I had a bad dream last week. When I told my son about it, he said, “Let me guess. Did you dream about a dam blowing up in Ukraine? Or about smoke from forest fires filling the sky?”
Who needs bad dreams with all the bad things that are actually happening?
My grandmother — one of the saintliest people I’ve ever known — used to say, “I can’t imagine things getting much worse. Jesus must be coming back soon.” I chuckle when I think of her words because things indeed seem to have gotten much worse. Ideas that would have shocked my grandmother in the 1970s have now become widely accepted and celebrated — sometimes even enforced — in culture even the church.
Maybe it’s the news, which emphasizes the bad. Maybe it’s some of the trends that seem so worrying. Perhaps it’s the theological slippage that is so visible among some, or the trends that show movement away from key markers of orthodoxy and obedience. It could be some of the scandals, the nastiness of social media, and in general the sense that evangelicalism isn’t as healthy as it should be.
And then there are the societal trends: increasing polarization, an aggressive push to more extreme views on both sides and the sense that the societal fabric is ripping. My grandmother lived through tumultuous times, but I think she would agree that these times aren’t much different.
Sometimes I think things can’t get much worse, and that the pendulum will swing the other way. In other words, I’m hoping for a course correction. Just last week I told a friend, “Things can’t get much worse before people start to push back.” But I’m not so sure that I’m right.
I’m working through Judges right now. Judges starts bad and gets progressively worse. Just when you think that things can’t possibly deteriorate, they do. By the end of Judges, it’s hard to feel anything but depressed.
And then you turn the page to Ruth, a story that takes place in the time of the Judges. Things are bad, but God is still at work. He’s working through seemingly random circumstances — even negative ones — to carry out his plan. He still has righteous people like Boaz. God still shows his covenant love to his people even in the worst times.
These are challenging times. It’s easy to get depressed about the condition of the world, and it’s right to cry out to God for mercy. If Judges teaches us anything, it teaches us that there’s no bottom to how bad things can get.
That’s why I’m glad we have Ruth. In the middle of the worst of times, God is still at work. Even in dark times, God still has his people. We need the painful realism of Judges along with the assurance of God’s continued faithfulness in the story of Ruth.
True, things are bad, and they might get worse. But God is still at work, and we can still live to honor him even in times like this.