I am a news junkie. It’s an addiction and no addiction is ever good. Right now that addiction is seriously interfering with work that I must get done. It’s not just the time wasted surfing the internet and listening to the radio. It’s what all this bad news is doing to my head and my heart.
I can feel fatalism knocking at the door. The dictionary defines it as, “the acceptance of all things and events as inevitable; submission to fate.” Fatalism can often be confused with faith but that is a misperception.
With faith, we trust in a higher power (for Christians, God). The scriptures wax eloquent about how we were made in the image and likeness of God and how, despite our rejection of him, he did not reject us. Instead, he took on our human form and experience to show us that there was hope beyond suffering and death. When we claim this hope, our lives become meaningful and we are led to great actions.
Fatalism, however, has the opposite effect: it fuels despair and inaction. You perceive the world around you as hopeless; you are overwhelmed and you retreat. Your work, your life begins to lose meaning.
The week of August 17-23 was particularly horrendous, first with the death of Michael Brown followed by violence, riots and looting in Ferguson, MO. Then there was the unspeakable beheading of American journalist James Foley videotaped for the world to see. The talk of another possible 9-11 terrorist attack on our shores and the prospect of global war reached a fevered pitch. I could feel that first trickle of fatalism creeping into my psyche. I willed myself away from the TV, radio and internet and took a break.
Fatalism works against God’s will. I am in the middle of preparing a manuscript for publication. It has a due date that I must meet. This requires retreating to my writer’s room and blocking out all other thoughts except for the work at hand. The slow poison of fatalism is making this difficult. I have begun to question the reason for doing this work. How can writing away in basement room have any effect on mitigating what is going on in the world? How can my hidden work comfort the Christians persecuted and killed for their faith? How can writing take care of the poor souls stricken with the Ebola virus? What can a single person do to let an increasingly stubborn, blind, deaf world know that there is a God, that He brings peace; that He means to heal us; that His love seeks to free us rather than to bind us?
I worry too about being persecuted for my faith like the Christians in Iraq. Many have died in the same fashion as James Foley and I wonder: could I exhibit his bravery? It is reported that he was a devout Catholic who regularly prayed the rosary. I can barely look at his picture because I feel that phantom pain on my neck where he was beheaded, accompanied by the pit in my stomach. I wonder if he felt the consolation of God in the midst of his terror. In his mind and heart did he cry out like Jesus to his Father, feeling abandoned? Did his thoughts turn to Heaven? What would I do?
This is why Jesus admonishes us to “not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34) He knows that too much knowledge of the future can be overwhelming. Such knowledge can encourage fatalism.
The media presents a distorted view of the world, exaggerating the evil and missing the good. Evil is perceived as “glamorous” while good doesn’t make for high ratings. Evil is done for show while true good is done in secret. Embedded among the weeds of evil is the wheat of countless people, quietly doing good things. They pray and they worship. They are faithful in doing their work. They visit the sick. They encourage and befriend those who are feeling down. They take care of their families. All done with fidelity, all done in secret. These pockets of goodness spread throughout the world remind us that our quiet works do mean something and do make a difference.
Only God knows how all things work together for the good. We each are meant to play our small parts, working with fidelity and intent.
There is no room for fatalism in this plan. Rather, there is only room for a life pregnant with potential and meaning.