Unlike those who can briefly consider an issue, mull over it for a few minutes and move on, carrying on as usual with all the minutiae of life, work and family, my mind is overwhelmed by all that is going on in the world. For those who can’t help thinking and evaluating, or inwardly critiquing and projecting, last year’s events and the first few weeks of 2017 have barely allowed pause for rest.
From our political turmoil here to the stark leadership change Stateside; from the rise of the so-called Islamic State to the increase in humanitarian crises; from what appears to be an increasing legitimisation of sexism and racism, to the post-truth explosion spreading through social media; from the global economic uncertainty, to the housing and rent crisis – it just seems relentless. All that, in addition to the usual stories of violence, family breakdown, loneliness and poverty.
Even our churches and Christian communities aren’t immune to the onslaught of uncertain times and conflicting interests or beliefs. It’s easy to get caught up in the arguments that divide and that hurt. We’re often not the huge, happy family we’re meant to be; we read from the same Bible, but people think differently from us.
And in this context, in this hive of anxiety and criticism and uncertainty, I’m reminded of the apostle Paul’s encouragement to us in his letter to the Philippians: to think on whatever is true, whatever is right and whatever is lovely.
I don’t think that this means we should simply ignore the big issues all around us or turn a blind eye to the suffering or injustice – as some suggest with the phrase: “I don’t watch the news, it’s too depressing.” There is a time and a place to consider all these things and to take action. Rather, I think the verse refers to our default state of mind; to the everyday, undercurrent feelings that set the tone in our spirit and souls.
It doesn’t mean we shy away from addressing the big issues. Jesus never avoided the difficult stuff. But it’s being mindful of what dominates our mind; what pervades our spirit most of the time. Do I wake in the morning and think about God, sensing His presence, or do I wake up worried about the state of our world and its future?
I’m not advocating for a return to superficial, feel-good Christian soundbites like: “Everything’s OK, God’s in control!” – smiley face – or: “Never mind about that, let’s just praise God!” God does mind about what’s going on in our world. He hates lying, violence and injustice (Proverbs 6:16-19 and Jeremiah 22:13). He weeps with those who weep (John 11:35).
In Isaiah the prophet describes Christ the Messiah as “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”. Jesus never aligned himself to superficial, super-happy faith; he was moved by the people and situations around him. He showed anger, not just overturning tables in the temple, but also towards the Pharisees who were always trying to find fault (Mark 3:5). Jesus experienced frustration, just as we do. But there is something about our faith that is steadfast, that holds us onto the rock of Christ through all the stormy change and turmoil. It’s not that we ignore the storm, but we don’t have to be swayed by it, we don’t have to be overwhelmed.
Like Peter, we need to try and focus our eyes on Christ as the waves rage around us, otherwise we’ll too easily find ourselves sucked under by the surrounding current, gasping for air, unable to fully function. When we’re overwhelmed by all that’s going on, we need to fix our eyes on Christ the truth – our God made flesh – who is the Word of God.
Whatever is right. Whatever is true. Whatever is good – think on these things. The word to the Philippians in another translation is “meditate” on these things. Our underlying thoughts can be saturated by what is true and lovely, even when all that surrounds seems ugly or wrong.
So let me ask the question: how does Christ shape our thinking in this age of post-truth? Do we let him, rather than the day’s latest news, overwhelm our hearts?
Jesus is the light of the world. As the world seems to become ever darker and atrocities abound, his light becomes ever brighter as we reflect the Christ in us and shine to those around us through our words and actions. Are we letting his light shine through us in these times of fear and uncertainty?