The finger of history in this twentieth century is relentlessly writing into man’s awareness the fact that his problems are bigger than he is. It is especially difficult for Americans to admit that there are problems that will not bend to their energy and ingenuity. Theirs has been the cheerful boast that it takes them only a little longer to do the impossible than the difficult. For almost two centuries Americans have faced whatever the future might offer with buoyant optimism. They were not, after all, children of a “beat generation.” Recognition of insoluble problems was no part of the credo of their ancestors, who conquered poverty and won their freedom by leaving all the past behind to respond to a future bright with hope. With undaunted confidence the early Americans crossed a forbidding ocean and mounted rocky shores to fashion out of an untamed continent the greatest nation the earth has seen.

For decades America was a reassuring image to the world that a man can do anything. Had not Americans defeated a great foreign power to create the first successful democratic government in history? Was not the world’s wealthiest nation hewn from a wilderness? Had it ever lost a war? Were not its contagious idealism and its technological achievements the wonder and admiration of the world? A long history of overcoming difficulties had created a boundless, bouncy optimism, and a hope as long as the future itself.

But if America was once a leader of the world and a power that could shape the future, it is this no more. Optimism has evaporated and bright hope has now faded with the sudden, confidence-shattering realization that man is no longer king. He who thought he was king over the world and its future now knows he is but a man with king-size problems.

Gone today is the liberal faith that earth has no problems man cannot solve. The liberal has always believed in the unlimited possibilities of man, rather than in the Christian idea that all things are possible only with God. Gone is the dream that America can lead the world. Today her very existence depends on her ability now to sail ahead, and now to tack into the political storms of a revolutionary century. Gone is the dream that the United States can make the world safe for democracy; gone too the illusion that an increase of affluence can create a great moral humanitarian society. Not that there ever was any scientific evidence or intellectual basis for the notion that an increase in morality will be the automatic by-product of material prosperity. Nor was there ever any real evidence for the optimistic liberal faith that ignorance is the matrix of evil and that evil can therefore be resolved by universal education. Such faith was a great liberal dream suspended on human aspirations rather than on actual human achievements. While it summoned and fired the best and loftiest aspirations of many men, it remained a dream floated on the hopes of the future rather than a belief grounded in the evidence of the past.

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Gone is the optimism that we can eliminate crime from our streets, and greed and hatred from human hearts. Gone the cheery hope that the future is ours to shape. Indeed, most of us prefer not to think much about the next ten or twenty years, when not only Red China but even smaller nations of more warm-blooded peoples will have nuclear weapons to brandish at their enemies. No matter how much men of good will may try, they can find no evidence to support the assumption that every nation under provocation will be free of the suicidal impulse that is willing in vengeance to include itself in the destruction of mankind. The existing realities of the present combine with the dark possibilities of the future to drain hope from the spirits of men and to leave them with a despairing realization that the world’s problems are bigger than the world can solve. History is now showing what Christianity has long asserted—that man’s most critical problems are greater than he can handle.

Yet there is hope, a hope that nothing can overcome. In the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God himself has come to help. This faith keeps the Christian from the debilitating despair that comes when men’s brightest hopes prove false. The Christian never expected mankind to save itself. Had this ever been possible, God would not have come to help. God would not have come to provide a way out of the present into a future salvation, if mankind had had a way of its own.

Although there are both Christians and non-Christians who believe that man’s greatest problems lie neither in man as an individual nor in man as a corporate unity but in the social structures man has created, the truth is rather that man’s biggest problem, whether seen individually or collectively, is man himself. It is man’s own sin, whether viewed as original or individual, that produces crime, fosters hostility, promotes war, and accounts for the death that comes to every man and to all his political and cultural achievements, even to his idealism. A more liberal and optimistic faith may deny all this; yet the evidence, if not the dreams, is on the side of the Christian claim. None of these results of man’s own evil, not even the shattered dreams of non-Christian hopes projected by an unfounded idealism, is the final word.

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There is hope. There is a hope that cannot be shaken. In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has conquered every evil that man has devised and fulfilled every legitimate human hope. The world’s king-size problems have met their Lord and King in Jesus Christ risen from the dead. He alone is the hope of the world, a hope that has already taken the form of evidence and the substance of reality in the hearts and lives of everyone who has believed in his coming and looks for his reappearing. The world’s only Hope shall return, and a newborn world shall see the triumphs of his justice!

Christ is the hope that may be enjoyed by every man who is willing to admit that his problems are bigger than he is, and who is willing to accept help from the God who came to help.

The future of the world is big with hope, because it contains him who fills its future and determines its destiny. Jesus Christ is he who is, who was, and who is to come; as such he is the world’s true past, its authentic present, and its only future. He came, not that the world might be condemned, but that the world through him might be saved. Therefore the Christian—and he alone—can sing, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” In what others face only with despair, he sees the Lord “trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.” In those events of history that others can view only with hopelessness, he has hope, for he sees in those same events that Christ’s “truth is marching on.”

The Christian has an indomitable hope even in the twentieth century. What others see, if reluctantly, as the finger of history, he sees as the finger of God casting out the demons of this world; and he knows that the rule of God controls the world.

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