Not long ago, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney tried to capture the national mood when he asked, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”
With that question, he was implying that many Americans still feel anxious about the economy, about a polarized Congress, and about the US’s unsettled relationship with countries from Egypt to China. While there is some evidence that optimism is finding a foothold, doubts would still seem to loom. When will jobs come? Can Washington avoid driving the country into a ditch? What might emerge from the Middle East?
In the language of the New Testament, we might say that we are trying to discern the “face of the sky” (see Matthew 16:1-4). The religious leaders of the day, Jesus noted, were interested in forecasting the weather by looking daily at meteorological clues. Likewise, we look at the social and economic climate and try to forecast the prospects for our prosperity. But Jesus asked us to look deeper into what people are saying. He said, “[Y]e can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?”
What are the signs of these times? The turbulent thought of recent years seeks rest and assurance. People long for a sure foundation upon which to build safely. But no economic boom promises complete safety, no new president promises faultless wisdom. What the world seeks cannot be answered by the world’s means.
What the world seeks, in the broad sense of the word, is healing. The world is, often unconsciously, yearning for something better without knowing how to achieve it – indeed, often thinking this achievement is an impossibility. But Jesus taught the precise opposite. His statement that “the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21) directly refutes any notion that good is far-off, uncertain, or even impossible. It is this thought that is so needed in these times.
What does this thought tell us? It tells us that God has made each one of us “perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (James 1:4). But what about jobs? What about the policies of the new president? Jesus didn’t take little thought for these things – he took none. “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?” he once admonished his followers (Matthew 6:25).
Jesus’ one lesson for the world was radical reliance on God. His extreme humility subverted the laws of the world and established the law of God in his life, and the result was provision for his every need – and far more than that, the understanding of divine grace that lifted him above the uncertainty of the material world.
“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5), the Apostle Paul implored us, because when we do, we not only see the signs of the times, but we know instantly how to help those hearts seeking something higher than what the world can supply.