When the World Goes Crazy
If you occasionally think the world has gone to the dogs, you're in the company of good men-many of whom lived in past generations. Even Jesus looked at the world around Him and said, "This is a wicked generation." (Luke 11:29 NIV)
And it got worse. Caligula and Nero were two notorious emperors of Rome that reigned during the 1st Century after the death of Jesus, and they were as evil as any men who ever ruled. It is reported that Nero hung Christians from crosses and used them as human torches to light his grounds during evening parties.
The Apostle Paul was stoned and beaten. The evidence strongly suggests that in Ephesus he was once required to fight wild beasts. Eventually he was executed at Nero's order because he believed in Jesus Christ.
At least for now life in America is better.
Jesus once reflected, "The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it..." So, one wonders how other generations will judge ours. How, for example, would your ancestors look at this age?
My grandparents were born in the 19th century which almost seems like another world. Yet I can go home to the land they farmed or, in some cases, the home they occupied. In a way it seems strange that on a hot summer day they may have found shade under the same tree that I might rest under today. There are vague memories, maybe aided by pictures, of walking down the sidewalk with my grandfather near his home in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The same sidewalk still exists. His old house is still there. But the world has changed. What would he think of this world? If he could come out of the grave and listen to the news, how would he judge us?
This week the morning talk show hosts on a radio station in Louisville, Kentucky were talking about the attempted abduction of a twelve-year-old girl. She was walking her dog near her home in an expensive neighborhood when a black Lexus SUV with darkened windows pulled up beside her. The lady said, "Your mother asked me to drive you home." The girl had the presence of mind to reject the offer and get away from the stranger.
On Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago, I was in Whole Foods examining ingredients on a package when a commotion broke out behind me. I turned to witness a near fistfight between two well-dressed men. The first man was shopping in the store while his daughter was in the next isle. The daughter had run to her dad after the second man had attempted to convince her to leave with him.
Did my grandparents ever hear the term sex trafficking? Did they ever remotely consider that one day this country would have an industry of people making a living by kidnapping young children from the corner grocery store or the family's front yard to be sent into a world of sexual slavery?
Once when Jesus was talking to His disciples about the end times, He gave what may be the most overlooked sign of the last days. He said, "Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold..." Matthew 24:12). Maybe it's too obvious that a world of wicked people will eventually self-destruct, but we too often look at military and political events as the signs leading up to Armageddon.
The significant part of that statement is "the love of most will grow cold." After all, there have always been wicked people-and there always will be. It's the loss of human compassion in the midst of evil that is most concerning.
The lesson may be illustrated by an experiment on honesty conducted by a team of psychologists in New York City. The experiment involved leaving a wallet on the street that contained money and contact information for the owner. The percentage of people who called the owner to arrange to return the wallet was consistent for several days until one day no calls were received. Not one wallet was returned. Why? It was the day following the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.
The experimenters had no way to predict or control for the effect of an external event on their project, but they concluded that evil events change the habits of people and shut down the sense of compassion that people may normally exhibit.
It is to this circumstance that Jesus was speaking, so He also gave the antidote. The next verse says, "but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved." (Matthew 24:12-13).
It may sound strange but the worse the culture surrounding Christians becomes, the more important it is to focus on the central value Christ taught.
A friend clued me into a book with the subtitle, "The Paradoxical Commandments" which shed insight on this problem. The first paradoxical commandment is, "People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway." Another is, "The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway." And another, "The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway." And finally, "People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway."
Perhaps, the first major lesson in the life of every human is that man has been cast out of the Garden of Eden. If God intended us to live in a perfect world our ancestors muffed it. This world is flawed.
When the world is going the wrong direction, avoid the herd instinct. However few the number, some people will be headed the right way. Be one of them.
Until next time, Jim O'Brien