Hope in a hand basket

It’s so easy to believe “the world is going to hell in a hand basket.” Just click on your favorite news site for the evidence du jour!

But before you throw your hands up in despair, keep in mind that Christianity flourished during the Roman occupation of Palestine under leaders such as Nero. The Romans would make our culture look like a Sunday school picnic.

The human leader, Caesar, was considered just one of the morally-challenged gods who were to be worshipped under the threat of death.

Children had no inherent value to the Roman culture. After birth, a midwife would place a newborn baby on the ground. If the head of the family deemed it worthy of life, he would pick it up announcing that the baby was accepted into the family. If the newborn was deformed or it was deemed that the family could not support another child, it would be “exposed”—deliberately abandoned in a specific area where it would either die of exposure or be picked up and sold by a slave trader.

Roman conquests and the importation of slave labor, had created a huge gulf between the rich and the poor who were forced into slavery because of debt or for being unemployable such as the ill or disabled. Slaves were often worked to death in physical labor or killed as entertainment in the arenas. None had any legal rights and were viewed simply as “property. Orphaned children also were forced into the slave market. Women were designed as “chattel”—a man’s personal possession.

Secular history records Roman men were free to enjoy sex with other males without any loss of masculinity or social status as long as they took the dominant role. Acceptable male partners were slaves, prostitutes, entertainers and others in the infamia class who had no legal protection. It was not uncommon for a husband to have both a wife and a concubinus: a young male slave exploited as a submissive sexual partner. Many believed, “Women are for babies. Boys are for pleasure.”

And of course, our violent video games pale in comparison with the to-the-death gladiator contests as well as slaves being fed to wild animals. Historians estimate between a half-million and 2.5 million gladiators were killed along with more than 1 million exotic animals.

Into this hellish hand basket came Jesus in a manger.

      The light shines in the darkness,
      and the darkness can never extinguish it (John 1:5).

In three hundred years, the Roman Empire would completely collapse and Christianity would spread to the entire known world.

Light always shines brightest in the darkest night.

We have seen this light during the English revivals during the brutal poverty, crime and child exploitation described by Charles Dickens.

Even as the Communist Chinese government cracks down on faith communities, Christianity continues to grow rapidly in the People’s Republic. Fenggang Yang, a professor of sociology at Purdue University, claims “By my calculations China is destined to become the largest Christian country in the world very soon.” He continues, “Mao thought he could eliminate religion. He thought he had accomplished this. [He] actually failed completely.”

So, while it may seem like our world is going to hell in a hand basket, there is much hope to hang onto.

      We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love (Romans 5:3-5).

      What we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.

      With eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.

      For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved (Romans 8:18-24).

      Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?

      No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us (Romans 8:35, 37).

Copyright © 2014 James N. Watkins

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