Are you tired yet? Tired of ‘all things Covid?’ Tired of protocols? Tired of rapid tests? Tired of feeling like everything is inside a bubble? Tired of not being able to understand the cashier because of two masks and a layer of plexiglass? Tired of the calculus of doom? Life these days is filled with all kinds of fatigue. Fatigue was not something I heard much about as a boy, but now it is everywhere.
Caregiver fatigue is creating burnout and impacting care for the sick and elderly. And while media pins ICU bed shortages on the unwashed masses, a nursing shortage is more to blame. Then there is compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue is a creeping callousness toward suffering due to an overload of caregiving. Those suffering compassion fatigue struggle to care about those they care for. Now I am hearing about Decision Fatigue.
Every routine action now requires an elaborate decision matrix. The complexity of quarantine calculus requires a Cray supercomputer. The statistics used as decisioning criteria are a classic GIGO (garbage-in, garbage-out) paradigm. Facebook friends are obliterating straw men left and right, decrying the uninformed by declaring their own unsubstantiated misinformation to be self-evident to all non-Cretans. We are going to war over decisions we are ill-equipped to make. Mask or not? Vax or not? The emotional exhaustion wrapped up in these questions is creating decision fatigue. Struggling to make a decision is not necessarily a lack of decisiveness but more a function of fatigue.
But for the Christian there is a decision fatigue much more persistent than our covid mitigation strategy. How are we to live in the world, but not be of the world? What is our relationship to culture? The question has challenged the church throughout its existence: “How are Christians to engage and relate to the surrounding culture? How should we then live? What does it look like to be in the world but not of it?”
H. Richard Niebuhr’s classic book, Christ and Culture, he wrestles with this question. Niebuhr proposed five models: Christ against culture; Christ of culture; Christ above culture; Christ and culture in paradox; and Christ the transformer of culture. While Niebuhr does not resolve the tension this question creates, he puts his finger on its nuances. While at some level each category resonates with Scripture and our experience, what is the complete picture?
Another theologian has described the church as a community of resident aliens. Resident aliens have great power to influence and effect society. They bring their particular cultural strengths to the table, but also foster the distinctives of their homeland. They are a part of society, without losing their identity. The Church is to be like this – resident aliens, “an island of one culture in the middle of another.” (Phil 3:20) But it must never be merely an enclave. For while the Church fosters the culture of its heavenly homeland, its calling is to transform its sphere of influence, not just “coexist.”
Revelation speaks to this question pointedly. Written to a church under pressure to conform or be cast out, Revelation graphically pictures what it means for the church to be in the world but not of the world. In the history of interpretation, however, this message has often been obscured by its apocalyptic medium.
Revelation is a book of unveilings. Beginning in chapter 17, the Spirit unveils the hideous nature and doomed future of worldly culture united only by its rebellion against God. Though alluring and seductive, its ways are the ways of death. In the chapters that follow, the church is warned and encouraged. Warned not to be seduced from the way of Christ to the way of the world. And encouraged by holding fast to Christ the church will endure eternally in radiant beauty and peace.
In Revelation 18, the Lord unveils the destruction of Babylon, the Harlot, who pictures rebellious, worldly culture. The people of God are commanded to come out of her. And while her lovers mourn her downfall from a distance, those who belong to God give thanks for her destruction. At first glance this seems an ungracious, or even vindictive, portrait of the church. But a deeper examination reveals important insights into the responsibility and the relationship of the church to the world. Join us this week as we examine Revelation 18 and consider what this passage says about our calling to be ‘in the world,’ but not ‘of the world.’
We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm at The Arkansas DreamCenter at 1116 Daisy L Gatson Bates Drive in Little Rock for worship. Get directions here or contact us for more info. You can also join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP or on YouTube.