We are living in very dark times. It seems evil is steadily rising in the world. Just as we seem to be coming out of the pandemic, we see the evil of war in Ukraine and in Israel/Palestine and conflicts of lesser scale in various regions. Natural disasters are on the rise. Earthquakes, floods, droughts, hurricanes, wildfires, etc have hit various parts of the world. There is unimaginable human suffering.
Nearly 71 million people are currently displaced. Almost 26 million of them are refugees who fled to another country. About half of the world’s refugees are children under the age of 18 years old. More than 60 percent of refugees live in cities. Less than one third live in camps. Some 3.5 percent of the world’s population are international migrants.
From the comfort of our own homes it is difficult to fathom the havoc that wars and disasters have wreaked. It is difficult to put ourselves in the shoes of displaced people and imagine what they go through at losing their loved ones, their home, their country, their language and culture and the hardships of life in refugee camps or of the journey to a new and distant destination. We are seeing the rise of authoritarian governments and threats to democracy. In our own lives we face illness, death, rebellion from our children, loss of jobs, financial hardships and more. How can we make sense of a world that seems to have gone mad?
As we celebrate Christmas once again, we celebrate the birth of the One who claimed to be that creator God. The Bible also says that God neither slumbers nor sleeps. He is ever vigilant. Yet along with all the good He does, he allows all these evils. The English preacher Charles Spurgeon writes: “The night of affliction is just as much under the arrangement and control of the Lord of Love as the bright summer days when all is delight. Jesus is in the storm! His love wraps the night as a cloak, but to the eye of faith the black robe is hardly a disguise. From the first watch of the night until the break of day, the eternal Watcher observes His saints and overrules the shadows and dews of midnight for His people’s highest good. We do not believe in any rival deities of good and evil contending for mastery, but we hear the voice of God saying, I am the Lord, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, … I am the Lord who does all these (Isaiah 45:6-7). Gloomy seasons are not exempted from the divine purpose.”
Although we do not comprehend why, we must trust that God’s purposes are being worked out even through, what seems to us, senseless suffering.
In 1996, on a Sunday morning, I attended a church in Tel Aviv, Israel. There, followers of Jesus from both Jewish and Palestinian backgrounds worshipped Him together and fellowshipped in love and harmony. The forgiveness and love they had received from Him, had empowered them to set aside generational conflict and hatred and to love each other. In 2023 I firmly believe that He is the only Hope for lasting peace, but only if His followers truly obey Him.
A reader commented on my article last year titled “Christmas is a protest against all forms of oppression”. To him I want to say, please look at Christ, not at human, sinful followers. Yes, misguided missionaries, with all good intentions imposed their culture on new believers. But the God who created us all is not bound to any culture or language. He understands Hindi as much as Hebrew, Arabic or English. He accepts worship from a church that meets in a hut in Africa with as much pleasure as from a cathedral in Rome. Along with the mistakes they made, there was good too. In Indonesia, cannibalistic tribes stopped eating each other as they began to follow Christ. In India, sati was abolished through the work of the missionary William Carey. This topic is huge and I must leave it for another time. Suffice it to say that the church is not a place for perfect people, but for sinful, broken people like me, like you.
I want to wish you, our dear readers, the love, peace and joy of Christ as we enter 2024.