What is your “Misery Index” at the beginning of this new year? Are you concerned about paying for last Christmas? Are you troubled about your health or job? Do you feel that you are losing out economically—higher bills and less income? In one sense, our index should be low since we are to trust that during this year, God will provide for our needs, answer our prayers, and guide us with His Word.
The Misery Index was developed by economist Arthur Okun to measure how people feel about life in the United States. The index peaked at 12.87% in October 2011, and in August 2013, it is near 8.82%. Factors such as health care, taxes, unemployment, and inflation all contribute to the rise or fall of this index.
What if we invented a “Church Misery Index?” This is relevant because we perceive that a growing number of people in the United States are becoming less involved with religion and church activities. Each year, we see a greater number of attacks upon Christmas traditions, more vocal proponents of atheism and anti-religious attacks, and an increasing number of people willing to live in lifestyles that once were considered to be in conflict with God’s Word. These trends are a sad reflection of people who no longer listen to God’s Word, do not consider religion and worship as positive activities, and do what is right in their own eyes.
As our Church Misery Index becomes higher, we may despair for God’s Church. Indeed, the Church Misery Index might seem even higher in Europe and other countries in the world because each Sunday, most cathedrals and churches are almost empty of worshipers. The few confessional churches in Europe must struggle to have anyone listen to the pure Gospel.
Now, the Church Misery Index really looks at the glass as half-empty. And it should upset and disappoint us that so many more of our neighbors no longer hear God’s Word. It should concern us that our culture grows increasingly hostile to God’s commandments and Word.
However, God’s children have much to be optimistic about. First, Jesus has promised that His Church will continue as long as this world endures. Even though the Last Days will be difficult times for Christians as the devil is loosed for a short time, Jesus promises that for those who believe in Him, “No one will be able to pluck them from His hand” (John 10:28).
Second, we can be optimistic because the “success” of the Gospel is not ours, but God’s. We confess that the Holy Spirit “calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith” (ELH, p. 32). The Holy Spirit uses us to tell others about the hope that we have in Jesus Christ and uses our words to bring people to trust in Jesus.
The third reason to be optimistic is that Jesus Christ has given us a certain hope and promise. Because of sin and wickedness, our earthly existence is uncertain, death-ridden, and hopeless. But Jesus was born to establish peace with God through His perfect life and innocent death. He was tempted in every way, yet He remained without sin. Then Jesus “became sin for us” when “the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6) in order that Jesus might “bear in His own body your sins” and be redeemed “by the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:19). The certainty of Jesus’ work of salvation and promise of eternal life is given to us in His resurrection from the dead. Many people saw the risen Jesus and wrote their eyewitness accounts in the four Gospels. The message about Jesus’ work of salvation is joyful, certain, and full of promise and hope.
Fourth, we can be optimistic because the future belongs to God. St. Paul wrote, All things work together for good to those who love God (Romans 8:28). Therefore, if God’s children live among people who are indifferent to His Word, God will continue to bless those who trust in Jesus. They will need to grow in their knowledge of God’s Word, trust more firmly in His promises, show more clearly how they are in the world but not of the world, demonstrate more to others the love of their Savior, and engage more in prayer and worship in spirit and truth.
The fifth reason for optimism is that Jesus promised to take us out of this vale of tears to His home in heaven—when we die and when Jesus returns in glory. As children of God, adopted through Baptism, given faith in Jesus, and made heirs of eternal life, all who believe in Jesus have their citizenship in heaven and await the glorious life He has provided for us.
On earth, the Misery Index may grow or decrease with the times and cultural situation. Jesus has given us reason to rejoice in His salvation, praise His certain promises, and hope for a blessed future. Our Church Misery Index should be very low indeed!
ELS Pastor Emeritus