Feb 22, 2017
By Andrew Camenga
In times like these…
No sooner is the phrase “In times like these” uttered than images, memories, and emotions begin to churn. We reflexively connect the phrase to difficult times, times when life as we know it—no matter what it has been—is becoming painfully and decidedly worse.
We could use “in times like these” to talk about normal moments, peaceful moments, exhilarating moments, exuberant moments, and triumphant moments. But we don’t. We enjoy these moments. We savor them. We take them for granted. But, we don’t talk about “times like these” when life is awesome, nor when it is normal.
Instead, we reserve the phrase for moments when there is no good path forward, when there is no obvious delight to come. In these moments, when we are at a loss for describing and incapable of responding, we pull out the phrase, dust it off, and let it dangle:
In times like these…
The phrase is nondescript. This nondescriptness may be why we choose to use it — we cannot or will not craft accurate language to describe the times. We intuitively feel that creating a true description of the situational chaos and the accompanying emotional abyss into which we have fallen will multiply our sense of being lost.
So, we speak the nondescript phrase, and we pause. We let the phrase dangle.
Initially, as it dangles, as the saying remains incomplete, we refuse to fill that ellipsis. Our next steps are unclear, painful, and dreaded. We become convinced that times like these must be received, as Charles Dickens almost said in the opening paragraph of the Tale of Two Cities, “…for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
“Times like these” are the moments of superlative agony, stress, and uncertainty. They are the worst. They are the moments that bring with them an unyielding confidence that the ellipsis in the phrase might be filled in ways that are more terrible than we can imagine.
This unyielding confidence that things can get worse is not new. Consider the time when God was preparing Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. Exodus clearly states that God had heard the groaning of the Israelites, had seen their oppression, and was aware of their suffering. They needed a savior, and God came down to deliver them (3:8). He chose Moses to be His agent. Everything was set for the Israelites to say, “In times like these we see our savior,” and to experience salvation in the form of deliverance from slavery.
Yet, the first real response to God’s rescue plan is “In times like these, Pharaoh can get really mean. Go Away!” Moses’ initial visit to Pharaoh did not bring deliverance. Pharaoh called them lazy and instructed the overseers to enforce new and harsh production quotas. Already miserable circumstances became dramatically worse. The Israelites gave up. They asked God to judge Moses. Moses nearly gave up. He told God, “you have certainly not rescued them!” (5:23).
Confidence in God gave way to a despondent certainty:
In times like these, we should give up.
It is not just Moses and the Israelites who demonstrate this despondent certainty. Consider Jesus’ hand-picked follower, Peter. He declared that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” He had heard many times that Jesus would be arrested, tried, and killed. Yet, when Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter’s response screamed, “In times like these, the leaders can kill me. Jesus who?” When confronted that night, Peter could not confirm his identity as a follower of Jesus. Denial followed denial, and Peter fled, weeping and bitter.
Confidence in Jesus gave way to a despondent certainty:
In times like these, we should run and hide.
With Peter and with Israel, the “in times like these” moments went from bad to worse. For many God-fearing individuals in Scripture, the human circumstances we like to measure never got better. Hebrews lists the experiences of some who were faithful to God: they were tortured, killed, mocked, scourged, and imprisoned. Yet, in almost the same breath, Hebrews declares that these followers gained approval and, along with us, would be made perfect (11:39-40).
For them, confidence in the work of God never gave way. Their response?
In times like these, we see what God has promised.
God intervened in the lives of Peter, Moses, and the Israelites to show them that horrible times are not the defining source of reality. He gave them another chance to respond well to times like these. God sent Moses back to Pharaoh, and Pharaoh did yield. Moses instructed the people to get ready, and they did escape. Jesus helped Peter understand that his denials did not create a permanent break; Jesus had a place for Peter.
For those who trust Him, Jesus gave instruction for how to respond to times like these. As He described a terrible time coming for Jerusalem, He forecast a coming time of distress which will include not just those in Jerusalem, but also the nations on the earth:
“And there will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and on the earth nations will be in distress, anxious over the roaring of the sea and the surging waves. People will be fainting from fear and from the expectation of what is coming on the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken”
He described life falling apart at the seams: everything is broken and people are panicking.
This prediction of tremendously uncertain times included words of comfort and hope for those who know and follow Jesus as the Son of Man: “Then they will see the Son of Man arriving in a cloud with power and great glory” (21:27).
Jesus reminded the disciples that He is in control. There will be a day when everyone on Earth will see the Son of Man and recognize His power and glory. That will be a day of rejoicing — at least for those who have aligned their lives with the Son.
But, the next words of Jesus are crucial for us to hear: “When these things begin to happen, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (21:28).
Note the timing. Jesus says His disciples are to raise their heads when these things begin to happen. In other words, before we see the Son of Man is coming, when the world is falling apart at the seams, we are to stand up and raise our heads. Why? Because it is easier to see what is happening when your head is up and your eyes are open.
In times like these, followers of Jesus should stand up, look around, and expect to see His kingdom. We can expect to see His kingdom more rapidly, more easily, in times like these, and we should be actively looking for it.
There are times I want to give up, duck, and run for cover. Events can catch me by surprise, push me past my capacity to absorb, and drive my imagination to see awful scenarios. In times like these, I want to run away, close my eyes, hide from people, and complain to God. Sometimes, I do.
But, when I catch myself and recognize what is happening, I remember this call from Jesus: “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” By the grace of God, in these times, I can stand up, open my eyes, and watch for His Kingdom.