Is the World Getting Better or Worse?
I hear many comments about the current state of our world. How the situation is dark, people are so lost and everything is heading down hill. Amidst some of that truth, it is easy to miss out on the beautiful work thousands and millions of our world's citizens have been giving their lives to, for decades.
We see only what we want to see. The world is worth saving. It is worth living for and giving your life for.
There was a story two thousand years ago that combatted the current Greek & Roman view of deity. They said the gods looked down from Mount Olympus and didn't give a damn about humans and the globe they lived on. If you want any help, any salvation, any hope, you need to ascend the heights, leave earth and join us up here … if you're worthy. A small group of people started telling a different story. They said god did care. They said god didn't make you climb the mountain but, instead, got up off his throne, and came down. They said he did it in disguise. Not acting like royalty - like an arrogant pig - but a poor man, a carpenter, a servant. "He became the lowest." So low, in fact, that people despised him.
This story turned the story of the gods upside down. And, of course, humans killed this divine person.
It was too much for god himself to come to earth to declare its people, its soil, its water, its needs, its molecules and atoms and quarks were special and precious. It was too much for a human to declare, "God and I are one. The gods are in me and I'm in them." He later prayed, "I pray that I would be in you, and you would be in me, and they would be in us, and we would be in them." Basically, the story is not about a split universe. It's not about a beautiful perfect place up there and a rotten broken place down here. That's not how it works. It's integrated. It's connected. It's intertwined. Heaven and earth were not separate; they were one and the same. Later, a dude who followed Jesus made claims that got his butt kicked even more than Jesus even did. Whipped on 9 different occasions with 40 lashes. He took the story further and said "this Christ was before all things, all things were made through him, all things are held together by him, in him we live and move and have our being." Basically; that god and reality are, and were always interconnected; that you can't separate and compartmentalize what's valuable, holy, sacred and eternal. In his view, the whole thing is of god and is god. I know you know the story - but it tells of the restoration and renewal of all things.
This may come as a shock to you, but nowhere in the New Testament does it tell you the world is going to be destroyed. That belief came about from misused Greek words. It actually says quite the opposite. The psalmist declares, "The earth will stand forever." The Jesus story was the beginning of a reversal of thousands of years of human paradigm that believed god punished the wicked, sent rain on the righteous, and just "had it" with this worthless little world and stubborn people. For thousands of years societies have believed the world is spinning downhill and will one day reach the bottom; destruction, doom and flames. This story tells the opposite. This story says the world is spinning toward good and is moving uphill. Slowly, but surely, declaring that one day "all things will be renewed."
But this story says one more controversial thing.
Another belief was: people believed God would arrive and fix everything. He would set up shop in a nice palace and execute his will upon the world. They wanted this when Jesus showed up, and we still want it today, don't we?
This sets up a problem...
It creates a world so dark that only God can fix. So, in effect: powerlessness and disengagement from reality. Why step in and get my hands dirty if my powerful savior is going to show up real soon and fix this? We still place the work and hope on the deity. But the Jesus story was counter cultural, and still is. This story does talk about the work and accomplishment of the one Christ, but it talks more of the work of the Christ within us. That he would do, and did do something - but that we would do more. His words, not mine… The story says this "Christ" is in us. It says when we love one another "the love of god has reached perfection." Or, "that's what it's all about." It says that by you and me stepping into the Christ role; picking up your cross, following his role, lead, example, by suffering like he did ... we could fix this. He said it was better for him to leave. Because he knew we all could do more than just one; that the masses would sit around and worship him and focus on him to fix everything; that our obsession with the divine could somehow, oddly, disconnect us from reality, from each other and the earth. It sometimes seems like people want the earth to be a dark place. Like they actually want to see it roll downhill. Every headline, news article and sin becomes one more piece of evidence confirming their belief. Because this is what our brains do after all: only seeing what it believes. Not because you're an asshole but because it's programmed to. Your mind believes something and your brain says, "Yes sir! I'll collect data to verify."
But we are invited to change what we see.
Jesus said the eye is the lamp of the body. If the eye is full of light, the whole body is full of light. Some say Jesus is referencing the mind, some say it's the third eye of the Hindus and some say it's the pineal gland in the center of your brain. Either way, this "eye" can often have a log in it blocking its view, causing you to point out saw dust in other people's eyes … But in practically, our big plank, or incorrect beliefs, causes us to focus on what's negative around us. When I hear people talk about the world spinning out of control and how dark and lost it is, I often ask them, "Do you want it to be?" If you believe it is going downhill, your own statistics will comfort you every day. If you believe it is getting restored, better, and even though it’s hard work, it is indeed moving uphill toward a bright future, then you will see it everyday. I started thinking this way a few years ago and I can honestly say I am overwhelmed by how good it all is. The Rabbi's said, "The garden story was and is." Which means "God looked at it and said it was good. God is still looking at it saying 'it is good.'" Don't let your hope for a future savior disconnect you from the invitation to act as a current savior in his absence. This world, with its people, soil, video games, governments, sex, rock n' roll and hospitals is beautiful and holy and important and sacred. The divine is in every molecule of it, literally, and we should be too.
The world is indeed, sometimes taking two steps backward, but moving forward … one committed, caring, invested, future-thinking person at a time.
So what do you say to yourself and the world around you about millennials, government, culture, the economy and religion? What story do you tell? Do the gods ask us to climb the mountain or did they come down? I won't be so arrogant as to say the world is 100% not spinning out of control. I could be wrong. But we believe what we believe, right? And I believe it's moving upward. I love the scene in the Television series The Office, where the employees find out the company could be closing the next day. They start to panic; Michael starts playing a murder mystery game. Jim, taking it super seriously, gets annoyed at Michael and they go to another room to argue. Jim is laying into Michael about the weight of the situation, and how he believes Michael is being immature. Michael finally snaps and yells, "They need this game, Jim!!" They went back to the conference room and the panicking employees ask Jim if there's been word from corporate. Jim says, "Yes, there has been word...there's been a murder." And they play a game. To be honest, this scene made me cry. It's understandable to feel like Jim. I often do: pragmatic and responsible. But then goofy, immature Michael steps in and almost ignores the problem and acts like it's not real. And somehow, it speaks to the heart. In that scene, strangely, Michael was doing the right thing. It oddly reminded me of the movie Titanic. As the water filled the halls and cabins of the large ship, you see parents holding their children, rubbing their heads,
whispering in their ears. You see an older couple lying in bed holding each other. Embracing the face of death.
I don't know what story you will tell. None of us really knows what the future will bring in our lifetime or the lifetime of our kids.
We don't know. And that's a fact.
But if you see darkness, please whisper. If you see terror, play a game. If the boat is sinking, sing a song. For me, and many others I've come to know, we don't see darkness up ahead. I believe the world in all its mess and craziness, is good and growing and evolving; flowering out, expressing the eternal nature of God and man from culture to culture, and age to age. I believe we are all different but united. Opposite, but not opposed.
I don't ignore pain or loss or suffering. I believe it is part of the story and in fact, necessary.
The crucifixion and resurrection tells us; in order for new life to begin, old life has to die. Something beautiful is going to cost you something. Nothing comes from nothing and something comes from something. So we embrace pain and death and chaos as part of the story. It is real and it is painful, but it is important because, according to the Jesus story, it is always the start of something new. What story do you tell? What song do you sing? What game do you play?
Ronnie is an artist who's ideas have launched businesses, apps, music albums, and as of late, cartoons. Visit his website here. He thinks outside the box but don't tell him that, he doesn't believe in boxes, unless you're in a movie cinema. Ronnie lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S.A with his wife Anna and their three boys Jack, Griffin and Maverick.
See previous articles by Ronnie Herrema