Does it ever seem like the world is just falling apart before your very eyes? Everywhere I look, it seems that I hear more bad news about the state of our country, economy, society, etc. I turn on the news and hear about how our country is in terrible debt and the outlook is grim. I look at the youth of our nation and see kids who are lazy, unmotivated, and entitled. And I see an education system that enables those kids. I go to a lecture on the current issues in American medicine and find out that the government is passing regulations forbidding doctors to act on their consciences. I look on facebook and the internet and am constantly reminded of those working against Christian marriage and those who are hostile to, even hate, Christianity and everything I believe and hold dear.
It paints a pretty grim picture, doesn’t it? And that’s not even the half of it. I look around and see little cause for hope, little reason to think that the world hasn’t completely gone off the deep end. It’s even worse when I remember that I have to live here. I’m only 24. I’m going to have to deal with the consequences of all this for many years to come. This is the world I will bring my children into and raise them in. When I consider it, it is so easy for me to despair.
Yet, lately I have been convicted about this. My nature is a melancholy one and easily disposed to pessimism and the “doom and gloom” mindset. I’ve never had too much use for optimism because it always seemed to me to be a blind belief in the face of the facts of reality.
However, I think that both my pessimism and this kind of blind optimism are wrong positions to take for they both ignore reality in different ways. Blind optimism fixes itself on future hope, but does not deal with our present, and dismal, reality. Pessimism, on the other hand, fixes itself so intently on the present that it does not consider our future hope, which is just as real and sure as the present.
Here, I find the biblical metaphor of the race especially helpful and beautiful, partly because I was a long distance runner. You see the life race the Bible talks of is a long distance one and in a long distance race, you cannot be a blind optimist or a pessimist. If you are, you will never finish the race.
The blind optimists were those who sprinted off at the beginning of the race. Confident in their speed, they burst off and usually led the pack for a while. However, they inevitably wore out. Why? Not because they were not fast, but because they did not take stock of the reality of the course. They knew their speed, but they did not see and adjust for the hills and grueling distance. Though they led the pack in the beginning, they inevitably wore out and fell back.
Pessimism in long distance running is equally fatal. It is as much a mental sport as a physical one. The pessimist focuses too much on the struggles of the race. They think about the aching of their legs, their thirst, and shortness of breath. Too wrapped up in the obstacles of the present moment, they forget their goal. They consider only the hill in front of them and not the finish line which is, most assuredly, ahead. A runner who forgets why he’s running and that he is running toward something, will inevitably give up because he begins to believe that the cost and struggle of the race outweighs the worth of the prize.
The runner who will finish the race is the one who recognizes and deals with the reality of the course, but also fixes his mind on the reality that there is a finish line and that every painful stride leads him closer to that finish line. He knows that the pain is real, but that if he perseveres it will end and when it does, he will have reached the goal and obtained the prize.
Why is this relevant to my earlier musings about the state of our world? Because, my friends, the Bible tells us that we are in a race and that this race is most definitely a long distance one. If we are going to run the race well and finish, we cannot be the blind optimist nor can we be, as I am prone, the pessimist.
We cannot be the blind optimist and ignore the reality of our present obstacles. The truth is that the world is in a really bad way and we have to be prepared to deal with that, to live in the reality of that.
Nor can we be the pessimist and forget what we are running toward and the prize we hope to obtain, eternal rest and peace with Christ. This prize is as real as our struggles and if we persevere, we will receive it.
Christ is our model and our well of hope. We take heart in the sweet truth that he has run the race ahead of us. He has experienced every struggle and faced every mocker, but “for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” -Hebrews 12:2-3 We must remember His struggles so we can face our own.
As we face these present struggles we must also remember our future prize. We must remember, like Paul, that we “do not run like a man running aimlessly” -1 Corinthians 9:26 but we “run in such a way as to get the prize” -1 Corinthians 9:24. The length and obstacles of the race are very real, but so also is our prize and the prize is undoubtedly worth the cost. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” -2 Corinthians 4:17
As I consider these things, and look ahead to the future, to my life in this world however long or short it may be, I hope and pray that I will be the runner who wisely considers the course and also holds firmly to the reality and hope of the finish line. My hope is nearand yet, far. Christ is always nigh and able to give me hope and strength, but I know I may yet have long to tarry in a world that is lost and growing increasingly hostile to Christ, my Lord and so also, to me.
The promise of John 16:33 comes to mind, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome theworld.” It strikes me that this verse a twofold promise and that firm belief in both aspects of the promise is crucial to finishing the race. We must know that we will, without a doubt, have trouble in this world, but nevertheless, we should not despair because we also know that we run the course that Christ has already run before us. To do so, is a privilege and provides us with certainty that if we persevere and hold fast to our hope, we will overcome just as Christ did. We will receive the prize and enter into His rest. Though we know the course is long and arduous, we know someday, we will reach the finish line and “In that day we will say, Surely this is our God, we trusted in Him, and He saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in Him; let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.” -Isaiah 25:9