Several days after Donald Trump became president-elect of the United States, religious leaders in Buffalo, N.Y., invited me to a meeting that explored ways to address the fear gripping their city. Noting the anxiety and division, which had increased before the election, one participant asked: “Are we living a dream or nightmare? A tidal wave has hit! How can we float when we’ve not learned to swim?”
Many others are asking questions like these.
Trump’s election has shaken the nation. Many fear that he and those he is appointing to positions of power lack respect for certain human rights and democratic values.
Aside from the presidential transition, some governmental entities are contemplating laws that would restrict access to justice. North Carolina’s Legislature has limited the ability of the incoming governor to govern. In troubled parts of the world, conflict and instability are increasing.
For these reasons and more, many in our world, our nation and our communities began 2017 feeling hopeless. This feeling is not new. We have learned to ignore it for many years. The dividing issues of race, ethnicity, gender and socio-economic status have become clearer now. Injustice has surfaced so that people of good will can’t deny reality any longer.
What our world, our nation and our communities will become depends on how we respond to the chaos around us. We can hide and pretend life is good (and for the powerful, it is good!) or we can oppose the violence, exclusion and systems that impose injustice on marginalized people.
How do we survive the flood rising around us? I believe the prophet Isaiah can help us cross the waters of adversity. I offer his counsel to faith communities that want to make a positive difference in the way we live.
Here it is, for your consideration.
Isaiah assured Israel of God’s faithfulness and promise. Israel was persecuted by their king, who had compromised the faith of his father. Isaiah preached about God’s deliverance and faithfulness. Speaking to the people on God’s behalf, he said, “Fear not. . . . When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. . . . For I am the Lord, your God” (Isaiah 43:1-3, abridged).
Isaiah reminded the people that even in bondage they could have hope. God was faithful. God would not leave them desolate and isolated. This emboldened the people for the journey ahead.
This same faith fortified civil rights advocates in the South years ago. It led to the transition of power in South Africa.
You see, God never left.
Again you may ask, “How will we persevere?”
This is how: Trust God, and do the righteous and just thing.
There are many Isaiahs among us. They are the ones who have walked through the storm and learned how to press on in the face of adversity. They can help us understand Spirit-led strategies that overcome fear, anxiety and selfishness. When they declare God will lift us out of the rising flood, we must listen and act.
God helped God’s people before, and God will act again. The Isaiahs among us say we need not be caught in the upheaval that shatters lives. Yes, strife abounds. Use it as an opportunity for God to do a new thing with you.
Keep trusting. You’ll see God’s justice reigns supreme.
John Powell, of Ypsilanti, Mich., is a regional pastor for Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference.