From bad, to worse . . . to better?

 
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For the past eight years I’ve been a digital nomad. I work online (writing, mostly) while my wife, daughter and I travel the world—living in a few countries each year.  Despite the inevitable hiccups—a closet crawling with cockroaches in Bali; a death trap of a bathroom in our Buenos Aires apartment; a projectile I suspected was intentionally launched at my head outside a cafe in Casablanca—our international experiment has been a lot of fun. We were so intent on continuing our travels that when we had our daughter, Journie, we fought off any suggestion to live a “normal” life and instead decided to continue travelling with our baby in tow.

About six months ago we headed to the Philippines for what we thought would be a few months of pleasant reconnection with my wife’s cultural heritage (her parents are Filipino) and my childhood (I spent several years living near Manila). At first, our Filipino experience was a great adventure, with surprises and fantastic food at every turn.

Then came the Covid-19 outbreak.

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When it all goes down

At first the reports of coronavirus infections in the Philippines were scattered and infrequent. Nobody seemed too concerned. We spent four months in the Philippines and were actively planning our next move, this time to Malaysia. But as our time of departure loomed closer, my wife and I opted to wait in the Philippines for another week or two “to let this coronavirus thing blow over”.

A week later, the country started going into lockdown and we were stuck. Airlines cancelled thousands of flights, existing flight prices skyrocketed and we were petrified of exposing ourselves to infection by boarding a plane.

As the coronavirus crisis stretched on, headlines from around the world showed how the pandemic was simultaneously bringing out the best and worst of human nature. For every story of heroic first responders or selfless citizens helping the less fortunate, there were stories of people snapping under the pressure. Isolation, job insecurity, dwindling finances, the ever-present fear of infection and everything else was clearly shaping up as a mental health timebomb about to explode.

Perhaps nowhere was this negative potential in human nature more painfully expressed than in the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, by police in Minneapolis. The resulting fury of millions just emerging from lockdowns in the United States and elsewhere escalated into rioting, violence and looting. The sense of injustice, fear and helplessness speaks to the darkness of our shared human experience. 

All in this together

The Bible talks about a similar sense of depravity in the state of humanity before the flood that destroyed the ancient world:

“The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5).

It’s not too much of a stretch to see this dark potential in human nature played out in the news today. Everywhere we turn we see corruption, injustice, pain and war. It’s tempting to not even turn on the news. The world is in a sorry state and seems to be getting worse. But if we are honest with ourselves, we don’t really need to watch extreme news headlines to see evidence of this dysfunction—we can just look in the mirror.

King David felt this sadness keenly. He knew how much he was falling short of the person and the leader God wanted him to be. “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me,” he lamented (Psalm 51:5).

Nobody is exempt from this miserable state of affairs. The apostle Paul makes this clear when he says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We are all on this sinking ship together. Nobody gets to be a smug bystander, sipping a virgin mojito while they observe from a life raft.

If this all sounds pretty depressing, well, it should. We’re definitely backed into a corner as a human race. And for all our ingenuity and ever-advancing technology, we have not come up with any solutions to save us from ourselves and the evil that threatens to consume us. For every tiny step forward, humankind seems to be taking two giant leaps back.

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Rescued by a Saviour

But here’s the good news: While we can’t save ourselves, someone else can. “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come,” says 2 Corinthians 5:17. “The old has gone, the new is here!”

The Bible says that Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins. He sacrificed Himself to save us from the inevitable results of human nature. He created an escape from the darkness of the human heart, the misery, suffering and death that defines this life. Jesus made it possible for us to live forever with Him.

But this incredible gift of God is not just about promises of an afterlife. Accepting God into your life makes a tangible difference in the here and now. In Genesis 1:26, 27, the Bible says that humans were made in God’s image. Psalm 8:5 says that humans were created “A little lower than the angels” and were “crowned . . . with glory and honour.” I seriously doubt David blushed for a second when he told God that he would praise Him “because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).

Even though sin runs through our human family tree (Psalm 51:5), there’s no reason for a pity party. Romans 5:17 says that although death was ushered into the human experience by the first man, “how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!”

When we stumble, Paul’s words in Romans 7:15 sound awfully familiar: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”

If we are going to beat ourselves up with Paul, we should also grasp the shining rays of hope that he holds onto later in the chapter: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24).

The truth about God’s love, acceptance and the victory He hands us over human nature is nothing if not downright beautiful. Paul says, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

If God doesn’t want us to live with any feeling of condemnation, it makes all the sense in the world to accept His forgiveness, shake that guilt and darkness off, and lean into the positive potential that God has given us. Anything less would be a crime, considering the amazing gift that God offers freely to you and me. If you are getting pummelled by thoughts of defeat and shame about the past, you can rest assured that those thoughts aren’t coming from God. Ditch them right now and take a moment to bask in God’s forgiveness, His salvation and the brand-new life that starts right now.

Why not take after the best Example: Jesus Himself. While here on this Earth, the only perfect Human made it a priority to grow in “wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men” (Luke 2:52). We can ask God for the strength to do the same. 

 

Bjorn Karlman is a freelance writer who travels the world as a “digital nomad,” living in two to three countries per year with his wife and preschooler.