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Dear young people,
Hey there, don’t worry! Just touching base with you, and as you know I’m contractually obliged to reassure you with a “fear not” as the first thing I say. So here we go. Ready? OK! Fear not!
(I always enjoy that part—so dramatic.)
Anyway, our team has heard that you young people are getting really discouraged about, you know, everything. So we decided to reach out and have a little chat.
First of all, can’t blame you for being bummed and anxious. The climate crisis, absurd and dangerous politics, a pandemic, persistent racism, corruptions and quarrels in the church, economic uncertainties—we are well aware around here of how things are going with you. Not trying to paper over this or pretend that you’re wrong to feel a sense of gloom and doom.
In fact, I actually want to tell you that your heartache is beautiful. Yes! I mean it. Your heartache is a sign that you long for a better world, that you “hunger and thirst after righteousness,” to quote the Holy One. And that is always a precious thing. Please know that the Holy One treasures your anger, your pain, your longing.
I also want to say a word in particular about this phenomenon called “climate anxiety” or “climate despair.” We’ve seen a lot of terrible stuff over the centuries—actually, we’ve seen literally everything—and no generation before yours has had to deal with overwhelming scientific evidence that the habitability of entire planet is in peril. Sorry to put it so bluntly, but you know already anyway. Hence the anxiety, yes?
And we are noticing that some of you, in response to everything humans have done to hurt each other and the earth, are despairing over human beings altogether, wondering if humans are good for anything other than destruction and evil. A fair thing to wonder—after all, there’s no shortage of evidence to support the claim.
I’m not sure if this is reassuring or doubly worrisome, but you are not the first generation to wonder whether humans are hopelessly evil! For instance, those early Calvinists back in the sixteenth century ran right at this question. (We are rather fond of those Calvinists—so joyful in their gloominess—we find them amusing.) For instance, here’s a charming moment from the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 2, Q&A 8:
Q: But are we so corrupt that we are totally unable to do any good and inclined toward all evil?
You’ve got to appreciate the refusal to hedge. However! That is not the complete answer! The answer actually continues…
A: Yes, unless we are born again by the Spirit of God.
And that’s the key, yes? Everything that exists, exists by the power of the Spirit. Therefore, nothing, absolutely nothing is impossible for God.
I know some of you are hoping for a kind of massive revival, a global reawakening to all that is beautiful and good on that planet of yours, in time to make a turn toward a better future for everyone, human and more-than-human. Well, it’s possible. In fact, it’s already happening. Young people like you (and old people, too) are reawakening to their kinship with all created things, to the belovedness of every swamp white oak and sandhill crane and trickling stream and wind-swept dune. (Personally, I’m especially fond of humpback whales—the songs! the drama! Love it.)
But as you reconnect with the being-ness and wonder of other creatures—doing their creaturely things faithfully, as best they can, despite everything—while you’re leaning into your love for them, don’t lose all faith in humans. You’re right that moral responsibility cuts both ways. Humans can use their gift of moral responsibility to commit great evil. But they can also use that gift for good. The Spirit of the Holy One is always working to re-enable the goodness that was built into humanity from the start! It’s still there! There’s plenty of evidence for that, too.
For instance, music. Granted, we have some amazing music around here, what with all the heavenly choirs. But we also enjoy what y’all are doing “down” there—people play entire violin concertos from memory! Taylor Swift just re-recorded and released an album! People duet each other on TikTok! You people are endlessly creative and inventive: art and storytelling and architecture and entire cities made of Legos. And your humor! Nothing kills your ability to make puns and laugh and write silly skits, not even a global pandemic. And then there’s what you do with food! Cheese alone is fascinating. And languages! The variety and beauty! You humans are creative and curious and resilient and capable of wonder.
I’m not forgetting about evil. I’m not. But look at what the Holy One does through you, despite all the evil. People spend their entire lives working as medical professionals, healing others and helping them in their most vulnerable and fearful moments. People are kind to strangers for no reason other than kindness itself. People love each other tenderly and faithfully for whole lifetimes. People fight for decades to clean up environmental disasters—or prevent them. People rescue animals and create beautiful bonds across the mysteries of the species. What about this guy who has photographed over 12,000 animals for the “Photo Ark,” just to preserve their images in case they go extinct, meanwhile prompting people toward the love that will save these creatures? What about all the food pantries and after-school programs and legal organizations designed to defend those without power or money?
Maybe it’s hard for you to see, each from your own small perspective, but there are still a lot of saints in the world. Some of them are even religious. Think about the dear and wonderful people in your own life. See? Don’t despair over human evil. It is bad, but it’s not bigger or stronger than the power of the Spirit.
I’m not promising you that in your lifetime, you will see a continuous and steady progress toward “things getting better.” I really don’t know what’s going to happen—despite my high rank, even I am not privy to that kind of information! Based on history so far, you are likely to deal with a frustratingly “mixed bag,” as you like to say. So just keep doing what the saints have always done: seek God, seek the flow of the Spirit near you and hop on for the ride. Keep longing and hoping. Do what is right and good in whatever way you’re led, without imagining that the weight of the whole world is on you. It’s not.
I can’t promise instant results. But I do promise that you are beloved, you are not abandoned, and the Holy One is always, always on the side of life.
So yeah. I’ll say it again. Fear not.
Co-Principal Archangel, Heavenly Host
(Thanks to my environmental literature students at Calvin University for indirectly helping me to brainstorm for this post.)