“And that’s the way it is,” states Walter Cronkite on his CBS newscast. Time bears him out, as do Newsweek and U. S. News and World Report. All over, things are not very good. It is a time of riot and revolt, a time of lawlessness, danger, and confusion. Bob Hope dubs it a pressure-cooker world. Max Lerner terms it the age of overkill. Billy Graham thinks it is a world aflame.
It is a time when there arise in the Church strange prophets with strange theological assumptions. We have a Robinsonian “morality.” The Secular City suggests we delete the name of God from our vocabulary. We are advised by the “process” theologians that God has not yet grown up. The dcath-of-God thinkers would conduct Deity’s funeral. Despair, deep as that emanating from some French existentialist, beclouds portions of the clergy.
Against the gloom gleam the neon-faces of the imperturbable optimists. Bright whistles scratch the darkness. “If the world is not getting better,” says a church chief, “then God has failed.” Panglossian pundits appear, certain that “this is the best of all possible worlds.”
Between the prophets of hopelessness and the Pollyanna-optimists are the Christian realists. Like Isaiah they face up to the fact that “darkness covers the earth, and a black cloud shrouds the nations.” But challenging the night is the prophecy of dawn: “Yet the Eternal shines out upon you, his splendor on you gleams” (Isa. 60:2, Moffat).
Life in the time of Jesus might have afforded ore for the irony-mills of Time and Eric Severeid. That period was not aglow with hopefulness. Jesus did not minimize the evils of his day. He might have agreed with Browning that God’s in his heaven, but he would have balked at the poet’s announcement that all was right with the world. He observed with level eyes tyranny, greed, inhumanity, irreverence, and stupidity. He knew that hope was like a candle wrestling with a high wind. Yet to his disciples, thrust into a troubled world, he said, “Let not your heart be troubled: you believe in God!” When strife was common he said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27, RSV). When sorrow assaulted his followers he said, “You will be joyful, and no one shall rob you of your joy” (John 16:22, NEB).
The quill of the Apostle Paul is charged with bright expectancy. Facing the stubborn trinity of life’s oppositions—evil, agony, and death—he writes, as if in a thundering finale to a symphony of triumph, “Thanks be to God, who gives the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57, RSV).
Take up the Book; face away, for a moment, from the prophets of despair in our tormented time. We are offered something better than a daily involvement with the tyranny of materialism and a nihilistic future: something better than going heavy-footed to church on Sunday and, an hour later, being trapped for another week in secular slavery. We are offered more than the dog-eat-dog happenings of our Babylonish world; more than being rolled endlessly in the backwash from oceanic cynicism; more than being forever entertained by the clatterings of mean and little things.
The evangelical Christian is involved in a history in which God is also involved; he is not overburdened with existential, cosmic loneliness. He is confident that God makes more and finer history than ever man makes; that He, in our troubled time, is sifting history, even when his judgments are disturbing. He is certain that God’s goodness is permanent, his love everlasting. His nature does not change, nor do his principles and demands. Only his grace can renew our staggering, deep-wounded world. His promise is still valid: “I will not leave you alone in the world.” There is a Spirit—creative, judicious, compassionate, redemptive—walking our time-waves as Jesus walked the tornado-tossed Galilee.
The believer sees, beyond eschatological siftings and apocalyptic transitions, the enthronement of God’s rule. “He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law” (Isa. 42:4). The Christian is not overawed by mankind’s myriad doings, nor hopelessly dismayed by man’s bent toward wrong; he has, through the Word of truth, a preview of cosmic forces thrusting life toward God’s kingdom. Confident in Christ in the present, he claims the future for him also.
In a way that unbelievers cannot comprehend, the believer grasps the prayer Jesus prayed to the Father on that long-ago road to Calvary: “I pray thee, not to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are strangers in the world, as I am. Consecrate them by the truth; thy Word is truth” (John 17:15–17, NEB). The Christian, in the world, not of the world, senses that modern minds with their new moralities, new theologies, and new philosophies only emphasize mankind’s emptiness and its need for a divine vitality. He is unswayed by the secularistic theologians, the “process” philosophers, the death-of-God thinkers. He believes Hosea had the proper formula for spiritual and moral renewal: “It is time to seek the Lord, till he come and rain righteousness upon you” (Hos. 10:12). He does not trust in his own ways nor in the multitude of mighty men. He is not trying to save the world in the same way the world is trying to save itself. He realizes that his motivation must be from Christ, his dynamic from the living Spirit of truth. He concurs with Paul: “It is far on in the night; day is near. Let us therefore throw off the deeds of darkness and put on our armour as soldiers of the light. Let us behave with decency as befits the day …” (Rom. 13:12, 13, NEB).
“Darkness covers the earth,” said the seer. Mr. Cronkite might respond: “And that’s the way it is.” We can imagine some brittle rejoinder from Time. But the prophet flips the coin. “The Eternal shines out upon you!” There is still God. There is Christ, the eternal Spirit, the living Word. And because of this, hope runs like an inextinguishable fire through all history and leaps to a climactic blaze before the throne of God. In the Bible, Christians are people who cannot finally lose! Reading it we might be tempted to paraphrase the words of Karl Marx: “Christians of the world, arise! You have nothing to lose but your despair!”
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