Peace, Not Panic: Part 2

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We live in a culture that loves to obsess over various catastrophes. In Part 1 of this series, we discussed Lionel Shriver’s article, Why Catastrophising is My Idea of a Good Time, and her suggestion that our obsession is in part tied to an understanding or fear of our own mortality. Sadly, however, that same obsession is easily carried into the Church and student ministry.

Specifically, within student ministry, that attention is given to popular teen catastrophes such as school shootings, controversial television shows, and premarital sex. Whether it is seen on the daily news cycle or in the world of social media, every day brings us the opportunity to hear about the latest trend in youth culture that is supposedly certain to ruin countless teenage lives. In response to these stories, we can easily be swept up in a fervor of fear and paranoia that is then communicated in our preaching and teaching.

This form of panic-inducing teaching is nothing new and something many of us experienced in our own childhood. The truth is, since the Fall, we have always lived in a dying world. But if our faith and the message we proclaim to students is reduced to a message of panic, it is just as misguided as the cultural obsession described in Shriver’s article.

1) Catastrophizing ignores God’s goodness

Just as it is the case with our culture’s obsession with catastrophe, our own form of catastrophizing tends to ignore the many positive things God is clearly working out in the Church worldwide. While it is easy to focus all of your attention on the aspects of this life that are upsetting, do not let it prevent you from seeing the spiritual growth of those under your care. Consider the students in your ministry who are actively growing in their faith. Maintain a proper awareness of the work your church’s missionaries are accomplishing for the Kingdom elsewhere, and make sure your students are aware of that work as well. At no point in time should our students believe that the world is somehow overcoming the work of the Gospel. There is always Gospel progress being made. We must be willing to see it even in the midst of other failures, evil, and tragedies.

2) Catastrophizing ignores the positive outlook of biblical authors

While the Bible speaks a great deal to future judgment, it also speaks of future salvation and the promise of glory for believers. That genuinely positive and encouraging promise is a regular theme in letters such as I Corinthians. When writing to those believers, Paul includes these words of encouragement in his opening greeting:

“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus…so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

In light of the significant problems those believers had within their own church, it might be surprising to find this positive note of encouragement from Paul. He is able to genuinely write these words because he views the Corinthians not as failures facing an inevitable catastrophe, but as precious brothers and sisters in Christ in whom God is at work.

While sin must be addressed, Paul understood that it was not the sin of the Corinthians (or anyone else, for that matter) that dictated his understanding of the future. That future was always shaped, instead, by an unflinching hope of the Gospel. In our own ministry, it is equally important that we, too, are not cynical in our outlook of the future, but gospel-confident.

3) Catastrophizing doesn’t prepare young believers to be different

Perhaps the greatest failure in our penchant for doom and gloom is that it fails to distinguish the message of our faith from that of the world around us. While we must clearly preach of the deadly effects of sin, our message cannot be reduced to constant panic.

Again, remember the words of Christ spoken to his disciples in the midst of their own very troubling times:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

Despite the coming crucifixion and the persecution that would follow Christ’s departure, Jesus is able to offer genuine peace to his disciples that would never be taken away. That peace was key for the early Church to observe and hear as they lived out their days in a world that appeared to be on the brink of Armageddon; it remains a vital need in our own culture today.

In a world filled with constant catastrophes, it is easy to reduce our message to one massive bell of warning in hopes to drive our fear-stricken flock to promised safety. But when it is reduced to that, our message will ultimately only blend in with the countless other alarms sounding off daily through our news feeds and social media sites.

Let us offer words of hope, joy, and the constant peace found solely in Christ dead and raised. Our students may fear not, for Jesus has already conquered the grave. For those growing up in today’s panic-fatigued culture, it is this word of peace that will stand as a truly radical message.

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