The year in preview
Ideal circumstances and political victories aren’t necessary for fruitful life in 2019
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As 2019 began, the 110 newly elected members of Congress arrived in Washington, D.C., to less of a fresh slate than a fresh slew of problems: A partial government shutdown trudged into its second week, with each party blaming the other for the impasse.
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said neither side would win: “We kind of look silly.” But President Donald Trump insisted he was serious about his $5 billion demand for a border wall, even as exiting Chief of Staff John Kelly said the White House long ago abandoned the idea of a literal wall across the entire U.S. border.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the word wall had become a metaphor for border security. If that’s the case, Republicans and Democrats were likely closer to a temporary compromise early on than either side acknowledged, since both sides have said they’re willing to fund border security at some level.
The deeper reality is that “wall” is also a metaphor—or at least a symbol—of the 2020 presidential contest that has already begun: Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., announced her exploratory bid for the Democratic nomination on New Year’s Eve.
Trump wants to build the wall he promised. Democrats want to win the White House. And $5 billion—a gigantic chunk of cash that’s still a relatively small percentage of federal expenditures —became the first O.K. Corral ahead of the 2020 elections.
It won’t be the last.
Plenty more showdowns await in 2019, including among the Democrats themselves: This year the candidates for president will hash out how far left they’re willing to push their own party in a bid to win the Democratic nomination—a calculation that risks alienating independent or swing voters they might otherwise capture.
Republicans will focus on how to advance worthy parts of the president’s agenda that they endorse, while grappling with any investigative revelations—like hush payments to porn stars—that bring shame on a presidency.
Meanwhile, American voters will brace themselves for the beginning of a raucous presidential contest over the next two years, no matter the outcome.
If it all seems like a bleak way to begin a new year, it might help to consider the travail—and triumph—of others in lands far away. Over the holidays, Christians at Early Rain Covenant Church in China prayed for their pastor and dozens of church members detained by Chinese authorities during a December raid. Police seized the group’s meeting place in the southwest city of Chengdu, and reportedly asked members to sign a statement disavowing Christianity.
The Christians continued to worship. They gathered at a river near the closed church and in the homes of members scattered around the city. They know it’s a risk, but one church member declared, “We will not forfeit our faith.”
Such courage didn’t develop overnight. Pastor Wang Yi had prepared his congregation for trouble brewing during one of the harshest crackdowns on Christians in China in years. Forty-eight hours after his detention, a statement he wrote before his arrest appeared online. “All the ugliness of reality, with its political injustices and arbitrary application of the law, show that the cross of Jesus Christ is the Chinese people’s sole hope for salvation,” he declared. “It also shows that true hope and perfect human society cannot come about through any change in secular politics or culture—only through the forgiveness of human sin by Jesus Christ can man gain eternal life in heaven.”
‘All the ugliness of reality, with its political injustices and arbitrary application of the law, show that the cross of Jesus Christ is the Chinese people’s sole hope for salvation.’ —Pastor Wang Yi
Christians at Early Rain know that ideal circumstances and political victories aren’t necessary for living fruitful and courageous lives. As their pastor wrote, sometimes the opposite holds true: “If God decides, by way of the [Communist] regime’s persecution of the church, to lead more Chinese people to a state of despair, make them experience the disillusionment of faith, so that they will come to know Jesus, overcome hardships, and build their own church, then I am very happy to obey God’s arrangements, because His are always loving and perfect.”
Trusting God’s loving and perfect ways is the right way to begin 2019, whatever the circumstances. We remember life is short, even if we live to 87 like Ed Plowman, a beloved WORLD writer who died on Dec. 19 (see "Ed Plowman, journalist" in this issue). The 1777 edition of the New England Primer reminded children, “While Youth do cheer, death may be near.” Even today reminders surround us: Three days after Christmas, Bre Payton, an accomplished Christian journalist and a graduate of Patrick Henry College, died after a sudden illness. She was 26.
In Psalm 90, Moses asks God to “teach us to number our days,” but he doesn’t stop with a mournful prayer about the brevity of life. He ends with an energetic plea to use all those days to the glory of God: “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!”
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