The worst nightmare of my life happened in February 1973. After six weeks of Air Force basic training I had finally graduated and was awaiting orders. Casual squadron life was a great relief after boot camp. No pressure or cursory inspections, and you could actually eat in relative peace without some sloped-headed, beetle-browed fanatic suffering from an undiagnosed — but obviously serious — psychopathology standing behind you screaming, "Move it! Move it! Move it!"
The nightmare occurred my first night. I woke up about 3:00 A.M. trembling in fear and sweating through my bed-sheets. I had dreamed that I had not really graduated from boot camp, but still had another six weeks to go! Arrrrrgh!
What makes this anecdote even more pathetic is that boot camp was hardly arduous. While I should have known better because my Dad and one older brother had also been Air Force vets, I really did think that the military was going to turn me into a hardened, steel-eyed, cold-blooded killer, something I thought would be an interesting career move (Hey! We're NOT discussing MY psychopathologies here!). Instead, the only difference between Air Force basic training and Boy Scout summer camp was that the Boy Scouts had adult supervision. Instead of becoming the airborne commando trained to fight and die for my country, I discovered a world of petty bureaucracy, silly regulations, blind eyes, and pencil whipping. Even worse, I wasn't very good at it. I failed both the physical conditioning examination and the rifle qualification (how utterly devastating for a country boy to admit) but I did get extra points for neat penmanship! Even more amazing was that out of the forty-four men who started training in my flight, fourteen of them gave up because it was too "hard."
I would have quit too, except the Air Force was my final hope. I had no place else to go, no skills to find a job, no money to go to college, nothing back in Maine except long winters and admitting I had failed. So by God's grace (even though I didn't know what that meant at the time), I stuck it out, and learned one of the most valuable lessons of my life. Tough times make tough people. While I wish I could share war stories about how, armed only with a rusty pocket knife, I won undying glory against impossible odds by sheer force of right, I can confess only to spending six years doing hard, unglamorous work for low pay under sometimes appalling weather conditions. But I did learn how to keep my mouth shut (not always practiced), how to take orders (even dumb ones), submit to authority (even when the authority had IQ points roughly equivalent to room temperature), and do my job as unto the Lord.
A Tempering Process
Yet I treasure my time in the Air Force because it was a tempering process. They forced me to do things I would never have done; they stretched me in ways I never knew I could be stretched. The Air Force, through the grace of God, helped transform a lazy, insolent, self-oriented young punk into a responsible citizen. Yeah, it was tough, and humbling, and much better to remember than it was to live. But it was necessary.
God in his sovereignty uses everything in our lives to create the character of Christ. Hardship, affliction and, sometimes, even persecution are all tools in his hands. God is always in control; God always knows what he is doing. God is always working to advance his kingdom in history through the work of his people, and a large part of that work is preparing us for dominion. He purposely put enemies before Israel to prepare them for war. He scourges us when we fall into wickedness to bring us to repentance (Heb. 12:7ff.). He shapes and molds our experiences to prepare us for future glory (Rom. 8:28-29).
Hence, it is astounding that a great number of people in our camp seem consumed by fear of the future. Whether it be the conspiracies of evil men in high places, nuclear missiles pointing at our cities, the growing federal deficit, fractional reserve banking, Y2K, etc., many, many people who claim to be postmillennialists seem to live their lives in fear of the immediate future; fear that colors their work, worship, and ministry. Some retreat to the hills, stock their survival retreats with MRE's and assault rifles, fearing the day when the BATF comes a'calling. Others are consumed with uncovering the latest conspiracy. Neither is really dominion-oriented.
I am not for a moment blind to the dangers of living in this present world. Crime is rampant; the Federal Government IS out of control; evil men ARE conspiring against the Anointed. Certainly, wise men WILL take certain precautions to protect their families (see my essay, "Y2k and Disaster Preparedness," in the November 1988 Chalcedon Report). But, and this is an important "but," God is in control. Granted, this nation deserves judgment, and unless she repents will receive judgment. But we do not have to live in fear. God is in control, and God is a whole lot more gracious, kind and forbearing than most of us realize.
Israel repeatedly apostatized. But God did NOT destroy her for almost FIVE hundred years: from the time of David to the fall of Jerusalem. Afterward, he gave them another five hundred years of grace before finally destroying them by Rome. Rome was certainly an evil, tyrannical, and satanic empire fully worthy of divine judgment. But God postponed their judgment for FOUR hundred years until his fledging church was ready to step into her place.
God reveals himself as slow to anger and abounding in loving-kindness Of course, we must not presume upon his mercy. We should be calling from the rooftops for widespread repentance. There are many institutional evils that must be rebuked and, in God's timing, replaced. But God will not bring his judgment UNTIL he is ready and, more importantly, until we are ready.
One of the ways that he prepares us for future dominion is by giving us small trials to handle that toughen us up. Hence, with all due respect to certain brothers, the doom, gloom, and BOOM! scenario that some seem so enamored of is unlikely. Life has always been tough. Death, disease, and disaster have always surrounded God's people. Millions died in World War I, but millions more died in the Great Influenza Epidemic that came soon after. In the nineteenth century, women routinely died in childbirth, while men routinely died of old age in their forties. In our history, we fought one war to gain our independence, another to preserve it, still another to free it all while building the freest, most prosperous, most godly nation in history. Our ancestors were men and women who had been tried by God. They were not pessimistic about the future even amidst circumstances that most of us would find unbearable today. The problem is, we are too soft. Does anyone deny that the great appeal of a pre-tribulation rapture is the fear of persecution? Is it any wonder that our brothers in Mozambique, Angola, Uganda, Zambia, Sudan, China, Romania, Albania, North Korea, etc., all scratch their heads in bewilderment of this doctrine of escape? No rapture prevented their persecution and suffering. But they survived. And they thrived!
Instead of giving in to fear, Christians should be preparing for victory. Granted, we may not see that victory, and neither may our children. But our grandchildren just might. And it is certain that each generation brought into the world is closer to the day when the whole earth is full of the glory of God. Therefore, we ought to focus on preparing for long-term dominion by learning the lessons now that our descendants will need.
We need to become self-governed people, industrious, diligent, and conscientious in our labor. We must restore the Biblical family by making men into elders of their homes, women confident in their calling, and raising covenant children who embody our values and priorities. We must reclaim a sense of genuine Christian community and establish churches that work. We must learn how to persevere through problems, trials, and difficulties until we establish a genuine counter-cultural movement. We must discard the transient values of apostate America and rebuild a genuine Biblical model of relationships. We need to learn how to handle authority when it is given to us, and how to submit lawfully when it is given to others.
Whatever comes, comes from the hand of a sovereign and gracious God. If there are things we can do, or our families can do, or our churches can do to have a prophetic witness against evil or stem the tide of wickedness, then we must dedicate ourselves to them. But we do not have to give in to fear. We do not have to become paranoid. We do not have to frighten others. By God's grace, we can survive, we can grow, we can flourish, and we will conquer in Christ's name.
"For I know the plans that I have for you," says Jehovah, "plans of peace, and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. And you shall call upon me, and you shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And you shall seek me, and shall find me, when you search for me with all your heart." (Jeremiah 20:11-13)
- Brian M. Abshire
Rev. Brian Abshire, Ph.D. is currently a Teaching Elder associated with Hanover Presbytery. Along with his pastoral duties, he is also the director for the International Institute for Christian Culture, has served as an adjunct instructor in Religious Studies at Park University and is a visiting Professor of Comparative Religion at Whitefield College.