Louie Armstrong sang:
I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world
Unless, of course, you live in a war zone where tanks are running over the trees, and the red roses are destroyed by incoming bombs and missiles. It doesn't take human beings very long to destroy the signs of beauty in the world.
Louie croons on:
I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
Unless, of course, the skies of blue you see are because you are homeless, and you have no roof over your head. Then I'm not so worried about how beautiful the sky is, but where am I going to spend the night? The dark, sacred night can be frightening when you are on the streets. There are people out there who want to hurt you; some people out there are crazy enough to want to kill you.
The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
They're really saying I love you
Unless, of course, the colors of the rainbow mean you have just experienced another rainstorm and your farm or ranch or orange groves are so flooded you can't make a crop. Then you are not really thinking about the rainbow; you are wondering if you will survive. And sorry, Louie, but have you seen some people's faces? They are like a rainbow because the corners of their mouths are always turned down in a frown. I've known some people who shake my hand and say, "How do you do?" who are not saying "I love you." Instead, they are saying, "I want to sell you something you don't need."
Louie's final verse:
I hear babies crying, I watch them grow
They'll learn much more than I'll never know
Yes, I think to myself what a wonderful world.
Unless, of course, Louie, that baby woke you up at 3 a.m. throwing up and crying. Then I'm not thinking about watching them grow and how much they'll know; I'm praying I can get the doctor on call, and I'm praying it's nothing major.
You might think I'm in a really bad mood as I write this. Truly, I'm not. Nor am I down on positive thinking. We can use all the positive thinking on the planet we can get. Nor am I saying Jesus followers are members of the "Ain't it awful" club. We, above all people, have reason to hope. We are the Easter people, and our Lord is the one who triumphed over death.
Why, then, deconstruct such an optimistic, hopeful song with such a pessimistic outlook? Lately God has been impressing on me that just because my life is going well doesn't mean everyone's life is going well. God loves every person on this planet right now. Things are terrific for some of them. Things are OK for a lot of them. For most of the people on the planet, however, life is a drudge. To quote the great theologian, Elvis, they are caught in a trap, and they can't walk out. They are caught in traps of poverty, war, disease, depression, anxiety and despair. Pointing to trees, flowers, blue skies, smiles and babies does not make the trap go away.
It's not a wonderful world, not yet. This is why Jesus not only died to forgive our sins and rose again, but also why he promised he would return. Christians debate the how, what and when of his return, but that's not the main point of his return.
When Jesus returns, the world will be judged. That judgment will not be just about who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. It will be God coming to establish his kingdom on this Earth, where his values and his way of life will rule. Those of us who follow Jesus will participate in that amazing re-creation. Those who don't want to participate? Well, God makes a place for them that is hot and unpleasant. The second coming of Jesus means the Earth will return to what it was created to be.
Then, and only then, will it truly be a wonderful world - the world of the Kingdom of God.
Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter.
More Articles to Read