Future and Hope
In 2021 Doctrine and Life will feature translations of articles from previous SRK Yearbooks.
It has traditionally been thought that the world’s future is made better by children and youth. They will build society with knowledge and skills that were not available to previous generations. Are we now at some sort of turning point when an ordinary young person might say in all earnestness that the future is already ruined? Have we failed at cultivating and protecting the earth so miserably that today’s youth will become embittered toward the generations that came before them?
Previous generations’ decisions inevitably affect the lives of future generations. It’s an indisputable fact that humanity has made mistakes. Instead of giving up, however, it is a better option to take a moment to ponder together what might be worthwhile to do in this situation. Adults can support youth by joining them in creating a trusting outlook on life. Adults have life experience which helps put things in perspective. Youth are best encouraged by doing things together. An effort can and should be made to continue building the future.
For a young person, things may seem grimmer than they actually are. In the past too people have feared an unknown future. I recall my own time of youth, how hard it was at times to trust that I would find my own place in the world and that a path forward would open before me. However, all was well. In the army I learned one important thing: a situation is what it is, and on those terms one does what one can. I also remember from my time of youth that faith provided security and confidence that the heavenly Father would arrange things as was meant. The youth of today can trust in this as well.
A Happy Country without Children?
When Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö launched the Common Responsibility Campaign on February 2, 2020, he stated his position on the declining birth rate in Finland: “In the country that is evaluated to be the world’s happiest, it shouldn’t be so that uncertainty about the future causes young people to give up on starting a family.” The President’s statement is a good description of today's situation for youth and young adults: the future of our affluent society is threatened if children are not born. On the other hand, no one wants to have children just because society needs them.
There are many reasons for not having children. Some want to seek self-fulfillment in peace, advance in their careers and pursue their dreams. Economic realities may cause some to calculate the costs associated with having children. It has also been argued that not having a child is the best way to counteract climate change. There are many people whose circle of close human contacts includes few children, and this might make them doubt their own abilities to be a parent. Meanwhile, in the year 2015 it was estimated that in Finland there were 60,000 couples suffering from unintentional infertility.
A believing young person knows that getting married is likely to mean a future as a family with children, since believers for reasons of conscience do not want to prevent the birth of children. Commitment to marriage and a family may seem difficult nowadays. A life that is well planned and controlled appeals to believers as well. Many parents have a hard inward struggle over whether they feel able to accept more children.
Where would we be able to obtain strength and trust in the future for ourselves, our youth and our families? We would certainly have opportunities to transform the atmosphere around us in a way that young people could get married trusting in the future and be able to accept children if God sees fit to give children to them.
My wife’s immigrant students are often surprised when they find out we have five children. Amazed and delighted, they have stated that you are like us. Starting a family at a young age and having several children requires courage in modern Finnish culture to depart from the prevailing lifestyle. It requires good self-esteem to be different. But happiness is ultimately not dependent on striving for the same things as most other people.
Now and then I think of the fact that God has created all people. If this is so, doesn’t a believing person then represent the way of life that God desires? There is little we can do about the fact that the world is becoming more and more estranged from the will of God. As believers we can nonetheless turn our thoughts to see that humans are supposed to live life trusting in God.
In modern times it is good, on the one hand, that differing lifestyles are becoming more widely accepted. A believing family is ultimately just one part of a multi-faceted world. I am confident that as far as others are concerned, we can continue to live according to our values in the future as well. If only the views that faith opens before us would remain clear to us. In the midst of this all we can say as the psalmist does: “It is good for me to draw near to God” (Ps. 73:28).
The Media Shapes Perceptions
The media is like a funnel that in essence pours bad news into our innermost being. The media performs the role that belongs to it of relaying information. I don’t believe media professionals are purposely trying to create despair in people. But that can still happen because we are incapable of taking in all the negative information. The media is also not unbiased. Individual journalists and entire media companies have their own objectives and ideals that they attempt to promote.
The media is not without cause called the fourth estate or power. It strongly affects public opinion and affects my thinking and yours in ways that are hard to recognize. In order not to be buffeted by the winds of the world and too easily influenced, we should have strong roots in God’s Word and in the congregation. Paul exhorted the Christians of his day, “Prove [meaning “test”] all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). The writer to the Hebrews also recognized the danger of going astray when he said that we must pay careful attention to that which we have heard so we do not drift away (Heb. 2:1).
God’s written Word has remained the same through the centuries. How is it possible that its instruction and values can be relevant and appropriate in all times? I think it is because it is not only the human-written word, but rather effected by the Holy Spirit. Its correct interpretation opens at different times in God’s congregation by the same Spirit (2 Pet. 1:20,21). As individual believers, we are supported by God’s care in the fellowship of the congregation. This does not mean obeying human authorities but rather a desire to settle on, along with other believers, a way of life that is suitable to the Holy Spirit in this time.
On the basis of the values that stem from our faith, we can serve as a light and as salt in our society. In our places of work and study as well as in various positions of trust, a believer’s conduct serves as a reminder that it is possible yet today to attempt to live preserving faith and a good conscience. A believer, however, should not attempt to rise above others, because we all fall and we remain believers only by grace. The book of Jeremiah instructs, “Seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace” (Jer. 29:7). A constructive and God-trusting outlook on life given by faith is the best way to look to the future. We can use our God-given gifts for the benefit of our communities.
The Security of a Child of God
Even believers from time to time can fear many things. We may fear on our own behalf or for others such things as serious illness, death or perhaps economic collapse. Nonetheless we can always recall that God knows all and guides our lives (Ps. 139). Our fears may come true sometimes, but in that case they are allowed by God. He has good will toward us even in trials: I have my own plans for you, says the Lord. My thoughts are of peace and not of evil: I will give you a future and hope (Jer. 29:11).
A believer, nonetheless, must fear sin (Matt. 10:28). Falling into sin removes peace from the heart and shakes one’s sense of security. If sin begins to rule one’s life, the person’s image of a bright future begins to crumble as well. To counter this, we have the gospel, which frees us from sin and restores peace to our hearts. A believer can live in peace and die peacefully. We cannot even fathom how great a gift the hope of heaven is. Amidst everyday life heaven often feels so far away. Yet that is precisely the reason we want to live as believers, despite hardships and the current prevailing trends.
Originally published in Finnish in the SRK’s yearbook Yhteyttä rakentamassa. Ajankohtaista 2020 (SRK, 2020). Translated and published with permission.
Translation: M. Keranen