My parents always taught me to remember that I have a lot to be thankful for. And it’s true, of course. I have all the food, clothing, convenience, and entertainment I could rationally desire. Friends and family. Tasks to do. Inane computer games. And, of course, the best things in life are free … new moons, summer breezes, sunshine on a rainy day, raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens, and all that jazz. Possibly even Christmas presents.
However, you may be entering this Christmas with more worry and uncertainty than you have ever had before. I wouldn’t blame you; I haven’t enough fingers for all the worrisome elements getting around…
Covid. Unpredictable and incomprehensible Covid regulations. The ‘trans’ agenda. Big tech censorship. Cancel culture. Racial incitement. All the things we might do to urgently prevent climate disaster. Printing money like it won’t cause inflation. The mainstream media aggressively pedalling exactly the wrong opinions on all the above. Santa Claus not existing. Government becoming enormous and filled to the brim with alarmingly unexceptional people. The president and vice-president of the USA being a geriatric sloth and a deranged kookaburra. China and Russia just trying to pick their moment. Perhaps your own personal circumstances contain evils of their own – lost jobs, poor health, or broken friendships?
Yeah, there’s some bad stuff happening. And things can get much worse. History is quite clear on that; don’t say ‘it can only get better’ – you’re wrong. Bottomless is the well into which human depravity can drag us collectively and, whatever the quality of the journey, our individual lives all have an unavoidable, usually undignified destination.
In the face of worry and uncertainty, being told to remember to ‘always be thankful’ may not be the most welcome advice. But, the reminder my parents gave me was not meant to be a distraction. It’s not looking away from the evil or the worry in the world as if, while I’m not looking, it no longer exists. It achieves a better purpose.
It provides some needed perspective. There is a lot of good in this world and will continue to be. Worry is for bad things, currently absent, whereas thankfulness is for good things, already present. When I look at my current circumstance, I have no right to complain. The existence of ‘bad’ shouldn’t blind us to ‘good’, nor prevent us enjoying it.
Most of all, however, looking at the good things also opens my eyes up to a marvel. This world is aesthetic. That might not have been the case. We could eat food merely for energy and to participate in the carbon cycle, but we don’t just have food – we have mangoes. We don’t just hear, we hear Beethoven. We don’t just detect chemicals in the air, we smell fragrance. A cool breeze and its sound through the trees are bliss. This world doesn’t just work and provide for us, it’s also magnificent! From sunsets to cloud-scapes, thunderstorms, waterfalls, and above all, mangoes. This world isn’t just there, it’s ‘very good’. Can you not see it?
Perhaps you don’t like tropical fruit. Never mind, you can go star-gazing. Or slide an ice-cube down your back next time we have a 40-degree day. Or just start the day with freshly-squeezed orange juice. Holding babies works, too. If you don’t have any, just hold someone else’s.
Mankind is always trying to find a unifying principle – a ‘theory of everything’ which can rectify all the diverse facets of reality within a single explanation. The evil of this world is a real facet, but could it even exist if good did not exist first? How can something be desecrated if it was not first holy? How can something be broken if it was not first entire?
I knew from when I was quite young that I believed in God due to the (what I consider) obvious intentionality of nature. But it was many years – perhaps it was when I was standing at the pinnacle of Mt Bulla in 2018, seeing a further horizon than I could remember – before I realised the Heavens declare more than just ‘purpose’. The sunset says goodnight, rest now, I’ll be here to light your way again when you get up… Nature declares beauty, sufficiency, abundance, rest, care, and goodness.
Goodness is not merely a facet of the universe; it is the deepest facet. Aesthetic is written into every line of the basic design. This is not a gruesome aesthetic, but a wholesome aesthetic of relentless satisfaction. The only unifying description I can accept of the world is neither ‘bad’ nor ‘indifferent’, but only ‘very good, though subsequently broken’.
This is the Biblical depiction of the world – good, but broken – and the broken bit is us. ‘Post-apocalyptic’, as Jordan Peterson put it. That reservoir of human depravity leeches black stains across every domain, rebuked by their jarring contrast against the beauty of the natural order. The promise of Christianity is that it will be repaired. Just as only sick people need a doctor, only a broken world needed a Saviour.
The Apostle Paul frequently divided Christian teaching into three pillars: faith, hope and love. This Christmas, I am reminded mostly of hope. The birth of Christ is just the beginning of His story, and not the most important chapter. Because it was the beginning, it was all about hope – the hope of a baby, and the hope of what he will restore – peace on earth.
Hope, like thankfulness, is perhaps not what we want to hear. Hope only exists when the thing hoped-for has not yet arrived. But hope that is trusted in, and held strongly, powers endurance.
So be thankful this Christmas, but also be hopeful. There are a number of proximate reasons for hope.
Let’s face it, there’s some good news. We got AUKUS and AUKFTA (everything’s getting AUKward). Freedom rallies and increasing political engagement could have long-term benefit. Occasionally, there’s a politician with a spine resisting the united army of Grinches trying desperately to ruin Christmas. There’s a new J.K. Rowling movie coming out in April. And there’s fundamental economics – have you noticed that the best economists are always happy? Sometimes I search for Art Laffer on YouTube just for a smile because he knows that even with all the dumbest policies, an economy has an internal robustness.
Beyond the proximate, Christianity offers a deeper and a higher hope. This world was designed very good. We couldn’t even understand very bad if there weren’t already a definition of very good. The deepest truth, and the highest ideal – are good. The highest power is good. And Christmas celebrates that a Saviour has been sent who will restore all things.
So chin up, Australia. Have a good, thankful, hopeful, happy Christmas. Nick Kastelein is a Christian and a conservative who grew up and lives in Adelaide where he works for an engineering consultancy.
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