There’s a great story about Tonto and the Lone Ranger riding across the plains together. Suddenly they see a dust cloud rising up before them. Thousands of hostile Indians are approaching from the North. So they turn and head south as fast as their horses can take them, only to discover there are thousands of Indians approaching them from that way too. So they turn East, then West, but it’s the same in every direction. They are completely surrounded. As they rein their horses to a stop, the Lone Ranger turns to Tonto and says despairingly, “What are we going to do, Tonto?” Tonto replies, “What do you mean, ‘we’, paleface?”
There are times when it seems we are surrounded by evil on every side. We may even despair that darkness will eclipse the light.
Recently, I spoke with a colleague who has been in the foxholes of Christian activism with me for a long time. With a voice of doubt he said, “Mark, do you ever wonder if we are wrong? It seems that we’re losing in so many ways.” I think I surprised him when I admitted, “Yeah, sometimes.”
Similar doubts seemed to prevail in the day of the prophet Nahum. Judah, God’s people, were suffering badly under the hand of Nineveh – a wicked city that was opposed to Judah’s God. Nineveh was succeeding on every level and the people were wondering if they were on the right side. They were concerned the cause of morality and justice was doomed.
Nahum offered a word of warning for Nineveh, but his prophecy also contained a word of encouragement for Judah.
Nahum said, “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust Him. But with an overflowing flood He will make an utter end of the place thereof [a reference to Nineveh], and darkness shall pursue His enemies” (Nahum 1:7, 8).
In other words, Nahum proclaimed to God’s people in his day, a people deep into doubt and despair and thinking all was lost: “Nineveh indeed seems to be winning and the purposes of God failing, but the final score is not in yet.”
Dr. Brian Harbour, a Baptist preacher, professor, and author, said many years ago he used to coach a baseball team for young boys. During one game, his boys were behind by six runs. As the boys filed into the dugout after a tough inning, Harbour tried to rally them for a comeback. He kept saying to them, “Alright boys. Let’s not get pessimistic!” One of the boys on the team asked, “Coach, what does pessimistic mean? Does that mean we think we’re gonna lose?”
Sometimes when looking over the circumstances facing our nation, we can get pretty pessimistic. It seems the cause of righteousness is bound to lose. In fact, many Christians that I speak with about getting involved in the political process and engaging our culture with the principles of God’s Word, are convinced any effort is useless – the destruction of our nation is inevitable. You may as well be shining brass on a sinking ship, some say.
Looking at the situation from a purely human perspective, it may seem such folks have made a reasonable conclusion. Except, we cannot forget God and the promises He makes to them that trust and obey Him.
One passage of Scripture that has been a constant source of encouragement to me through the years is when Peter confesses that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah. After this dramatic declaration, Jesus announces to His disciples that His church will be built on the recognition of this truth – Christ’s lordship. Then Jesus makes a stupendous promise, saying, “And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16:13-18).
More often than not, this incredible passage is interpreted to mean that whatever persecutions and harassments the church may endure, it will survive. Although that conclusion is not entirely wrong, it really isn’t the thrust of the text. Gates are what an army would attack in Jesus’ day to overcome a city. In this text, it’s not the gates of the church that are under attack, but the gates of hell. The text is not about the church being in a defensive position. Instead it’s the church in an offensive position, relentlessly pounding the gates of hell, coupled with a promise from God that hell will not be able to withstand these onslaughts by the church.
This is not to say the mission of God’s people, Christ’s church, will be devoid of a Cross. Quite the contrary, it will require that we carry and even die upon one.
Moreover, it doesn’t mean God’s work is always achieved quickly. Sometimes the work can take a lifetime or several lifetimes with legions of setbacks along the way. Nevertheless, if we grow not weary in our well-doing, we shall reap, if we faint not (Gal. 6:9).
Hanging on the wall of my office is a framed copy of the following poem by A.H. Clough, which reads:
Say not,’The struggle nought availeth;
The labour and the wounds are vain;
The enemy faints not nor faileth,
And as things have been they remain.’
If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;
It may be, in yon smoke concealed,
Your comrades chase even now the fliers,
And, but for you, possess the field,
For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,
Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back, through creeks and inlets making,
Comes silent, flooding in, the main.
And not by eastern windows only,
When daylight comes, comes in the light;
In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly!
But westward look! The land is bright.”
When it seems we are completely surrounded by malevolent forces, we mustn’t get too caught up in the immediacy of the situation and lose perspective. Christ is still Lord.
We must take the long look as Nahum suggested; believing the worst of man is no match for God. Like an overflowing flood He will make an utter end of every vile force, “and darkness shall pursue His enemies” (Nahum 1:8).
The author gratefully acknowledges that he drew from a sermon by Dr. Brian Harbour, titled, “The Awesomeness of God,” in the writing of this article.