In 1859, Charles Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities. It is a novel set in London and Paris just before and during the French revolution wherein multiple thousands literally lost their heads in France. It places in juxtaposition the two cities; London enjoying peace, safety, and prosperity, and Paris in which overthrow and anarchy breaks out leading to the infamous “reign of terror”. The unforgettable opening lines of this classic novel reads, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Some have adopted this last phrase to evaluate the American experience today to be “the worst of times” that we have ever encountered.
During this particular political cycle, the division among the populace was so thick you could cut it with a knife. It was palpable. The country was almost evenly divided between the two parties and partisanship was at an all-time high. The candidate’s camps were in full war mode. No charge against the other side was left unmade. Slander and personal attack in the media were the order of the day; each party having their own “media” outlets. Those outlets did the bidding of the particular party and no invective or insult was left unstated. Dramatic, fantastic predictions were made as to the fallout if the other party saw their candidate elected. They included social upheaval, the overthrow of the Constitution, rioting, and yes, in some sectors, even civil war breaking out if the opposing party won the White House. Families were divided and long-term friendships fractured due to the level of political disagreement. Everyone, it seems, had “taken sides”, including many churches.
In the end, the incumbent lost and a new president was elected but the bitterness remained. On the day of the inauguration of the new president, the incumbent president would not attend the ceremony, but would leave Washington hours before the new president was to be sworn in.
In reading the above two paragraphs, you might have thought that the 2020 presidential election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden was being described. But you would be wrong. This is a description of the 1800 election between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Adams, and his Federalist party had significant disagreement with Jefferson and his Republican party, not the least of which were the issues of States rights over the encroachment of a strong Federal government and the French revolution, which Jefferson supported, and which scared the bejabbers out of Adams. Foremost on Adam’s agenda during his presidency, was to avoid a war with France even though the French navy and French privateering was brutalizing American shipping. He was successful in avoiding war but not in winning the election. The media outlets of their day were not MSNBC or Fox. They were newspapers who shamelessly flew the flag of their particular party. There was no such thing as objective journalism in that day. Articles slamming and shaming the other party’s candidate were written by anonymous authors. This provided them cover to say anything virtually unchecked and not needing to be verified by independent sources. The sky was the limit in terms of character assassination. The 1800 election makes the 2020 election seem tame in comparison.
Why do I write this? It is because we have the tendency to believe we live in “the worst of times” … that it has never been worse than it is now. This is especially true for the party that loses the election. There is a belief that things are going to get worse and worse and that society is going to implode because their candidate did not win.
But Christians should resist the impulse to claim that these are the worst times ever. Yes, things are changing in America and from the Christian perspective, not for the better. But first century believers would love to have had what we have today compared to what they endured then. This says nothing of the many persecuted Christians in other lands today. You see, it is an old and a generational tendency to think you live in the worst of times. Ecclesiastes 7:10 tells us “Say not, ‘why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.” Solomon is indicating this natural tendency to extol “the good old days” as being the “best of times” and today being “the worst of times”.
Listen, the times in which we live in America are growing increasingly difficult for biblical Christians. Religious freedoms are being eroded. But a view of life that says these are the worst of times should be replaced with a more hopeful view that maybe “these are the best of times”. Maybe a sovereign God is going to take away protections and privileges that Christians have historically enjoyed in this country, for the express purpose purifying and empowering his church to be the church. If that is true, then these indeed would be the best of times. In any event, these are the times in which God in his sovereignty has us living. Doesn’t that, then, make them the best of times in which to serve Him?