(The best of times: a grandfather holding his newborn grandson.)
The other night, I lay my head on the pillow, my mind weary from processing so many tragic headlines, day after day. The shootings, the violence, and the hatred seem to be spiraling out of control, don’t you think?
Earlier in the day, I tuned into CNN. A spokesperson against terrorism was asked, “What should we do about all this terrorism?”
The spokesperson said, “It does seem to be escalating, doesn’t it? I think we just have to try harder.”
To do what??
Human evil is unpredictable, hidden, and determined. Our proactive efforts may snuff out some evil plans, but we cannot anticipate every hateful and violent impulse worldwide.
“Trying harder” to eliminate terrorism feels like hiking Mount Everest. As an ant. Backwards. Blindfolded. Under a magnifying glass. In the sun.
Needless to say, it was a very depressing interview.
But what else could the spokesperson say, really?
That interview made one thing abundantly clear (if it wasn’t already): humanity will not solve the problem of hatred, violence, or terror.
Every day, current events evermore emphasize our human limitations and our desperation for God.
The real answer to CNN’s question, “What should we do about all this terrorism?”is “Petition God.”
Prayer is our thing to do.
God will respond to the sound of our voices and He always does what is good and loving. He is never surprised and He never loses.
(You’ve gotta check out this post by my friend, Sarah Mae, in which she ushers us toward praying for our enemies. It is exactly what I need to read these days.)
That particular night, when my mind was weary from the world’s groaning, I mostly prayed for myself.
Our times seem so bad, so extraordinarily bad.
I needed hope.
I felt afraid and helpless. I wondered, would evil continue to escalate? Would we all lose our bearings? Would everything fall apart?
In that moment of prayer, I remembered Charles Dicken’s famous introduction to The Tale of Two Cities…
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”
I found comfort in the fact that 200 years ago, a man named Charles Dickens saw abounding evil in the headlines of his newspapers. He could write about “the worst of times” because they existed in the 1800’s. Evil seemed to be spiraling out of control in the 1800’s. His classic novel explores how evil seemed to be escalating in the 1700’s. And today, we can cut-and-paste his words into the year 2016.
Our current situation isn’t unique: “the worst of times” is timeless and universal.
But let’s not forget that “the best of times” is also timeless and universal.
The two occur at the very same moment. They always have. One glance in a history book or one scroll through Facebook shows this: birthdays mixed with obituaries, anger mixed with compassion, joy mixed with sorrow.
While we process the force and magnitude of evil – “the worst of times” – let us not forget that goodness – “the best of times” – has a force and magnitude of its own.
A force that will not be overcome.
Goodness is a continual, escalating, abounding gift from God.
It spirals out of our control.
It surprises us at every turn.
It’s the red poppies blooming in the WWI battlefields.
It’s the sun rising after a night of violence in Philadelphia.
It’s the baby who is born a few days after a close relative dies.
Life swallowing death.
What would we do without “the best of times” to get us through? They are God’s grace lavished on us as we pilgrim through a sin-weary world.
They are God’s reminder – those daily beauties that help us bear up under July’s headlines – pointing us to the Cross of Christ that bears us up over death and sin.
And so, we keep celebrating birthdays, appreciating one another, and pursuing goodness. We keep living and loving because God graces our dark world with abundant compassion. God Himself will always be the “best of times” – the wisdom, the belief, the Light, and the hope – that sustains us through every day of history’s “worst of times”.
Count on this: if evil is spiraling out of control and escalating in intensity, surely God’s goodness is spiraling and escalating at an ever-more-astonishing rate.
Look for it.
Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”