Don’t Worry About the Future: An Unexpected Reminder from Our Antebellum Past

Let me begin today by confessing something to you, dear reader. I am a worrier. A first-class, almost constant worrier. Terribly so. Sinfully so.

Perhaps that last adverb surprised you. “Sinfully? Sinfully? You mean you sin by worrying?” Yep, that’s what I mean. Consider the following passages of Scripture:

Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7)

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

Paul, Peter, and the Lord Himself all exhort believers to cast their cares, their anxieties, their burdens upon Christ, and in turn receive peace and rest. Thus, for one that claims to trust and to follow Christ to harbor worry and anxiety is nothing less than unbelief, nothing less than sin, and therefore I find myself daily confessing this sin and pleading for both forgiveness and deliverance.

For those who, like me, are given to worry, the times in which we live provide a veritable smorgasbord of anxieties from which to choose. Economic conditions all over the world are perilous, there are “wars and rumors of wars” in many places, and here in the United States our government seems bent upon (although often with good intentions) diluting or eroding various hard-won civil liberties. Although American Christians still live without any real fear of persecution, elsewhere in the world this is not the case; more Christians suffer and die for the faith today than in any other period in history.

I don’t pretend to be an expert in very many areas, but I am a fairly well-read individual, and everything I have read of history, culture, and economics tells me that, absent a very special intervention on the Lord’s part, we Americans can expect to see some very perilous times in the future. When? I don’t know. Maybe sooner, maybe later—hopefully never! Indeed, I hope I’m wrong! Historically, though, every monetary system based, like ours, upon debt and fiat currency (i.e. currency that is not backed by some sort of rare commodity—usually gold or silver) has collapsed, and left in its wake joblessness, want of basic necessities, and civil unrest. The eventual result in such a situation is anarchy, martial law, dictatorship, or some combination of the three. Needless to say, none of these is a desirable choice.

Now, please don’t write me off as some sort of “right-wing conspiracy nut.” Although I am aware that the understanding of economics and history I just described is often shared by those termed “conspiracy theorists,” I would not count myself among their number. Generally speaking, I think our leaders have good intentions, and if we go down the road I just described I like to think it will be because of ignorance, denial, or ineptitude on the part of our government, not deliberate intent to “destroy America.” Do the wealthy and powerful “conspire” and take advantage of their various connections in order to maintain and increase their wealth and power? Sure they do, and they always have; this is not necessarily evil (though it might result in evil).

Are you a worrier? Then I’ve just given you plenty to worry about, if you haven’t been concerned about these things already. Or, do you think “It can’t happen here?” Let me challenge you to not be so naïve. Not only can it happen here—it has happened here.

Mississippi's Civil War: A Narrative History, by Ben Wynne

Mississippi’s Civil War: A Narrative History, by Ben Wynne

A couple of weeks ago I read a book called Mississippi’s Civil War: A Narrative History, by Ben Wynne. Over the years I’ve entertained an “on again, off again” interest in the War Between the States, and while I abhor racism and chattel slavery—and am not so deluded as to deny the central role slavery played in provoking the rebellion—I have more than a little sympathy with the Southern cause when it comes to the idea of the United States as a voluntary association of sovereign states which are free to remain or depart as they see fit. All talk of ideals and motives aside, though, the fact is that the South fought and lost, and Wynne has done a fantastic job of “bringing to life” just what that entailed for Mississippi and its people.

By the end of 1863, the war was pretty much over for Mississippi. Jackson, Vicksburg, Meridian, Corinth—in other words, the capital and the major port and railroad towns—had fallen and were either destroyed or under federal control. Railroads and telegraph lines were deliberately torn up to prevent Confederate movements and communications in the state. Most of the state’s able-bodied white men were serving in the Confederate army elsewhere, or were dead, or were deserters that had gone into hiding or even formed gangs of bandits roaming the countryside. The former slave population had largely fled or joined the Union forces. Crops went unharvested—if they had been planted at all—and what supplies existed were often placed in the service of the war effort on one side or the other. By the time the war “officially” ended in 1865, things had only become worse. Quoting Wynne at length:

The Civil War devastated Mississippi, and as the dust and smoke of the conflict settled in 1865, economic and social chaos prevailed. The state’s wartime casualties were enormous. Approximately 27,000 of the 78,000 Mississippians who participated in the Confederate fighting did not return from the war, and many of those who did return were crippled for life. One quarter of the white male population of the state who were fifteen years of age or older in 1860 were no longer alive, and for years the ghosts of men who should have still been among the living would haunt the Mississippi countryside. The communities that produced Mississippi’s Confederate soldiers were close-knit, and as such few families escaped the loss of a friend, neighbor, or loved one during the struggle. Many of the dead lay in unmarked graves scattered throughout the country, graves that their relatives would never have the opportunity to visit.

The state’s economy was also in a shambles. By 1865, many Mississippi farms, large and small, had deteriorated from neglect, hardly any money circulated, and debt was rampant. Five years after the war, the state held more than 2 million acres of land for non-payment of taxes. Property values plummeted. Farmers in post-war Mississippi worked less acreage than they had before the war and yields of both food crops and cotton were limited. The turbulent Reconstruction period offered little relief…. (pp. 178-179)

The war left behind a state with little food, little money, little economic opportunity, a decimated population, and, for several years, martial law, or at least a constant presence of federal troops. The other former Confederate states fared very much the same.

You see, it can happen here. It has happened here.

If you’re still with me at this point, you might be asking, “What does this have to do with anything? You went from talking about the Bible’s view of worry to the possibility of economic collapse and civil unrest in America to the Civil War and Reconstruction. It doesn’t make any sense.” Well, I hope I haven’t been entirely nonsensical, but let me see if I can tie all of these thoughts together by listing a few ideas for you.

  • As I mentioned above, the Bible tells Christians to not worry, and instead to find rest in Christ. Even in our best moments, this is difficult; as we consider the perilous course upon which our nation and world are presently set, it is well-nigh impossible, at least in our own strength.
  • We can find comfort and rest, not only in considering that Christ promises us that rest, but also in remembering that God has promised to work all things together for the good of His people (Romans 8:28).
  • Even more, as the sovereign Creator and Sustainer of the universe, who has declared the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10) and who is “upholding all things by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3), we can be confident that there is no calamity so bad, no disaster so unexpected, no collapse so complete that God is somehow surprised, unable to render aid, or thwarted in His good purposes for His people. He works all things—good and bad—together for our good and His glory.
  • Let us not forget, either, that sometimes God brings difficulty into the lives of His people in order to grow them, to discipline them, to “prune” them, metaphorically speaking, as the Scripture says (Hebrews 12, John 15:1-2). While the experiences of sickness, loss of income, or other difficulties are familiar to us as individuals, historically it has not been unheard of for the Lord to purify His church by visiting calamity upon a nation more broadly.
  • When thinking and worrying about the future of the United States in particular and how bleak it sometimes looks, I find some comfort when I consider that our present and likely future circumstances are by no means historically unique. They even happened here! Indeed, “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
  • I likewise take comfort in that the people were able to rebuild a society and an economy here in the aftermath of such calamity. Within a generation the scars of battle gave way to a slowly growing and diversifying economy, a plethora of monuments, and an idealized history of the Confederacy. Yes, there were problems—the endemic racism and legally-enforced inequities not least among them—but at least a working society did emerge from the ashes, and within a relatively short time. This gives me hope that should an economic collapse and its attendant horrors face us in our time, the “bottom” does not have to be a permanent state of affairs. Looking ahead it is so difficult to see past the collapse, but looking back we can see that people—ordinary people—endured it and rebuilt their lives afterward.
  • And even if “the end of the world” in this case actually is the end of the world, the Christian still has no need to fear—we know how the story ends, and it is a happy ending!

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)

So, dear reader, let me remind you even as I remind myself, don’t worry! The future looks bad in many ways, and it is entirely appropriate to confess that worry to God and to receive His forgiveness. It is also appropriate for us to ask that the Lord somehow intervene to thwart the economic and social difficulties that seem certain to lie over the horizon, should He allow events to transpire according to His ordinary providence. And yet, if He does not intervene, we still have hope. We have the hope that comes from looking back to our ancestors’ experiences of similar trials and seeing how they overcame those trials, and this produces something of a hope that we will be able to do the same if and when our trial comes.

Even more importantly, though, as Christians we have a better hope, a “sure and steadfast” hope (Hebrews 6:19). We have hope in God’s promises that whether He brings good or ill upon us in the immediate term, ultimately all things will end in our good and His glory. And so, whether things continue in the comfortable manner that they have, or whether they go horribly, horribly wrong, we may rest in Christ. Whether the coming difficulties will pass and lead to rebuilding of society, or they lead to the end of all things, we may rest in Christ. “For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.” (Romans 14:8)

“Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20b)

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About Micah Everett

Micah Everett is Associate Professor of Music (Trombone/Low Brass) at the University of Mississippi, Principal Trombonist of the North Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, Bass Trombonist of the Great River Trombone Quartet, Assistant Editor (Audio/Video Reviews) for the International Trombone Association Journal, and an S.E. Shires trombone artist. He is the author of THE LOW BRASS PLAYER'S GUIDE TO DOUBLING, published by Mountain Peak Music, and released his first solo recording, STEPPING STONES FOR BASS TROMBONE, VOL. 1, on the Potenza Music label in 2015. In addition to his professional work, he maintains an avid interest in the study of the Bible and of Reformed theology. He holds doctoral and master's degrees in music from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, a bachelor's degree in music education from Delta State University, and a certificate in systematic theology from Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. The ideas and opinions expressed here are not necessarily shared by the employers and organizations with which the author is associated.
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