Hope for Despairing Christians In A World That is Getting Worse and Worse by Tony Campolo
By Tony Campolo
For many Evangelical Christians, the normative attitude is to view world history with despair. Most have been led to believe that forces of darkness are increasingly raising havoc in the world as we move toward the end of history. Many have grown up believing that evil will become more and more pronounced in the last days, and the demonic forces of darkness more and more evident in the affairs of our lives. Furthermore, it isn’t too difficult to give biblical support to this despairing perspective on the future. It is hard to disagree with those who say that we are living in an era which some prophecy preachers call “Laodicea.”
In Revelation 3, the Lord speaks and refers to those in the church at Laodicea as being neither cold nor hot, but instead so lukewarm that He says, “I will spew thee out of my mouth.” The prophecy preachers not only see the verses about Laodicea in Revelation 3 as referring to a church in the first century, but also see Laodicea as representing the last stage of history prior to the Second Coming.
They point to verse 17 and its reference to the growing materialism that causes people to turn away from God and feel that they are in need of nothing, when in reality, they are “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.” In summation, there is a consensus among Evangelicals that the world is getting worse and worse and worse until it gets so bad that the trumpet will have to sound and Jesus will then, out of necessity, bring this perverse and disintegrating world to an end with His Second Coming.
The reality is that those prophecy preachers are half right. Evil has never been more evident in the world than it is today. The forces of darkness have never flexed their muscles and threatened the wellbeing of the people of God as they do in this present time. Wars are more devastating; sexual perversity has never been more evident; corruption in the political/economic systems of the world has become so pervasive that there are social scientists who ask whether the political/social systems of this world will be able to last for another generation.
In addition to the prophecy preachers who see only negative things ahead for us, there are also the secular alarmists who declare that we are facing an environmental crisis which will make life on the planet impossible. They tell us that global warming continues. We will be inundated by flooding and such extreme meteorological conditions that people will have to face the possibility of a coming ice age. Some of my friends who are very concerned about nuclear disarmament predict that it’s only a matter of time before the elements for making hydrogen bombs will be in the hands of terrorists with the inevitable results being massive destruction. In short, you don’t have to be religious to be a prophet of gloom and doom.
Get Your Vision of the Future from Jesus
I believe that we ought to get our vision of the future from Jesus, especially from what He says as recorded in Matthew 13. From verses 24 through 30, Jesus gives His view of historical developments. He makes it clear that the Kingdom of God is like wheat planted in a field and, as it grows, the evil one (i.e., Satan) comes and plants tares (weeds). The wheat and the tares are growing up together and the servants of the Master come to him and say, “What shall we do? Shall we pull out the weeds?” The Master tells them, “You can’t do that without destroying most of the wheat.” The Master goes on to say, “Let the wheat and the tares grow up together until the end. Then shall come the separation of the wheat from the tares.”
Jesus makes it clear in this parable that the tares are representative of the kingdom of evil, and thus He would agree with those persons who see evil on the increase everywhere they look. Indeed, He would affirm those who would declare that the kingdom of evil has never been stronger or more evident than it is in today’s world. However, Jesus goes on to point out that the wheat is also growing, which is to say that the Kingdom of God is also on the increase and will continue to grow and manifest itself in history until the Second Coming of the Lord. That’s the good news-that in the midst of the threatening growth of the kingdom of evil, the glorious growth of the Kingdom of God occurs simultaneously.
To those who say they don’t see the Kingdom of God on the increase, I have to answer, “That’s because you are myopic. You only see what’s going on in North America.” Within the United States and Canada, the Church is in decline. Fewer and fewer people are into the things of God. The breakdown of the family is everywhere evident. Pornography pervades all forms of entertainment, from magazines to movies to television. Corruption in the business sphere seems to be on a greater scale than ever before. Everywhere there is evidence of people turning away from God. All of this is true, and we tend to think that North America represents what’s going on in the rest of the world. It doesn’t. The Church is growing in Africa at such a rate that there are over 50,000 baptisms every week. In Latin America, Evangelicalism is exploding so that this past Sunday there were more people in Evangelical churches than in all other kinds of churches combined.
The largest congregation in the world is not Saddleback Church in California, but the church in Korea where there are over a million members and as many as 700,000 in attendance on Sunday morning. Outside of the North American continent, there is an ingathering of converts that exceeds anything hitherto known in human history. Add to that the tremendous social progress that has taken place, especially at the hands of the Church. For instance, 25 years ago, one out of every six persons on the planet had no access to clean drinking water. Today, studies reveal that it is one out of twelve that have no access to clean drinking water. In case you didn’t figure it out, the situation has improved 100 percent and that is largely due to church groups going to developing countries and drilling wells so the people can have clean drinking water.
Extreme poverty has been cut in half since the 1980s. Life expectancy around the world has doubled in the last 100 years. Thirty years ago, 80 percent of the population of the planet was illiterate. Today, statistics reveal that illiteracy rates have dropped to 25 percent of the world’s population.
Decent housing has been provided for a huge portion of the world’s population, and the median income of people around the world has increased dramatically over the last century.
The Role of Jesus
None of those social scientists who have studied this incredible progress will deny that the Church of Jesus Christ has played a major role in these positive developments. So I say that while evil may be on the increase, so is God’s Kingdom. My interpretation of the parable of the wheat and the tares is not simply a subjective interpretation. If you read Matthew 13:36-43, you will discover that I am only restating what Jesus declares as the meaning of the parable.
The good news is that, as strong and as evident as evil proves to be, God is at work in the world through His Church and, as Billy Graham has said, “If you read the Bible, you will discover ‘WE WIN!’”
Contrary to T.S. Eliot’s statement that the world would not end with a bang, but with a whimper, we declare what Scripture says and boldly tell the world, “The kingdoms of this world have become the Kingdom of our God and He shall reign forever and ever!”
Jesus is coming back and, as it says in the first chapter of Philippians, the good work that He began in us, He will complete on the day of His coming. The future is bright because we have the promise of Jesus that His Kingdom will grow until the end, and at the end all that is evil and perverse will be destroyed. His Kingdom will come on earth as it is in Heaven. Faith, as you know, is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. To be Christian is to have faith and, thus, be people of hope in the midst of a world where evil is all too evident. Missionaries working in Third World countries; churches sharing their resources with the poor and oppressed of developing nations; church growth, seldom seen in North America, is evident around the world. Praise God for what the Church and its missionaries have accomplished in His name and through His power.