RICHMOND, Va. (BP) -- Feeling a little unstable lately?
I'm not talking about the earthquake that rattled America's East Coast the other day -- though it symbolizes other forces currently shaking things up.
Financial markets lurch up and down with the latest bit of hopeful or gloomy news, while a dazed global economy hangs on for dear life. Once-stable governments in the so-called developed world, including our own, struggle to contain deep social and economic divisions tearing at the foundations of their nations. Flash mobs randomly assault people on the streets for fun and profit.
Long-term regimes have fallen -- or are falling -- in the Middle East and North Africa, but no one is sure what will follow them. Perhaps something worse? Scenarios range from a new dawn of freedom and democracy to the rise of Islamist theocracies across the region.
"Things fall apart; the center cannot hold," W.B. Yeats wrote in "The Second Coming," one of the most-quoted poems of modern times. "Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned...."
We can hope "mere anarchy" holds off for a while, but things sure seem to be falling apart, for better or worse. Of course, things always seem to be falling apart. That's the problem with supposedly indestructible human institutions: They aren't.
A recent newspaper editorial discussing U.S. defense requirements argued that many military bases overseas "serve little purpose in a post-Soviet world." The writer thoughtfully added an explanation for those who might be puzzled by the word "Soviet": "The Soviet Union was an empire of communist states in Eastern Europe, led by Russia, that constituted the principal enemy of the U.S. in the second half of the 20th century."
Here was an imperial colossus that bestrode half the world for generations -- and periodically threatened the rest with nuclear extinction. It crumbled only 20 years ago. Yet the editorialist feared, probably with good reason, that some readers are so historically uninformed or forgetful that they wouldn't know the Soviet Union had ever existed. "Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!" thundered King Ozymandias of old -- long forgotten except for his shattered statue, half-buried in the desert sands.
Even the seemingly eternal institution of bribery in India, as predictable as tea and the rising sun, trembles before the protests of one man, Anna ("elder brother") Hazare. An ascetic who has galvanized the nation in recent days through his Gandhian tactic of fasting for change, Hazare calls for a "second revolution" to rid Indian society of corruption.
"Graft has long wracked India's public life and society, running the gamut from small-scale bribes to the police in exchange for dispensing with traffic tickets to massive payoffs to politicians and political parties to acquire complex weapons systems," the journal Foreign Affairs reports. "The country's citizens have frequently complained about this malaise but have rarely, if ever, resorted to organized public protest to register their frustration and anger about this pervasive phenomenon." This time, many are joining Hazare to demand real change.
Nothing is permanent in human affairs. Changing an institution is pointless, however, without changing hearts. The new institution inevitably sinks into the same swamp as the old.
No wonder Jesus Christ refused to be pressured into leading a political or revolutionary movement to liberate the Jewish nation from the Roman Empire, as some misunderstood His Messianic mission to be.
"My kingdom is not of this world," Jesus said when He stood before Pontius Pilate, Rome's military prefect, before His crucifixion (John 18:36a).
"So you are a king?" Pilate asked.
Jesus answered, "You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice" (John 18:37, NASB).
Our mission as His followers, then, is to proclaim His truth in every culture and give every searching heart the opportunity to hear His voice. The millions who search for something permanent in this ever-changing world deserve to know there is a Kingdom that will outlast the stars.
Erich Bridges is a global correspondent for the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
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