A Christian Response to Social Change

One of the most pressing questions of our time is, “What is going to change next?” Change is happening all around us, often with disruptive and frustrating effects. Politically, economically, environmentally, and in the realm of social values, not to mention through technology, change is everywhere (Bishop, 2002). But why does change occur? What drives it? If change is so hard to deal with, why do we put up with it? Why do we make it happen? Even more importantly, is change good or bad? Are things getting better, or are they getting worse? Then of course, how can we cope better with change? No, how can we ride the wave of change to a preferred destination (Bishop, 2002)? Like Daniel, who “set His face toward God” in times of trouble, we too can look to the Lord for the understanding needed to navigate our times. (Daniel 9, KJV).

The Nature of Social Change can be described as the movement and morphing of society. Society is not a rigid, structured object. Sure, it has structure, some of which hangs around for a long time, like governments or families (Elwell, 1991). Yet, over time, even these powerful bureaucratic or traditional structures crumble or transform into new structures (Bishop, 2002. Elwell, 1991).

Stability is born, and stability fades. This is true at every level of the social order, resulting in change being the long-term standard, and stability, the short-term reality. To think of social change, it is helpful to imagine society as a layered cake, cut into five slices; one is socio- cultural, dealing with the people and their way of life, the next is technology, or the tools we create to make life easier. Third, there is the environment, which is the ecology and natural surroundings. Thereafter, comes economics, the buzz of interaction, as resources are exchange, followed by politics, the polar tensions created by the agendas and interests of different groups.

From a distance the social “cake” looks like a single object, but up-close it is densely layered and multi-faceted. On top of that, all these layers and aspects are interconnected by complex relationships that affect each section back and forth in an ebb and flow of change (Bishop, 2002). The flavours that permeate the “social cake” are the ideas that live in the hearts and minds of people, their books, their places of learning, and even their places of worship. Some old ideas resurface, some new ones, are born (Noble, 2000, p.239).

If society is a bit like a complicated crows-nest, can we ever get to the roots of change?
Well, for one thing, there are many roots. To understand change in one’s own life is to investigate the roots that form the basis of your world. What is happening politically, economically, and culturally around you? Some of these changes have been coming for a long time and are driven by events, people or ideas that were around before you were born (Elwell, 1991). Take democracy in South Africa for instance, it’s the product of a long legacy of thinking about “freedom” that started in France in the 12th century, and is still evolving. Economically, the simple needs and desires of ordinary people are today met through shipping containers from all over the world, welcome globalization. Some of these changes are out of our control. But, someone is controlling them. Often control lies in the boardrooms of large corporations.

Then, as we are seeing with the financial crisis in Europe, some of these changes are so vast and far-reaching; they are out of everyone’s control. Even the so-called powerful cannot managed the complexity that underlie the changes. Like global warming, they are the result of the collective efforts of all the champions and supporters of development and industrialization.
Television and the Internet is driving fashion and fads across the globe and shaping the dress- sense and even language of billions 24/7. Can someone please shout “STOP?”

Well, as long as there is life on earth, change is inevitable. It is the product of our vital existence. Each of us, within the smaller world of our everyday lives, will make choices that add up with those of others to drive change (Elwell, 1991). Some choices are good, some bad. Some of the choices of others are so far-reaching that they limit our choices or affect us negatively.

Then, now and then, the environment “chooses” to act up and hardly anyone can stand against the “tsunami” of its power. If it doesn’t rain, bread is going to cost more, and if it rains too much, rice will become a luxury. The accumulative effects of technology and new discoveries regularly burst the seams of the “normal”, with Valentine’s Day bouquets now arriving on your Facebook Wall, instead of the steps of your front door. This is the nature of our, fallen, changing world (Fraser, Campolo, 1992, p.306). So, where is God in all of this? He is at work in us, growing us to maturity and seeking us out for His service (James 1:2-4, KJV).

Our response to change fortunately, not all change is negative, and much of the change that is going to happen, is somewhat predictable. Predicting change is not so much about picking the changes that are inevitable, as it is about recognizing that some changes happen in patterns (Bishop, 2002). For one, you will get older. A son becomes a father, and then a grandfather, that was God’s design.

Politicians will come and go. Popularity is soon overcome with disillusionment, and a new candidate selected. People will again innovate and seek ways of bettering their economic condition. Today’s fancy gadgets will give way to even more sophisticated ones, as phones are giving way to smartphones. One key then is learning to think about and accept the changes that we know are inevitable. Saving for the future, for instance, while maintaining a healthy flexibility to respond to unexpected change, is wisdom. Our ability to change our world is far greater than many people realize.

The way you invest your time and energy will send lasting ripple effects through every section and layer of the social “cake”. Turn the soil of a piece of land and it will grow you a crop. Stand for office in a local election, you may not win but you’re very presence will influence the opposition’s posture. Pick up a textbook and fill your mind with new knowledge, before long your evolving thinking will translate into fresh perspective as you navigate life. Take what was invested in you, in the form of giftedness and opportunity by the providence of God, and set it free in your world, and the results will astound you (Matt 25, KJV).

As a Christian, you cannot afford to allow the “anomie”, lack of moral or ethical standards of our world, to lead you along the path of least resistance (Hiebert, Hiebert, McKenzie, 2008).

As Engstrom (n.d.) said, “A man tends to overestimate what he can do in a year, and underestimate what he can do in five”

No person has full control over the world. Very few people have absolutely no control. The life we have been given is one of freedom, within bounds. The Christian life is not simply about surviving change, but thriving in it. The message of the Cross shows us that one person can make a permanent impact in the very fabric of reality. Sure, He was the Son of God, but you are God’s child too. You are an extension of His mission when you walk as the Body of Christ on earth (1 Cor 12:27, KJV). What kind of world do you want to live in?

You may not be able to create that world in your time, but you can sow the seeds and lay the foundation for your children’s children to live in such a world. Better yet, what if your neighbour, through your generosity could live in a better world because of you today? Perhaps one day your children will be the fortunate neighbour of another benefactor. While our world rushes along, sometime stumbling over its own shortcomings as it accelerates down the slope of progress; God has shown Himself neighbourly and sowed a seed of everlasting change right in the heart of society. With His courageous faith in mind, let us have hope for the future, and change our world for the better. Social change is not our enemy, it is our habitat.

Writer: Marius Oosthuizen

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