I’m not talking about the earthquake that rattled America’s
East Coast the other day – though it symbolizes other forces currently shaking
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:
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.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Bridges is a global correspondent for the International
Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. Visit “WorldView
Conversation.” the blog related to this column. Listen to an audio version.)