The year 2017 begins with what feels to most people like an unprecedented breadth and depth of uncertainty. The beginning of the year is often a time for individuals and organizations to review recent history and make plans for the year ahead. But the first rule of planning is to understand the reality of the situation, and the predominant factor of current reality is intense and widespread uncertainty. This reality of uncertainty is global and pervasive. It is evident in America, China, Europe, Latin America, India, Africa and across the Middle East.
The words that characterize this uncertainty tend to be: divided, polarized, fragmented, fear, mistrust, incivility, hate, nasty, immoral, amoral, unethical, demeaning, mean- spirited and contradictory. A new word has even been coined: post-factual. The uncertainty is so profound that the concept or principle of simple basic factual truth can no longer be assumed.
We begin 2017 in a “post” world—post-industrial, post-Christian, post-denominational, post-loyalty, post-modern and now post-factual. In higher education we talk about the post-credential or post-degree reality in which the credibility and value of formally accredited university degrees and credentials are declining. Truth and wisdom are no longer the real goal of education and learning. The new reality is that power matters more than truth. And anger is assumed to be more powerful than love and kindness.
We know “what used to be” in many areas of life, but we lack an adequate shared understanding of what actually is, to say nothing of having any shared notion of what probably will be or what should be. Even among sincere followers of Jesus Christ and even in social groups as small as a family, the fabric of committed and loving relationships is often torn apart by political partisanship, economic disparities, moral and ethical dilemmas and disputes, differing views of what is factually true, conflicting understandings of what really matters, the supreme importance of individual rights and temporal happiness, and the absence of a shared understanding of the nature of scriptural authority in faith and life. There may not seem to be much to rejoice about.
So, on January 4, 2017, Philippians 4:4 is especially relevant to start this new year: “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again – REJOICE!”
This loved and often quoted passage of Spirit-breathed guidance from the apostle Paul does not call us to ignore the threatening realities around us, but rather to look at them from God’s perspective. Underlying so much of the uncertainty that prevents meaningful planning and the mistrust that undermines healthy relationships is a proud self-centeredness that prevents humble, respectful willingness to learn from and serve others. Paul explains how to rejoice no matter what the circumstances are: “Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do.” At Fresno Pacific we call this the practice of gracious Christianity. It requires us to respect people with whom we have deep disagreements about what is true and what is right behavior. We do this best when we remember together Paul’s next sentence: “The Lord is coming soon.”
As we start 2017 with all the major changes we know are likely to come and all the others that will be surprises, let’s remember together how to do it: “Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything.” We have much good work to do together as faculty, staff, administrators, trustees and supporters who make this work possible with their prayers, donations and words of goodwill and encouragement. To REJOICE is therefore not blind or naïve optimism when everything is a mess. It is a logical and wise expression of our faith in Jesus Christ in whom all of life is grounded and centered.
“The Lord is coming soon.”