises, believers are called to encourage one another with God’s promises.
  • Edify one another[22] – When believers minister to each other’s material and spiritual needs, they build one another up (Grenz, 2014:184).
  • Confess and pray for one another[23] – While believers are called to continue in prayer for one another, believers also need a safe space in which they can confess[24] their sins, needs, and doubts.
  • Live in peace with one another[25] – God’s gift of peace guards the heart and mind of the believer amid adversity (Roeland, 2020:200). Different perspectives are caused by worldly influences [26], and believers should apply the fruit of the Spirit [27] to live in peace with one another [28].

As future-oriented people, the believer is defined by the future reality and not the present or the past (Grenz, 2014:175). Even though the Kingdom of God is a reality in the interim, believers should be cautioned against the belief that every evil and its effects will be overcome in this time (Swanepoel, 2009:95). Therefore, believers must remain firm in the knowledge that Jesus has already defeated the devil and all his evil powers[29] (Roeland, 2020:194). As a guarantee of the future fullness of life, the Holy Spirit dwells in the believer[30] (Grenz, 2014:230).

Following the verdict of the last judgment already given to those who believe (Horton, 2009:124), believers must live according to the principles that characterise the future goal of God (Grenz, 2014:176). As ambassadors of Christ, believers are called to tell others, including to remind each other, about this good news of Jesus[31] (Kinnaman & Lyons, 2016:241).

Since the opponents of believers are on their way to destruction, Paul is adamant that believers should ‘stand firm’ (Thompson, 2006:33). By ‘standing firm[32], Paul means that believers must hold firm to their position in Christ[33] and not be pushed around (Roeland, 2020:192). The believer can stand firm when he or she looks up to God in faith and then turn to the world and neighbours in love and service (Roeland, 2020:194).

Believers are called to overcome evil with good[34] and not be overcome by evil (Swanepoel, 2009:125). With eternal hope, believers have hope in the face of death[35] because, in Christ[36], believers are surrounded by God’s love[37] and not abandoned in death (Grenz, 2014:227, 228).

When C.S. Lewis questioned how the believer should live in the atomic age, he wanted to convey that the believer should not exaggerate the novelty of his or her situation (Hooper, 1986:1). The ultimate crisis is not horrifying floods, earthquakes, storms, and fires that threaten a person’s temporal crisis[38] but when will Jesus return to judge[39] (Horton, 2009:38). Lewis’s concern was not the possibility of death but that believers were busy with ‘sensible things’ instead of being “huddled together like frightened sheep” (Hooper, 1986:1). While human history will end[40], human history is not meaningless, for it is directed towards a glorious goal (Grenz, 2014:216).

Conclusion

During various crises in the world, the response of believers is to keep their eyes upon Jesus. Hope is found in Jesus’ victory over darkness that assures believers that evil will not endure. The first task of believers is to take care of fellow believers. The aim of building each other up is to mature in faith and therefore be able to stand firm in the promises of God.

With the world’s eyes upon believers[41], believers are to witness the world and draw the world towards the Light. The display of ‘brotherly love’ (Philadelphia[42]) between believers draws the world towards God. Additionally, when believers live with courage in the certainty of God’s promises instead of succumbing to fear like the world, the world is drawn towards the Light.

In all circumstances, believers are to stand firm by placing their trust in God. Even though evil still affects the present, believers are to live according to the future promise by living a life in contrast to the world, filled with faith, hope, and love[43].

References

Bentz, R.R. 2014. The unfinished church: broken and redeemed work-in-progress. Illinois: Crossway.

Botes, J. 2016. Die kerk as verteenwoordiger van God in die plaaslike gemeenskap in Suid-Afrika: ‘n Praktiese-Teologiese studie. Potchefstroom: North-West University. (Dissertation – MA).

Breed, G. 2015. According to Exodus, Ministry in the presence of God (Corum Deo) In die Skriflig 49(3), Art. #1842, 9 pages. http://dx.doi.org/10.4102/ids.v49i3.1842.

Briggs, L. & Fronek, P. 2019. Incorporating demoralisation into social work practice. Social Work, Apr2019, Vol. 64 Issue 2, p157-164. Doi: 10.1093/SW/swz001.

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Domske, T. 2017. The end of the church as we know it: what the historical church can teach us about what it means to be the church. Pennsylvania: University of Dubuque Theological Seminary. (Thesis – DMin.).

Frost, M. 2018. Keep Christianity Weird: Embracing the discipline of being different. Canada: Tyndale House Publishers.

Grenz, S.J. Created for community: connecting Christian belief with Christian living. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.

Grudem, W. 1994. Systematic theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Hooper, W. ed. 1986. Present Concerns: Essays by C.S. Lewis. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, pp 73-80.

Horton, M. 2009. The Gospel-driven life: being good news people in a bad news world. Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing.

Kinnaman, D. & Lyons, G. 2016. Good faith: being a Christian when society thinks you are irrelevant and extreme. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.

Konty, M., Duell, B., & Joireman, J. 2004. Scared selfish: a culture of fear’s values in the age of terrorism. American Sociologist, Summer 2004, Vol. 35 Issue 2, p93-109. Doi: 10.1007/BF02692399.

Kremer, A.J., Tarescavage, A.M. & Ben-Porath, Y.S. 2020. The construct validity of distress intolerance: is it distinct from demoralisation and negative emotionality? Journal of Psychopathology and behavioural assessment, 42:340-353. https://doi.org/10.1007/s1007/s1086-019-09764-9.

McCarthy, D. 2020. A philosophy of fear – and society of scolds. Modern Age, Vol. 62 Issue 2, p7-14. https://nwulib.nwu.ac.za/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=143588354&site=eds-live.

Mieszkowski, J. 2012. Fear of a safe place. (In Plamper, J. & Lazier, B., eds. 2012. Fear: across the disciplines. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, pp 99-117).

Mitchell, M. 2006. The healing power of faith in mood and anxiety disorders: a pastoral study. Potchefstroom: North-West University. (Thesis – PhD).

Murray, D. 2020. The madness of crowds: gender, race and identity. 2nd ed. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Poythress, V.S. 2016. The Lordship of Christ: serving our Saviour all of the time in all of life with all of our heart. Illinois: Crossway.

Roeland, R.L. 2020. Healing persistent shame through koinonia and Diakonia – a pastoral study. Potchefstroom: North-West University. (Dissertation – M.A.).

Shields, K.J. 2006. Braving the culture of fear: an elected official examines how Americans have become prisoners of their anxiety. National Catholic Reporter, Cover story: essay, Feb, p17-18.

Skoll, G.R. 2016. The globalisation of American fear culture: the empire of the twenty-first century. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

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[1] The author may be contacted at rika@myfiladelfia.com.

[2] Matthew 24:6 “And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately.” (NLT)

[3] Matthew 24:8 “But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.” (NLT)

[4] Revelation 21:10 “So he took me in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and he showed me the holy city Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God.” (NLT)

[5] The process of demoralisation starts with disheartenment (mild loss of confidence), moves towards despondency (starting to give up) and ends with the person giving up (Briggs & Fronek, 2019:158).

[6] Psalm 115:2-4 “Why let the nations say, where is their God? Our God is in the heavens and He does as He wishes. Their idols are merely things of silver and gold, shaped by human hands.” (NLT). See also Isaiah 44:6-20.

[7] Ecclesiastes 9:2-3 “The same destiny ultimately awaits everyone, whether righteous or wicked, good or bad, ceremonially clean or unclean, religious or irreligious. Good people receive the same treatment as sinners, and people who make promises to God are treated like people who don’t. It seems so tragic that everyone under the sun suffers the same fate. That is why people are not more careful to be good. Instead, they choose their own mad course, for they have no hope. There is nothing ahead but death anyway.” (NLT).

2 Tim 1:10 “And now He has made all of this plain to us by the appearing of Christ Jesus, our Saviour. He broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the Good News.” (NLT)

[8] Matthew 24:4 “Jesus told them, Don’t let anyone mislead you.” (NLT)

[9] Matthew 28:18 “Jesus came and told His disciples, I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.” (NLT)

[10] 1 Peter 3:14-16 “But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ.” (NLT) See also Isaiah 8:11-13.

[11] Isaiah 43:1b “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by your name, you are Mine.” (NLT)

[12] Matthew 24:34-35 “I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass from the scene until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will disappear, but My Words will never disappear.” (NLT)

[13] Isaiah 8:20 “Look to God’s instructions and teachings! People who contradict His Word are completely in the dark.” (NLT)

[14] 1 Timothy 4:1-2 “Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from the true faith; they will follow deceptive spirits and teachings that come from demons. These people are hypocrites and liars, and their consciences are dead.” (NLT)

[15] 1 John 1:5 “This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in Him at all.” (NLT)

[16] Ephesians 5:1 “Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are His dear children.” (NLT)

[17] Hebrews 13:1 “Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters.” (NLT)

Ephesians 4:2 “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowances for each other’s faults because of your love.” (NLT)

[18] Galatians 6:10 “Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone – especially to those in the family of faith.” (NLT)

[19] 2 Corinthians 1:7 “We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us.” (NLT)

[20] 2 Timothy 4:2 “Preach the Word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favourable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.” (NLT)

Galatians 6:1-2 “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.” (NLT)

[21] 1 Thessalonians 5:14 “Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone.” (NLT)

[22] Ephesians 4:12 “Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do His work and build up the church, the body of Christ.” (NLT)

[23] Ephesians 6:18 “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.” (NLT)

[24] James 5:16 “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” (NLT)

[25] Romans 12:15-16 “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!” (NLT)

[26] Romans 14:1 “Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong.” (NLT)

[27] Galatians 5:22-23a “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” NLT

[28] Romans 14:19 “So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.” (NLT)

[29] Colossians 2:15 “In this way, He disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by His victory over them on the cross.” (NLT)

[30] Ephesians 1:14 “The Spirit is God’s guarantee that He will give us the inheritance He promised and that He has purchased us to be His own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify Him.” (NLT)

[31] 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 “And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to Himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to Him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, no longer counting people’s sin against them. And He gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making His appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, Come back to God!” (NLT)

[32] Ephesians 6:11 “Put on all of God’s armour so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.” (NLT)

[33] Philippians 1:28 “Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies. This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God Himself.” (NLT)

[34] Romans 12:21 “Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.” (NLT)

[35] Romans 14:8-9 “If we live, it’s to honour the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honour the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Christ died and rose again for this very purpose – to be the Lord both of the living and of the dead.” (NLT)

[36] Philippians 1:23-24 “I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live.” (NLT)

[37] Romans 8:34-35 “Who then will condemn us? No one – for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and He is sitting in the place of honour at God’s right hand, pleading for us. Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean He no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger or threatened with death?” (NLT)

[38] Matthew 24:6-7 “And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world.” (NLT)

[39] Hebrews 12:1-2a “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.” (NLT)

[40] Revelation 18.

[41] See Hebrews 12:1-2a above.

[42][42] Revelation 3:10-11 “Because you have obeyed my command to persevere, I will protect you from the great time of testing that will come upon the whole world to test those who belong to this world. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take away your crown.” (NLT)

[43] 1 Corinthians 13:13 “Three things will last forever – faith, hope and love – and the greatest of these is love.” (NLT).

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