I’ve just read a book that helps clarify something I’ve been struggling with.
We all know what “desolation” feels like in our personal lives, William Barry says in Finding God in All Things, the desolation that results from our sinfulness and selfishness and addiction. But there’s also what Barry calls “social desolation,” the desolation caused by the public corruption and hypocrisy that seem to surround us. “Many people now find themselves unable to pray,” Barry says, “because they have lost hope in the institutions in which they participate.”
Now, desolation can be a spiritual gift. It can teach us what is true.
But here’s the thing.
Like personal desolation, social desolation doesn’t come from God when it only leads us to anger and frustration, not to conversion and then to freedom:
Thus social desolation shows itself in a feeling of futility before what seems like the intractable problems of our complex world. Those who find themselves in such a state, a gnawing sense of futility about the world in general and about the particular institutions to which they belong, need to be freed by the Lord just as much as an addict or habitual sinner needs to be freed by the Lord. The gnawing feeling saps life and vitality from them and keeps them from the freedom of the sons and daughters of God.
It’s not that we shouldn’t care about politics and social issues. Quite the contrary. It’s that we should do with these issues what we do with our private concerns in prayer: try to discern where our feelings are coming from.
How do we know a feeling comes from God? When it leads to hope.
When we feel hope for ourselves and hope for our world, when we know that in spite of all the problems God has not abandoned us, when we realize that whatever happens a deep goodness remains—this is when we can trust what we’re feeling. This is when we can believe that whatever else our motives might be, God is somehow in them.
Just as with our personal sinfulness, the point of facing the sins of our institutions is not to paralyze but to free us. It’s not to take away our confidence but to restore it—to energize us once again, in God, with trust in his great and abiding dreams for us.
How do we know that we have a healthy attitude about politics?
When it doesn’t keep us from praying. When it calls us deeper in.