Tribulation: On Groups and Causes

Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come. (Matt. 24:9-14)

Prophecies have a way of unfolding partially before they reach fulfillment. It’s rather like the growing wave crests that herald the crashing storm. So I do not think that all Jesus’ predictions about the “tribulation” are coming true in breaking news right now. But, some of them are. The Covid 19 plague has people on edge about disease, death, famine, unemployment, economic disaster, failed authorities, authoritarianism, and anarchy. Excessive use of force by a few police officers triggered massive protests and several incidents of excessive use of force by rioters against police and property. Lawlessness is increasing, including legalized lawlessness by clever people who know how to find loopholes to live in, or a new judge to overturn the last judge’s ruling.

Love grows cold because, in the absence of the order that wise enforcement of good and clear laws promotes, people feel afraid, small, and alone. A progression follows: We increasingly look out for number one. Suspicion of people who seem different increases. Barriers follow. Hate becomes easier, while love cools. Number one feels a lot bolder in a group, so he or she quickly finds like-minded activists. The common cause becomes the main identity whenever the group rallies. Smaller, less vocal, groups are ignored. Rivals are rioted against.

I am tempted to let my fears win. When I don’t understand people’s thoughts and motives I feel uncomfortable. Groups are the hardest to understand because individual identities get hidden in crowds. It’s individuals I most want to meet; they don’t frighten me like groups do. They have unique stories and needs that we can address specifically. I can build my understanding of groups by hearing individuals. The groups that scare me most are the proud and stubborn, the unhearing angry and physically aggressive; they most easily become irrational and indiscriminate. Challenges to good law frighten me, abuses of legal power terrify me, mob rule makes me want to hide, militias with insignias, sunglasses, and submachine guns intimidate me. Fear tempts me to selfishly guard my own little world.

But what of the causes of all the groups? Granted that “the anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God” (James 1:20), many of their causes are noble and consistent with godly values: God created and loves all races (indigenous, refugee, migrant worker, and that different-looking new neighbor); He cares for the unborn, homeless, elderly, physically challenged, and the environment; He wants justice and mercy, generous sharing rather than greed; He sees the victim of violence, the trafficked, the unemployed, and the exploited. And I would probably embrace dozens more of the easily forgotten ones. Many people who rally to those causes have a small gap between their views and the kingdom ways. Their placards shout worthy words, but citizens of God’s kingdom cross the gap and live under a single banner that speaks for all of them.

I identify with that amorphous group. We’re the ones more will come to hate because we will forever refuse to forsake our leader. His cause is a kingdom open to all comers, yet not of this world. Perhaps a frustrating kingdom! We are to promote the kingdom on earth, in part by serving godly causes, yet we know that they will never be fully accomplished in this life. Give to the poor, but understand that you will always have the poor with you (Matt. 26:11).

Not everyone will hate us. Some will discover that following Him frees them from lonely smallness and answers the particular abuses they or their loved ones have suffered. It’s freeing because He is alive to every individual, affirming their individuality, healing their scars and loneliness with His presence. Love can flow again, even to enemies, because we experience His love for us.

Beware of rallying to mis-leaders and distracting causes. Jesus calls us to endure in Him and for Him—in love, in the Cause that His name represents, and in sharing the good news of His way. In hard times, His word “endure” gains little from meditation or debate—we just have to do it!

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