Images are being constructed around the world, moments in time that come and go as quickly as a breeze. For better or worse, lives are being impacted. There was a time we were unaware of these stories. But that time has since passed. Information is real-time, instantaneous—readily available to the masses. And sadly, we are stricken with too much information, too much data, statistics, interviews, commentaries. We shuffle through each account and neglect the emotion, the pain, the strife so many are engaged with. We grow numb to bad news.
BAGHDAD, Iraq: A car bomb detonates near Karbala; 43 lives are instantly extinguished while 55 walk away with wounds. Some time later, a car bomb detonates on the Jadriya bridge; 10 perish while 15 nurse wounds. Across town, two police officers and one civilian are gunned down. And two other roadside bombs explode even further away.
RABAT, Morocco: Two brothers, strapped with explosive vests, blow themselves up near a cultural center in Casablanca, the city we remember by Bogart. Suspicion surrounds al Qaeda, the network that claims responsibility for a recent bombing in Algeria, killing 33 and wounding 200.
DARFUR, Sudan: The United Nations estimates that 400,000 lives have been taken in the continuing struggle between the Jangaweed, an armed militia group, and farmers who work the surrounding region. Two million residents have fled and peace agreements are failing to hold. The outlook is grim.
NEW YORK, New York: A man jumps to his death from the 69th floor in the Empire State Building. Portions of Manhattan are closed as the investigation continues. His name has not been released yet; he was a lawyer in his 30s.
SELMER, Tennessee: Mary Winkler is in court, charged with first-degree murder of her husband, Matthew. They have been married ten years. Mary asserts that he physically threatened her on one occasion and constantly criticized her mannerisms. She is quoted as saying, “I guess I just got to a point and I snapped.”
These are the stories of our daily news, an unending collection of anxiety and heartache. We cannot escape the ugliness of the world. And unfortunately, similar stories will follow these, accounts of hatred and lament. But a revelation may exist in this melancholy state of affairs. How do you filter news stories? Do the headlines invoke frustration and rage? Or does your heart sink, broken as you try to grasp the callous heart of men and women? Does God feel this way? And does he call us into this state of mind, state of heart? The psalmist reminds us that he will not despise a broken and contrite heart.
Countless realities exist each moment of the day. As newborns enter the world, adults die. Outside my window, a child is riding a bike, without a care in the world; oceans away, a child this same age is forcefully subjected to oppressive labor, earning pennies for tiresome toil. Another child this same age is engulfed in a heinous sex trade. This is their childhood. Many of us can walk to the refrigerator for bottled water; oceans away, millions of men and women struggle to simply locate it. Sadness leads to brokenness. And brokenness leads to the virtue desire by humanity, a quiet yearning: hope. Hope invites change—it is a welcome invitation for new circumstances, new attitudes, new politics, new strength, new joy. Hope is the herald of change.
Jesus frames hope through unique language in the Scriptures: “Kingdom of God.” He referenced this place many times, calling it to mind through parables, often facilitating a teaching with these words: “The kingdom of God is like …” Unfortunately, his listeners did not understand. They sought a literal kingdom, a place of radiance and honor, might and authority. In fact, they tried to seize and crown him by force. Have we misunderstood too? “Kingdom of God” and “Heaven” are used interchangeably by many Christ followers. But they are not the same. And sadly, Christ followers tend to be overly concerned with eternal thoughts, neglecting the everyday, the here and now. But the Scriptures reveal otherwise, amazing words that repeat: “restore” and “renewal” and “revive.” Greek etymology frames “kingdom” in terms of dominion, not territory. The invitation to be part of this kingdom resides in this reality, this moment, the everyday.
I recently encountered a vision of this kingdom in film. Tears of the Sun (2003), directed by Antoine Fuqua, is the story of one man’s struggle to make a good decision. Lt. A.K. Waters, portrayed by Bruce Willis, leads a team of special forces into Nigeria to extract an American doctor. The doctor refuses to go unless the 70 refugees she watches over are included. Waters has her escorted by force. As the choppers depart, the crew begins to notice the unthinkable—ethnic slaughter in the surrounding villages. Waters stares at his team, reading the eyes of each. He takes a moment to pause. And he instructs the chopper to turn around; 12 villagers are loaded onto the chopper as he simultaneously decides to lead the remaining hopefuls to neighboring Cameroon. Initially indifferent and void of emotion, the film reveals his journey of change, revelation. And he comes to a place of concern, remorse and awareness. He expresses his change of heart very bluntly in a vivid scene towards the film’s close: “I broke my own rule. I started to give a ****.” While this statement seems jarring, the intensity and emotion beneath it is humbling. He peered into the kingdom and then brought it forth through action.
I referenced the term “solemn joy” in a recent reflection. This is a phrase of deep reflection; it is a reminder that we have much to be thankful for, much to smile about. It is also a reminder that many do not share this sentiment. I have stared at pictures of Africa and looked intently at faces of malnourished children, barren mothers and displaced families, discovering a sadness words cannot begin to capture. Many of these individuals will not tell stories of hope. But others may have the chance through the intervention, the action of others who notice the kingdom, who facilitate its presence.
Bad news is a reminder the world is broken, in need of repair, rescue. Have you noticed that news programs will relegate lighter news, generally positive, for the end of the broadcast? Why is this? Is it to remind society life consists of light pockets, acts of kindness, stories few and far between the mess?
The kingdom of God is not otherworldly; it is right now. Those who build the walls of this kingdom have no brick, no mortar, no stone. They construct it through character, integrity, mercy, forgiveness, love, counter cultural principles. The kingdom of God is an existence transformed; a life refined and restored one moment at a time. Ambassadors of this kingdom reveal the good news we long to hear more of. Unfortunately, their actions will largely go unnoticed. They are not deterred though. Sadly, good deeds do not erase bad deeds; good news will never displace bad news. Ugliness will continue, but all will be restored. Brokenness will give way to healing. Redemption will continually be realized. And the resulting Polaroid will be breathtaking.