At the start of 2022, we reflect back on two years characterised by human suffering on an enormous scale. This suffering, beyond anything seen in the lifetime of most of us, has produced much questioning, uncertainty, cynicism and distrust. We do not know what or whom to believe. 

Politicians, scientists, church leaders and commentators (expert or otherwise) bombard us with conflicting claims, especially on social media. Perhaps the growing intolerance of those whose views differ from our own has developed as a kind of self-defence. Hostility has become the normal tone for expressing disagreement. Gone is the idea that individuals have a right to hold and express their own opinions. 

Saddest of all, Christians have taken up this behaviour. We assume the worst about our brothers and sisters in the Lord, instead of trying to think the best of them. We express our concerns rudely and belligerently, our device-tapping fingers as destructive as the tongue that James warned about (James 3:1-12). We even reject the cries of anguish of persecuted believers, disbelieving their facts and figures. 

We should accept and even welcome criticism, especially from fellow Christians who may have more maturity and experience of the Lord. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). We must try to build each other up in our faith (Jude 20 NLT). But let us do so peacefully and lovingly. “… make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Romans 14:19). 

Let us remember the much-quoted words of the 17th century German Lutheran theologian Rupertus Meldenius, recommending an attitude of love (agape in Greek, caritas in Latin, often translated “charity”): “In essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity.” 

In the US and elsewhere churches are fragmenting, attendance is dropping and many young Christians, including evangelicals, are giving up the faith. Believers seem unable to bear with one another (Ephesians 4:2; Colossians 3:13) and contemptuously reject anyone who differs from them in their experience of the Lord or any other non-essential matter. Those who come from contexts where there are “not many visions” (1 Samuel 3:1) react aggressively to those in other contexts who are encouraged and filled with faith when the Lord reveals Himself in supernatural ways. 

As Christians, we must be centred on Christ, not on our culture, our church traditions or what we read on our electronic devices. We should be Christ-like as we respond to events around us. 

At the graveside of Lazarus, in the midst of death, mourning and tears, Jesus wept (John 11:35). He so empathised with His friends that He wept with them, even though He was about to raise their beloved brother from the dead, and thus remove the cause of their sorrow. Is this not the model for us as we face this age of suffering

Rather than focusing on the minutiae which divide us, or on identity politics and sectarian interests, can we not see behind these things to our Christian brothers and sisters, and indeed to the whole of humanity, who are suffering in the most appalling way? In a world of massive food shortages, devastating storms and diseases, let us have a compassionate empathy for the suffering even if they “think differently” from us (Philippians 3:15). 

In the challenging issues that we face, surrounded by uncertainties and lacking the skills to evaluate the clamour of opinions, there is one thing we can be sure of: Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour is on His throne. He is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8) and ultimately the only answer to our world’s needs. 

Remembering the centrality of Jesus, we can face the new year without fear or anxiety but with confidence. Let us not lean on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). Let us trust in Him.

This Article originally appeared in Barnabas Aid Magazine (January-February 2022)

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Dr Patrick Sookhdeo is the International Director of Barnabas Fund and the Executive Director of the Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life.