In an ever-changing culture, it’s easy for us as believers to be swayed by the tide of the times. Recent legislation and the reaction of an overwhelming majority of the public may make us feel like we’re living in an age of unprecedented wickedness. We may even, at times, wonder whether standing up for Truth is even worth it. While it’s true that nothing like this present debauchery has been seen in the America of our lifetime, that doesn’t mean that nothing like it has ever been seen on the face of the earth before.
I don’t know about you, but, for me, that brings comfort. As we look around and wonder just how bad things will become, we are in good company. The psalmist cries out:
“O Lord, how long shall the wicked,
crush your people, O Lord,
the widow and the sojourner,
Lord does not see;
From the time of the Fall, wickedness has prevailed, in one degree or another, over the face of the earth. God found so much evil in the hearts and actions of man back in Noah’s day that he purposed to destroy all of humanity: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.’ But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:5-8). Except for that “But Noah,” all of creation would have been blotted out.
Which brings up another point that we must remember: even when man was given over to abominable acts of wickedness, God was merciful. He looked down on Noah with favor. Noah wasn’t perfect. But he found favor in God’s eyes and, for the sake of one righteous family, God spared the human race and the created order.
And, through Noah and his family, God made a promise with all of humanity: never would He flood the whole earth again (Genesis 8 and 9). God later gave His people the Law so that they would know the clear parameters in which they should live their lives. Throughout the history of the nation of Israel, there were times of dedicated obedience and the resulting flourishing, followed repeatedly by periods of wickedness and eventual punishment. This cycle can be seen particularly clearly in the book of Judges. But, throughout even the darkest of times, there was always a Remnant of individuals who kept their faith in God and the coming Messiah, who staked all their hope in a redemption that had yet to come, and God counted their faith as righteousness.
Even after Christ came and conquered sin, death, and Satan, human wickedness did not cease to exist. That day is coming—and we yearn for it. But we are living in the here and now on earth, between the already and the not yet: Christ has already come and made our justification a reality and begun our sanctification, but He has not yet come in His full glory to judge the quick and the dead. Until we reach heaven, we will not enjoy an existence that has not been marred by sin.
That reality puts the lie to those who would claim that things on earth should be progressing towards perfection, both those inside and outside of the Church. Lawlessness will increase in the last days, as we are told in 2 Timothy 3. And, while things will continually get worse until the very last day (when Christ returns), we are already living in the last days. And what we face now is not necessarily any worse than what Christians have faced throughout the past two millennia. The Christians of the early Church faced everything from economic pressure to brutal persecution for clinging to the Gospel and living lives counter to their culture. The Roman society in which they lived, suffered, and died was not fundamentally any better than the society in which we now live. Yes, wickedness will continue to escalate until the end of time, but there will be periods of righteousness and flourishing. That reality is borne out in history. Christianity eventually became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Even after the Empire fell, Christianity continued to spread. Those who opposed Catholicism in the latter Middle Ages faced persecution, but out of that resistance was born the Protestant Reformation. When England persecuted the Puritans and others who desired a less ceremonial form of worship, they made their way to the New World and worshiped God freely here.
I suppose what I’m trying to get at is the fact that persecution has been and always will be a reality of a Christian’s life. This is not to say that every Christian will face the same degree of persecution, but it does mean that all Christians are subject to persecution and suffering. The world has never liked the Gospel, and it never will. But periods of persecution have not lasted, and will not last, forever. History shows us periods of intense persecution of the church by the world, but it also shows us periods of widespread conversion and acceptance of the Gospel, at least on a social or religious-freedom level.
Trials come and go, and they serve a great purpose in advancing the Gospel, testing our faith, and increasing our desire for Christ. But their presence or their absence should never be our focus. Our focus should be God and the furthering of His glory through the Gospel. Our prayer should be that we may be able to say with the apostle Paul, “for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13). We don’t know what is coming next for America—a crumbling from within that repeats the fate of the Roman Empire, an external invasion that wipes us from the face of the earth, or a widespread revival that restores us to our former greatness—but that’s okay. It’s more than okay—it’s glorious. It is a reminder of God’s sovereignty over everything and our own insignificance. It’s not about us—it’s about Him, and He chooses to save us, redeem us, and use us anyway. We are prideful when we assume that we know what’s coming, or that we know what would be best. His ways are not our ways, and I, for one, am glad. Any time I try to do something in my own strength, I fail miserably. But when I trust in the Lord and allow Him to work, I am blown away by the results.
Ultimately, the world is on a trajectory that will send it into increased darkness until Christ returns and we are ushered into the reality of the new heaven and the new earth. But we have no way of knowing when that reality will appear—in ten years, in one hundred, in one thousand. When we focus on trying to pin down the future, we miss out on the purpose that God has for us now. He has us on this earth to increase His glory and further His kingdom, and that is where our hearts and minds should be.
While looking around at the blatant sinfulness of our generation could cause us to throw up our hands in despair before promptly burying our heads in the sand, it shouldn’t. We belong to a God Who is much bigger than the culture, and Who has proven this time and time again throughout history. We know that He works mightily through even the darkest of times. We know that He has a plan for His Remnant, every day until His return. Regardless of what happens next, we know the end of the story—we known Who wins. When He wins? Well, that’s up to Him, isn’t it?