When one of my children was recently discouraged, a well-loved poem came to mind, “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you…”
That was as far as I could quote. I ended up looking up the remainder of Rudyard Kipling’s celebrated poem “If” on my computer and printing a copy for my child to read. At a difficult point in my own youth, I discovered the solace of poetry and craved the beauty and comfort it provided. Yet, reading this 19th century verse again three decades later, I was amazed to find its message just as relevant today.
Imagine! A man who was born in Bombay in 1865, educated in Colonial England, crisscrossed the globe by steamboats and trains, and relied on the telegraph to communicate wrote words so wise they transcend space and time.
I find the same wisdom in the Bible—written on tablets and scrolls, hand copied by scribes, preserved (at times) in clay pots, and now easily uploadable on my computer screen with the click of a button. What relevance could words written 3,500 years ago possibly say about life today?
Based on my gleanings over several decades of reading, this is what I’ve discovered:
- That God created all life, gave men and women mutual authority over the earth to preserve and to protect it and to have a relationship with him (Genesis 1)
- That because people defied God, sin entered the world, all people became sinners, and a barrier arose between people and between people and God (Isaiah 59:1-2)
- That life is both heartbreakingly hard and bewilderingly beautiful. The time to enjoy it is now, and the primary purpose is to rebuild a relationship with God and with one another (Jeremiah 31:3)
- That this is possible only through the life and death of Jesus Christ, who carried the world’s sin on the cross, received our punishment, and offers to restore our relationship with God by forgiving our sins (Romans 3:23-26)
- That God is intimately involved in the world he made, individually cares about each of us, and wants to reestablish our relationship (Psalm 34:18)
- That even though bad often seems to win, God will ultimately judge evil, deliver justice, and bring lasting peace (John 16:33)
- And that nothing—absolutely nothing—can separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:31-39).
I often face discouragement—sometimes to the point of despair—like when I read in The New York Times of US soldiers being told to ignore the nightly screams of Afghan boys being sexually assaulted by area warlords who claim to be our allies. I don’t want to live in a world like this, a world where I live in comfort while others suffer.
Instead of giving up, I go to my personal “If,” based on what I’ve learned from scripture. If God loves us and he is just, then he will ultimately judge evil and bring lasting peace. Until then, our job is to keep living his love.