It is probably safe to assume that every one of us has heard this line at some point, especially if you’ve travelled with young children. In our family, the question was usually asked about 15 minutes into a long day’s drive by hopeful and increasingly restless kids, more than anxious to get to wherever it was that we were going. And therein lies the assumption: that we actually have a destination in mind. Otherwise, what is the point of all this driving? Why did we pack the van full of clothes, food and camping stuff anyway?
Perhaps you’ve noticed that when we get older, we don’t ask that question anymore. We don’t need to, because we learn to memorize road markers along the way, we rely on GPS systems to tell us how far we have to go before turning right at the next intersection, and we find other coping mechanisms to pass the time.
I find this unfortunate.
Not so much when it comes to road trips, but that we don’t ask the question about Life in general. And yet, it seems that for many Christians, there are certain unspoken assumptions about where we are headed in life. To be clear, I don’t mean the after-life. I am referring to where we think we are going as a society in general.
I’ve noticed a trend in my lifetime: the more conservative a Christian is, the more he or she is certain that society is going downhill. Sometimes, downhill fast. Entire churches may be composed of such doomsayers. The proof? Everything is getting worse! Crime is up! Divorce is up! Morality is down! People don’t work hard anymore! No one goes to church (twice?) anymore! This evidence is usually delivered with a preamble such as “When I was a kid” or “Back in the good ol’ days.” The solution takes on different forms, depending on the context. Sometimes it means piously withdrawing into a separate sub-culture and becoming inward looking; sometimes it means forming a political group dedicated to turning back the clock to an apparently simpler, safer time. Sometimes it means voting for an apparent strong man who champions making a certain country “great again” with rather outlandish promises and foolish threats.
If this perspective of “where we are going” were illustrated, it would be a downward line, characterized by fear and pessimism. Sometimes it takes on a tribal nature: “they” are not like “us.” This perspective is understandable if one chooses selective evidence. Watch too much of the news, or believe the lies imbedded into consumer marketing, and you would easily get the impression that the sky is falling, that the world is indeed coming to an end. There can be much to fear in this world.
This is also a view I take strong issue with, for two reasons. One, the evidence is very limited: for every apparent sign of moral, social and political decline, there is obviously counter-evidence to support the opposite. I often challenge my students (and more often their parents) to be specific and pick a previous generation that they’d prefer to go back in time and live in. Not surprisingly, most cannot. For those that do, I usually ask them to consider what it would be like to be an ethnic, religious or sexual minority during that beloved time period. Not surprisingly, this usually ends the conversation. Change is not necessarily regrettable.
Secondly, and far more importantly, this view is not compatible with the overwhelming testimony of Scripture itself: God is in control of history. While we don’t know what that always looks like in a given situation, we do know it is true. This is why one of the most important songs we can teach our children is “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” Rather than adopt a negative view of time that sees things in perpetual decline, we are called to see time from a perspective that acknowledges God is providentially establishing his Kingdom on the earth, moving time forward from creation (a long time ago) to re-creation (somewhere in the certain future). The evidence that points to this truth is redemptive in nature, and it is this evidence that we are called to look for as Christ-followers in our own generation. In fact, the really exciting thing about this perspective is that we get to help create the very evidence of God’s sovereign reign itself. To be more theologically correct however, I should state God uses us to create the evidence of his coming Kingdom by the power of his Holy Spirit.
So the answer to the question “Are we there yet?” is not yes. Nor is it completely “no” either. We already experience many blessings of the Kingdom in the here and now: forgiveness of sins, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, peaceful communities and meaningful relationships, to name a few. But we do not yet experience any of these things fully either as sin, sorrow, grief and evil still wreak havoc in God’s good world, and too often, in our own hearts as well.
Rather than seeing time as a downward slide, consider this illustration (see below) I use in some of my high school courses as a way to help my students understand this reality.
So rather than sit around and complain about evil’s presence in this world and bemoan the passing of the apparent “good old days,” we are called instead to take up the healing power of the Gospel and bring it to all areas of life, wherever we find ourselves on the road of life, for indeed, “we are not there yet.” Past generations of godly Christians did this in their time, as ought we. We do know where we are going, for we know the One who has promised to be with us “to the very end of the age.” This is the basis for our realistic optimism. It drives out fear.
May the choices we make as Christ-followers in 2017 reflect the certainty of God’s unfailing promises to us and to this world, no matter how much it may seem to reject and rebel against him.
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