RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Peace on earth sure didn’t last long.
The Dec. 27 assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan probably destroyed the slim hopes for political stability on one of the main fronts in the struggle against global terrorism. In neighboring Afghanistan, the battle between NATO-led forces and a resurgent Taliban shows no signs of ending. Al-Qaida seems to have made another comeback in the region.
— A long-running war between Sri Lankan military forces and Tamil Tiger rebels reportedly is heating up again. As in the past, most of the victims of the fighting likely will be civilians caught in the middle.
— In the Middle East, Lebanon faces a political crisis that, if not resolved, could lead to a disastrous renewal of sectarian war. The Israelis and Palestinians are at least negotiating again in the wake of the latest U.S-sponsored peace conference, but killings and cross-border attacks continue with clockwork predictability. Fighting decreased in Iraq in 2007, but the contending factions in that nation face a long, hard road to coexistence -– much less reconciliation. On Iraq’s northern border, Turkish forces and Kurdish separatists are battling once again.
— In Africa, election-related tensions in Kenya –- long a supposed bastion of regional stability –- exploded into horrific ethnic bloodshed as the new year dawned.
That’s just a sampling of the violence currently making news. Political, social and tribal conflicts, most of them seldom reported, are going on in many places. It’s the way of the world. Despite all the efforts of governments, diplomats, mediators, negotiators, international peacekeeping forces and any number of private organizations, the United Nations counted 56 armed conflicts – many of them “low-intensity” wars within countries –- going on worldwide during the most recent reporting period. Those who suffer the most: women and children.
I’ll go out on a limb and predict 2008 will be a lot like 2007 (and all the years before that) when it comes to human behavior. People, as individuals and in groups, typically act in their own interests and ignore or exploit the needs of others. Outside our families and immediate affinity groups, those we can’t control we tend to fear or hate. Violence -– from gang killings to international wars -– is the inevitable result.
Cynical? Try biblical. Humanity is fallen, lost and desperately evil. That’s why we need a Savior.
Is the emerging generation of young American Christians up to the task of facing the world as it is? Considering the pampered and superficial nature of much of American church life, I sometimes wonder. But I got a refreshing dose of inspiration at a recent worship service featuring five young adults reflecting on their lives and what God is teaching them.
All five have faced some hard realities over the past year. One of them, the son of missionaries in Asia, returned to the land of his childhood for several months. He saw it anew through adult eyes: the poverty, the struggle for survival, the persecution Christians suffer even from their own families. He came home with a deeper determination to love and serve the needy all around him.
A young woman told of the soaring emotional high she experienced during a mission trip to Africa, where she hopes to return one day to live and work. But she came home to the spiritual desert of an extended illness -– and the oppressive spiritual darkness of her own university campus.
“I’m a very proud person, and God had to pound on me” as the potter pounds clay, she said of her time in the desert. Now she is humbler, stronger -– and better prepared to follow God wherever He leads.
Another young woman also wants to follow God into the world. But as a sociology student in college, she has been confronted this past year with some of the ugliest things in that world: genocide, AIDS, human trafficking, child abuse. She found herself wondering if “a naive girl from Richmond, Virginia” could make any difference amid such suffering and evil. Then, through prayer and Bible reading, she reached the conclusion that it was “blasphemy” to think God can’t use her for His purposes.
“He’s going to use me to be a light in dark places,” she said. “These places are so dark, but we have a hope.”
These words from Psalm 27, David’s hymn of fearless trust, particularly encourage her: “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; Be strong, and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:13-14).
With young servants like these making their way into the darkness with candles of hope, the goodness of the Lord will surely be seen in the days to come.
Listen to an audio version of this column here.