As a democratic society, we put a lot of stock in our ability, as “the people”, to accomplish and change things. Just look at the Occupy protests that have been going on all over the country. As a political moderate who tends to lean more left than right, I’d like to think that Occupy Wall Street is going to overthrow the plutocratic fat cats that run this country and replace our corrupt capitalist system with something more egalitarian. (Okay, okay, I admit it. I’m pretty much a socialist.) But there’s more to my worldview than my politics.
I may be a socialist, but I’m also a Christian. (Christian socialist? Is that even a thing?) As a Christian, I believe that humanity’s collective ability to influence the course of history is limited, and almost certainly always negative. In other words, when left to our own devices, we don’t really have much of an impact on the universe one way or another, and when we do change things, we change things for the worse.
From a humanistic perspective, this probably sounds like a horribly nihilistic philosophy. Fortunately, Christians don’t look at things from a humanistic perspective. We recognize the sovereignty and power of God, and believe that God is in complete control of all things.
This makes all the difference in the world. If you take God away, your only source of hope is to believe that we humans can change the world for the better. Unfortunately, history shows that such a belief is, at best, comically optimistic. There’s nothing in the historical record to show that we do anything but destroy everything that we touch.
So what hope is there? Well, it’s important to take a look at exactly what I’m saying here. It’s not that humans either have a negative effect or that we have a limited effect. It’s very important that both parts of this argument are true. If it’s one or the other, then we are pretty much screwed.
Why is this? Well, let’s just think about it for a minute. If it’s just that we have a limited impact on the world around us, then it means that, even if we do something that changes things for the better, it doesn’t matter, because it doesn’t really change anything. And if it’s just that we have a negative impact on the world around us, then, well, it’s pretty much a matter of time before we annihilate the world with nuclear war or global warming or something.
So, if this is the case, how are we better off if both of these things are true? If we can only change things a little bit, and then only for the worse, how can we have any hope at all? Well, without God, we don’t have any hope. But with God, we have all the hope in the universe.
You see, God created the universe, so he has complete and perfect control of the universe. Everything that happens is according to God’s will, and God is perfect and good, so we know that eventually, everything will work out and all creation will be perfected. (Romans 8:28)
“Wait a minute,” I hear you say. “If God is perfect, and good, and in complete control of the universe, then why do bad things happen? Surely if God were really in control of everything, then only good things would ever happen?” Well, that’s a good question, and I’m not sure that any human could ever fully answer it. But that’s actually part of the answer right there. As imperfect beings, we cannot possibly understand perfection.
Romans 9:20-21 makes it clear that we have no grounds to complain about anything that God does. He made us, he has the right to do whatever he wants with us. If we don’t like it, or if we don’t understand it, the fault lies with us, not with him.
But that’s not really the problem at hand. The question is, what do we do? If we can only change things slightly and for the worse, should we even bother to do anything at all? Are we supposed to just sit back and let God take care of everything? What should we take from all this?
Well, there are two practical things that we can apply to our lives here. One is that we shouldn’t worry about anything. If God is in complete and perfect control of the universe, than nothing can happen that goes against his plan. For example, I have a tendency to worry about global warming destroying our civilization. But I shouldn’t, because if that happens, then it’s part of God’s plan. And if it’s not part of God’s plan, then it won’t happen.
However, and this is the second thing, just because God is in control doesn’t mean that we don’t have a responsibility to act. Here’s an example. Let’s say a friend comes to you with a problem. This friend just got laid off from their job, and their rent is due in two days, and they don’t have any money. Let’s also say that you have plenty of money and can easily afford to cover your friend’s rent. What do you do?
It’s not enough to just say, “Well, I’ll pray for you, buddy.” If it is in your power to act, then you not have a responsibility to act. Not because God can’t help your friend some other way, but because God expects those who love him to follow his commands, and one of his commands is to help out our brothers and sisters who are in need.
So, Occupy Wall Street probably isn’t going to amount to much in the end. Which isn’t to say that we shouldn’t stand up for what we believe and fight for what is right and all that. I’m just saying that we should pay more attention to the One who created all things and in whom all things will ultimately be perfected. If we hope for justice and righteousness in this life, we will always be disappointed. But if we look to God in Heaven, we will be perfectly satisfied.