Have you joined the woebegone society?

With COVID back on the rise, the Taliban take-over of Afghanistan and U.S. citizens left behind, the wake of destruction from Hurricane Ida, and the continued political unrest, it’s easy to feel a loss of hope.  

Add to that the results of recent studies indicating that younger adults are far less likely to marry or have children or vote, and that members of Generation Z indicate they are far more pessimistic about the future than older generations, we’re quickly becoming a society of woebegones. 

Literally, a woebegone is someone surrounded (begone) with sorrow or grief (woe). And if we’re not careful, our state of woebegoneness is going to destroy our families, communities, and culture. How’s that for a woebegone statement?

Consider this. The eminent Harvard scientist Harlow Shapley, who died in 1972, listed five factors that could destroy Western civilization. Take note: He identified these five factors over fifty years ago! Tim Keller describes them this way:

Four of [these factors] were a nuclear war on terrorism, famine or food shortages, climatic or topographical catastrophe, and plague or pandemic. He points out that technological advancement has helped us only with the issue of food—in the other three areas, as Krier and Gillette predicted, our technological advances have actually worsened our perilous future prospects” (Hope for the Future, 200).

But here’s what’s most troubling. Shapley listed “boredom” as the fifth factor that could destroy us. Boredom increases as we lose hope for progress, but then boredom further erodes progress. Boredom leads to widespread and chronic indifference to ordinary values, pursuits, freedoms, and obligations. Indifference leads to a pursuit of the absurd, irrelevant, and demonic as means to titillate and fascinate in an overstimulated society that anesthetizes itself from hopelessness and despair.

As G. K. Chesterton wrote, “The result of ceasing to believe in God is not that one will then believe nothing; it is that one will believe anything” (Chesterton: The Laughing Prophet).

To eradicate despair, we must believe in the right thing, or better yet, the right, true God. From that foundation, though surrounded (begone) with terror, catastrophe, and pandemic, we are not consumed with woe. We do not give way to boredom as our coping mechanism, but we abound in “Christ Jesus our hope” (1 Timothy 1:1).   

Whatever you may be facing right now, you can rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, and be constant in prayer (Romans 12:12). These actions will be shards of light breaking through the clouds of darkness to bring hope to places even as far away as Afghanistan.