Let Us Not Lose Heart

Sometimes when I ponder the state of our society, and the world in general, I wonder if there is any hope. Yes, I know that in the end, God wraps things up His way. The future is glorious for those who remain faithful to Him. But what I see around me would be depressing without that ultimate hope.

I’ve studied the writings of Whittaker Chambers for nearly thirty years now. His magisterial autobiography Witness is filled with poignant insights into the human condition without God. For instance, as he analyzed the state of the world in his lifetime, he was struck by the loss of his generation’s ability to see reality and know the difference between right and wrong. Has anything changed all that much? Here’s how he portrays it:

The dying world of 1925 was without faith, hope, character, understanding of its malady or will to overcome it. It was dying but it laughed. And this laughter was not the defiance of a vigor that refuses to know when it is whipped. It was the loss, by the mind of a whole civilization, of the power to distinguish between reality and unreality, because, ultimately, though I did not know it, it had lost the power to distinguish between good and evil. … The dying world had no answer at all to the crisis of the 20th century, and, when it was mentioned, and every moral voice in the Western world was shrilling crisis, it cocked an ear of complacent deafness and smiled a smile of blank senility—throughout history, the smile of those for whom the executioner waits.

I ask myself whether we are currently in that same state he so sadly describes. As a people, are we without faith or hope? Do we lack the kind of character necessary to remedy the ills of our nation? Do we even understand that we are suffering ills? Are we living in the realm of unreality, dying because we no longer care about right and wrong, good and evil? If so, the executioner waits to carry out the sentence on a deaf and senile people.

That all sounds so dismal. Yet there are times when I feel the way Chambers felt about his era. That feeling can lead people to despair, if they are without the life of God within. The only reason I won’t succumb to despair is because I know I’ve been called, as all Christians are, to shine the light of truth and hope into that moral void. Our task is to rescue the hopeless, and the more we rescue, the greater the possibility that our society can once again distinguish between good and evil.

One passage of Scripture fits perfectly here, from Galatians 6:7-9, where we’re told,

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.

That last sentence is a clarion call to continue doing what God has charged each one of us to do. If we remain faithful, He promises there will be a time to reap. Chambers’s perception of the world of 1925 does not have to be the world of our future if God’s people persevere.

C. S. Lewis: Evil in Our Day

Lewis, in the preface to his Screwtape Letters, provides a very interesting insight into where we are most likely to find evil in our day.

I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of “Admin.” The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid “dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint. It is not even in concentration camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.

Happy New Year? Why Would We Think So?

On January 1st each year we fall into a pattern long emblazoned on our psyche of saying “Happy New Year!” I realize it’s mostly a hope that we hold out, expecting that things certainly have to be better this time around. But on what basis do we hold to such a hope? Is there a solid reason for hoping, or is this more a shadowy, wispy type of wishful thinking?

For me, on a personal level, I have what I consider to be a well-grounded hope. Having been salvaged from a life of despair and purposelessness by the grace of God, hope is real. Yes, I will be affected adversely by circumstances in the world around me—by culture rapidly losing its Biblical underpinnings and a government in the process of destroying basic American liberties—but even if the worst occurs, I will still have the faithful God who gives the promise of eternity in a much better place.

It’s our society on the whole that concerns me. What is happening right now that would give anyone a reason to hope that things will improve? As I noted above, the culture is changing for the worse and needs to be turned around for anything to get better. There are a lot of reasons for that change; some can be seen in this political cartoon’s depiction of our current situation:

The cartoonist used the image of the Newtown murders as one manifestation of how our culture has been debased. Then the media and the politicians come along and make matters even worse by blaming the wrong people. One newspaper decided to show a map of the homes of all those in its county who have legal gun permits. The goal, according to the paper, was to increase “awareness” of the gun problem. Excuse me, but the legal ownership of weapons is not the problem. Yet now those who have followed the law, and have always done so, are being targeted [the use of that word is intentional].

The other focus of news reports at the moment is the so-called fiscal cliff. Few, though, are the news outlets that are willing to expose the real issue: it’s not a revenue problem; it’s a spending problem. The media are in protection mode—ensuring that the One is not blamed. Of course, he has made blaming others into an art:

The next fiscal controversy will be the debt ceiling, which Obama seeks to have removed altogether. He wants the power to spend whatever he desires, without any constraints. The result would not be difficult to foresee:

And what of the loyal opposition? To what extent are Republicans willing to go to stand for sound principles, regardless of the political fallout? There is a segment of the party that mirrors the old Republican lack of vision that dominated pre-Reagan: never challenge the roots of the problem but just try to be a little more moderate than the Democrats:

That approach has always led to defeat.

So, I ask again—on what basis can we hold out hope that anything will improve this year?

In my view, the main reason we are where we are as a society is that the church of Jesus Christ has not fulfilled its obligations as the salt and light of a nation. There are a number of areas in which we have failed, but let me acknowledge three that are paramount:

  1. We have watered down the message of salvation in the desire to draw more people to the faith. A watered-down message leads to a weak faith, or no genuine faith at all.
  2. We have deviated, to some extent, from Biblical morality and do not grasp how Biblical principles apply to a proper understanding of the limitations on civil government, the primacy of the rule of law, and how economics really works.
  3. We have abandoned control of our children’s education and turned that task over to the government, thereby making the problems worse with each succeeding generation.

Those are the three areas I want to address the rest of this week.

Shining in the Midst of Evil

What can I say about the awful tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, that hasn’t already been said over the last three days? Some have used it as a political football to call for more gun control, ignoring the fact that Aurora already had strict gun control laws. Others have pointed out that if private citizens had the right to carry guns, someone in that theater would have stopped the carnage before it got out of hand. Both presidential campaigns did the right thing by cutting back on overt campaigning while people deal with the situation.

Then there has been the old, tired debate over “why” anyone would do such a thing. The answer to the “why” is as old as humanity itself. Why did Adam and Eve disobey God? Why did Cain kill Abel? Why did the world become such a toxic place that God destroyed it all except for one family and started again? Why did the people emerge from the Flood and try to establish themselves as equals to God? Why have the nations raged against each other for centuries? Why do individuals carry out abominable acts against others? The answer to the “why” is simply another three-letter word: “sin.”

I define sin as I believe the Bible does: rebellion against the righteous commandments of a loving and forgiving God, who also must engage in judgment in order to remain loving and true to righteousness. Sin is man’s way of putting himself first, placing his own desires above that of God’s. Sin manifests itself in grievous acts such as the one in Aurora, but also in petty jealousies and basic self-centeredness. James Holmes’s self-centeredness led to a vicious action that took the lives of many. My self-centeredness, and yours, may not result in a killing spree, but any disregard for righteousness is from the same source.

Yes, there are varied paths people take to get to the point where they do something such as Holmes did, and we can analyze what there was in his childhood, his relationships, his life disappointments, or whatever, that led to his actions. But when all the analysis is complete, we cannot lose sight of the underlying truth that each person is responsible for his/her actions and the heart attitude that birthed those actions. Even when we call someone mentally ill, we must do so in the context of recognizing that each person is a free moral agent made in the image of God who will be held accountable one day by the God who made him. That basic truth is rapidly losing ground in our age of blame-shifting and excuse-making.

Evil is real. It must be acknowledged as real and dealt with accordingly. Righteousness is real. It needs to be held up for all to see. Christians are supposed to be God’s representatives who show the way to that righteousness. In the midst of evil, we need to shine brightly for the world to see. May we accept the challenge and point others to the only Truth, the only Way, the only Life.