In this age of smartphones and 4G networks, news travels fast.
It was a normal Monday night and I was gathered with a dozen young adults in my living room, eating grilled cheese (the food of champions) and ready to play a game and talk about God, when the subject of conversation changed.
It has happened like that several times in the last few months—a sudden shift from the usual conversations about work and school, weekend shenanigans and new music. I couldn’t help but hold my breath once again as the topic turned to tragedy: Recent automobile accidents that claimed the lives of friends. Tragic, nonsensical shootings. ISIS. Planned Parenthood videos. Lots to fear, lots of which to be afraid.
The list was long. Intense. Depressing. Scary.
Over the last few months, time and again, I have observed that when I’m talking with Christians—young or old—and the subject of conversation shifts to tragedies and world events, there happens to be a common denominator to their reactions. Of course, it’s all sad. Of course they differ in explaining how God may or may not be involved, depending on their background and experience. But when it comes to what they do personally when they receive what seems like a tidal wave of unsettling, fearsome information over airwaves, social media and news sites, there seems to be a common theme:
“Shut it off.”
Fear can be overwhelming. The more we feel the world is out of control, the less we want to be a part of it. We’re devastated people could act that way toward one another. We’re confused as to how we can protect ourselves. We’re uncertain about the what-ifs. And so, we shut down.
“That’s why I don’t watch/listen to/read the news anymore.”
Maybe you have said it. Maybe you have done it. Maybe after discussing all this stuff going on in this crazy world, you are choosing to do it right now. Maybe it’s the reason you signed off cable and signed onto Netflix.
And it makes perfect sense, if you think about it. Fear traps, imprisons, paralyzes. Even for those who place their hope in Jesus Christ, thinking about big problems and possible tragedies can cause insomnia, stress and sadness. I don’t know about you, but when my heart breaks, I don’t like the way that feels. I sometimes think if I don’t know, think about or talk about disasters, epidemics, wars or bombings, I don’t have to experience that.
We often feel helpless about our own lives, let alone the world. Besides, even Christ-followers can’t do anything about these local, national and worldwide tragedies anyway—right?
Not according to Jesus.
While there are legitimate times to step away, and while chronic fear and anxiety are real issues that need to be faced and mitigated in our lives, pulling the curtains to block out the world doesn’t seem to be an option for anyone who claims to follow Christ. Jesus was with people so much that the Scriptures go out of their way to indicate He experienced gut-wrenching compassion for them in their state of life (Mark 6, Matthew 14).
On one occasion, when crowds of people began to gather around Jesus, He sat down on a mountainside with His crew—the 12 disciples—and purposely allowed the throngs of folks to overhear His teachings. He surprised everyone by first calling out blessings on unexpected groups of people: the poor, the mourners, the humble, the persecuted. The list went on. In that time, everyone believed those people to be punished by God, as indicated by their horrible circumstances. But Jesus claimed the opposite—that God was with them and they were where God was.
And after listing these groups of “blessed” people, Jesus started talking to the disciples directly about their responsibility, their role.
“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:14-16).
The disciples knew the strategic placement of cities of the day—built on top of hills, these cities allowed their inhabitants to protect themselves and see what was going on miles away. City lights also helped travelers orient themselves on the road. Seeing a city gave people relief and HOPE. The light of the city helped those in the city to see, as well as others to see the city and be guided by it.
Responsibility is powered by awareness. Awareness is possible through involvement. Involvement results in illumination.
But what would happen if everybody shut their windows, shut their curtains and put their lights under baskets?
We wind up aiding the darkness when we go too far to protect our light.
If God’s Spirit populates us like a city, we need to see what’s happening on the landscape. We need to be connected to the world—to those unruly situations, people and places that make us most afraid—so we can be reminded how much we need to rely on God and not on human attempts to be gods. By shutting off the world around us, how would we know who and what to pray for? If we actually believe prayer has a purpose and God can work in anyone, anywhere, we need to plead on the behalf of others.
Christ-followers should feel uncomfortable when we hear of people killing one another, of viruses spreading, of citizens living in the midst of rocket fire and war. When that discomfort turns into fear, we shut ourselves off from the news, cover our lamps, and take cover in our comfortable living rooms.
But when that discomfort turns into prayer and trust in a God who has plans to restore His broken world, we shut down the author of fear, the prince of darkness. We are propelled to fight against injustice and offer hope and help to those suffering from accidents, addictions and depression. We support aid organizations and go on mission trips to change situations and our priorities. Fear does not get the best of us—God does.
And we pray—not just say we will. But really pray.
The ability to sing the song of hope and to live each day in the confidence that God will write the final bars does not depend on what’s going on around us. Like the light of Christ that we’ve been given, that hope only dies—actually suffocates—when we attempt to cover it for ourselves.
Kris Beckert started out as an environmental scientist but God had other plans. Now she serves as associate pastor at Real Life Chapel in Easton, MD, is an adjunct biology professor at Chesapeake College, and works as the Coordinator of Operations for Fresh Expressions U.S