We do live in strange times. Someone has called this the Age of Anxiety, and it seems appropriate enough. Not long ago I found this headline: "Most Think Country Headed in Wrong Direction." Those words could be slightly altered to read like this:
  • "Most Think Family Headed in Wrong Direction."
  • "Most Think Marriage Headed in Wrong Direction."
  • "Most Think Career Headed in Wrong Direction."
  • "Most Think World Headed in Wrong Direction."

Shortly before we moved from Chicago, we attended services at Arlington Heights Evangelical Free Church. During his pastoral prayer, Colin Smith said, "It seems that we live in cataclysmic times," referring first to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and then to the devastating earthquake in Pakistan that left tens of thousands dead. I thought later of the subway bombing scare in New York and the continuing violence in Iraq. Then I had lunch with a friend who is an executive working in Christian media. As we talked about the subway scare, he commented that everyone in the restaurant is thinking, "When will it happen in Chicago?"

While not everyone may have been thinking about it at precisely that instant, the fear that "it" will happen to us has been right beneath the surface ever since 9/11. I have often thought that the national blood pressure went up about 100 points after 9/11 and has never really come down. Our fear makes us angry, uptight, tense, hostile, sullen, and very impatient with each other. I see it on my bike rides because when you travel city streets, you live in constant awareness that a) drivers don't see you, b) if they see you, they don't notice you, and c) if they really do see you, they don't like you. So you constantly pay attention to the cars coming and going and often brushing right against you. I see the frustration on the faces of the drivers, and often I hear it when they honk their horns at the slightest provocation.

Lest you think I'm overstating it, the September 2005 issue of Johns Hopkins Magazine focused on the Seven Deadly Sins:

Americans hate each other. There is not only the everyday empirical evidence of wrath along interstate highways, but in the snakepits of real estate, marriage, shopping, pro wrestling, and health insurance.
So begins the article on Anger by Wayne Biddle. He adds this trenchant observation:
Anger seems nowadays just a millionth of an inch beneath every human surface, passive or aggressive, and it will bite your head off, stab you in the back, laugh in your face, leave you twisting in the wind–maybe all at once, and more.

I think Colin Smith is right. We do live in cataclysmic times, and the anger that lurks beneath the surface is a symptom of a world that seems to be spinning out of control. During lunch my friend and I spoke of the opportunities this provides for Christians to be bold about our faith. The Bible predicts a time in the last days when God will shake the nations so that so those things that cannot be shaken will remain (Hebrews 12:26-27). When Eugene Peterson paraphrased the last part of verse 27 in The Message, he said that God will shake the earth, "getting rid of all the historical and religious junk so that the unshakable essentials stand clear and uncluttered." Unshakable essentials. That says it all. God is shaking the earth so that we will figure out what matters most.

The Paths of Glory

In the end everything that man builds collapses before his eyes. A friend sent me an email containing these lines from a poem called "Gray's Elegy" written in a country churchyard in England:

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave
Awaits alike the inevitable hour
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
According to 1 John 2:17, "The world is passing away along with its desires" (ESV). Indeed, the best and brightest of us will someday die. All that we do will eventually be forgotten.

Consider these next two sentences carefully: