Every leader today labors under a profound sense of guilt. The demands are so incessant and the uncertainties ahead so imponderable that he lives all the time with the crushing feeling that he is leaving many things undone and frittering away his energy in trivialities.

Parents are not sure how their children will turn out; university administrators cannot guarantee that a dark spirit will not suddenly sweep across the ranks of faculty and students alike; business leaders plan with confidence, but always with the debilitating feeling that something uncanny could suddenly turn up and upset all their planning; thinkers are bombarded from every side by a babel of tongues; scientists cannot keep up with what is happening in their narrowest fields, let alone in adjacent domains; statesmen, in a world shrunk into the closest neighborhood, can hardly adjust to the multiplicity of events and the suddenness with which they pop up everywhere. The result is the feeling that—as the psalmist put it—“all the foundations of the earth are out of course” (Ps. 82:5). There is a sense of helplessness, of inadequacy, of fatalism, of giving up.

The challenge is simply too great. Man was not made to face so much. There is no correspondence between man’s capacity and the magnitude of the challenge. We simply cannot do justice to everything. Man is weighed today and found utterly wanting. And when we make a selection, or when a selection is forced upon us, we smart at what we left out. It haunts us the rest of our lives. Since injustice is inevitable, since we cannot help disregarding many, many things, our conscience becomes stricken, and the soul wilts under the consciousness of guilt. We appear to assume responsibility for the entire world. But since this is impossible, we either become callous, closing our eyes and just forgetting, and using certain manipulations of our body and mind to help us forget and not see, looking upon our anxiety as something pathological and treating it accordingly; or we reach out for God.

Blessed is the man, then, who listens to this: “Come unto me, all ye that labor 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” (Matt. 11:28–30). I say, blessed is he who not only listens to this but who listens and acts and believes—and indeed persists in acting and believing, despite the devil and despite his sins.

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There is a real living being above man. This is what Paul told the smug Athenians. This being oversees all. I can communicate with him on my knees. He deigns to listen to me and restore me and help me stand on my feet. He deigns to give meaning and certainty to my life in my utter loneliness and despair. When I go wrong—which, alas, I often do—there is such a thing as real repentance, even unto seven times a day. And so I often find myself shouting: “Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with loving kindness and tender mercies; who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Ps. 103:1–5). What I cannot attend to because of my limitations I trustingly leave in his care. This is his world, not mine. Let him worry about it, then. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. I will do my best, but my very best taken ten times over is still miserably deficient.

Where is this God? Just there, so that all I have to do to tap him is to use the trick of praying on my knees? No, he is in the fellowship of his saints. He is in the Church. From within the Church, the suffering and struggling Church, the praying Church, the Church which is “earnestly [contending] for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3), the Church of our fathers and ancestors, the Church on the basis of whose hope our fathers slept in the Lord—from within the fellowship of the living, existing, struggling Church, with all that this fellowship entails in responsibility and discipline and participation and identification and hard work and perpetual persecution by the world, I obtain the necessary illumination and strength. Just as only from within the community of the faithful was David able to say what he said, so from within the Church I can repeat what David said with perfect understanding, and can say even more. God does not mock us, nor can we mock him. This given, struggling, hoping, continuing Church, out there in the world, right here in our midst, cannot be a joke. How much everything clears up in our confused minds as soon as we see this simple point.

This overseeing, forgiving, upholding, strengthening God would be a necessity today even if he had never revealed himself in the past. How can miserable man today cope with the immense complexities and burdens of his life without him? Impossible. We only deceive ourselves when we proudly think we can carry on alone. There are far worse wildernesses today than the wilderness of old. What about the wilderness of politics? What about the jungle of the international situation? What about the maze of the sciences? What about the infinite abundance of goods—all luring, beckoning, stimulating, exciting? What about those devastating forces unleashed of late in the dark recesses of the human heart? No, there is no dearth of jungles and wildernesses in the world today. The terror of them far exceeds the terror of the wilderness of old.

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Therefore thank God that he exists! Thank God we are told: “I am the LORD thy God.… Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exod. 20:2, 3). Thank God we are assured: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). Thank God we are promised: “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20). We are delivered these things, we do not invent them; we are told them from the outside, we do not whisper them to ourselves in the dark. The living, independent church believes and confesses them, and those across the ages who heard them and believes them and understood them and therefore became themselves the people of God not only were granted victory over the devil and all his works, but were made to partake, each in his own way and each according to his own measure, of the creative life of God himself.

Shall He Find Faith?

The ultimate battle today is not in any worldly sphere—not economic and social justice, or political stability, or the progress of mankind, or international peace and concord or helping the underdeveloped to stand on their feet, or the vitalization of education, or the coordination of the sciences, or the proper guidance of youth. These are all highly important areas, but the ultimate battleground is in none of them. “When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (John 18:8). This is the ultimate question, today and always.

God works through those who have real living faith in him—he uses them mightily. People grumble and complain; scratch the surface and you will find it is because they have no faith. They are then afraid, dead scared, and that is why they grumble and complain. It is one thing to be dissatisfied with yourself or with the state of the world in faith; it is totally another to be dissatisfied without faith. He who knows Jesus Christ is dissatisfied with the world and with himself because he is profoundly satisfied in Christ. He knows why he is dissatisfied; the others don’t. From his satisfaction he obtains the living means, in humility, of understanding and overcoming—if such be the will of God—all dissatisfaction. And if he does not succeed, that is not going to ruin his faith; he will try to see in his failure some hidden wisdom that may be withheld from him for the time being. He knows that underneath the failure there is a higher justice. And so he will praise God all the same; he will continue to love him and trust him.

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There is fear and there is a sense of shame. People are intimidated—they are simply afraid to witness. The climate, they say, is not “congenial.” But, pray tell me, when was it more “congenial”? Then people either are not sure of what they believe or for some reason are ashamed of it. One is afraid that in the end people really believe nothing, not even themselves—and here again we see that it is at bottom a question of faith. The unconvinced will never convince. This is the sad, sad tragedy today. There is no greater spiritual certainty than what is in fact available, and yet people have weakened their hold on it. It is one thing not to wait to offend, and another to have nothing to offend with. It is one thing not to want to cast your pearls before swine; it is another thing to have no pearls to cast. We need men who know, men who believe, men who love, men who are not afraid.

You in this country can provide such men. But you must rise above two besetting temptations—your political complexes and your creature comforts. Politics, in all its forms, is noble and necessary, but it could kill the soul, and if you win the whole world and lose your soul, you know you have won nothing. The lure of power and control that politics holds out could kill the soul. Rise up, then, to the level of the independent, free, creative, joyful, certain spirit. If need be, sacrifice everything for that. And as for these creature comforts, I beg you to use them without becoming their slaves. Teach us all how to use them without becoming their slaves. America must mean—America can mean—much more than the highest standard of material well-being.

There is no effective leadership without God, the real God, the living God, the non-sentimental God, the God of our fathers. Can we, bewildered and overwhelmed by the challenges facing us, achieve the ecstatic position of God? Can we see things—all things: ourselves, others, and the world—from that perspective? And, having seen them, can we then gain the power, according to our office and according to our capacity, to do the will of God for ourselves and the world? I believe we can, provided we believe and provided we repent. “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:14, 15). Without repentance, nothing is possible; with repentance, nothing is impossible. Without repentance, we shall only move, in both our personal and our national lives, from one mess to another; with repentance, we shall advance towards a goal, both in our personal lives and in the lives of the nations. It is never too late to repent, even if we have fallen a million times, even if we have been captive to the evil one all our lives. And whatever repentance means, it does not mean that we have become angels, never again to be tempted, never again to fall—in fact, angels themselves are tempted and some have fallen. Repentance means that we are genuinely sorry for our sins, that we hate ourselves on account of them, that we acknowledge our utter dependence on God, and that we realize there is no health in us save what he graciously imparts. Repentance is the cry of Paul in Romans 7: “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Man’s victory is only God’s victory; he can do nothing more than, in absolute fear and trembling, thank him for it.

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Leaders want to make sure that everything is perfect. That is a form of pride. To be sure, we should always do our best; but having done that, we should still say, “We are unprofitable servants” (Luke 17:10). Leaders must therefore relax. If we are never happy until we have made sure the world is perfect, then I am afraid we shall never we happy. What a snare it is for leaders to want to go down in history as having achieved this and having achieved that! Leave all that to God. The whole point of true religion is to proclaim the possibility of happiness even amidst imperfection, to insist on the possibility of victory even in the teeth of defeat, to prove that where sin abounded, grace did much more abound, to impart real freedom even under the most impossible conditions, to teach men to take the world after all with a certain sense of humor; and having done that, to demonstrate that it is only from the point of view of this happiness, this victory, this grace, this freedom, this sense of humor, that real change can be brought about—change not just from one state to another, both states being more or less on the same plane, but change from one order of being to another. But, this is a happiness and a victory and a grace and a freedom and a sense of humor quite different from what the world knows or seeks or expects. It is under this mandate that the Church carries on its work in the world, quietly and unobtrusively.

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Leaders need the quiet and certainty of God; they need his distance and his detachment. We are not going to live twice. We have only one chance—but what a chance to know and be in God! I doubt not that others have their own way of making sure of God, of securing his distance and detachment, his stillness, his victory, his truth. But to me the way is Jesus Christ, whom I see everywhere in history, before he came, when he came, and after he came, whom I know very well in the Church and in my own life, and who said of himself, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

It is presumptuous to tell a man in a position of responsibility what to do; he alone is responsible. And yet we are always advising our leaders what to do and what not to do. Often advisers change their minds completely when they become responsible leaders themselves; this is most instructive. History is the product of responsible decision and not of advice, and when we become deciders ourselves we see what we never saw and feel what we never felt when we only advised. Advice could well be at times the expression of envy—our secret craving to be leaders ourselves. It is clear, then, that a primary virtue in this whole question of leadership is to have the utmost respect for those in position of responsibility—not to judge them too severely, but to sympathize with and pray for them. This is the meaning of the apostolic maxim that all-authority ultimately derives from God.

The Need for Fellowship

And yet the leaders need fellowship; they need not be altogether lonely. Surely they alone finally come to a decision and take full responsibility for it, but it makes all the difference in the world for them whether they took their decisions from within the warmth of a loving and loyal and trusting fellowship. The confidence of friends is most important to a leader. The endless electronic and other devices are wonderful and necessary—to order the data, to master the profusion of factors and things, to save labor, to save time so one can keep abreast of the breathless acceleration of events. But they alone can never decide. There is nothing that replaces the quiet moment of loving fellowship in which the whole in its essential features is surveyed and considered and taken in. We are absolutely meant to be living members of one another. But there must be a transcendent principle of unity or else the fellowship will sooner or later break up: the fellows will develop such hardened egoisms that they will cease to be living and sustaining members of one another.

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Leaders can lead magnificently through fellowship under a transcendent principle. Because the transcendent principle in this case of non-Christian fellowship is not itself living, that is, because it is always some idea—the interest of the nation, the interest of the party, the interest of the revolution, the interest of this or that leader—and because the essence of this idea, as Augustine would say, is self-love, non-Christian fellowship, and therefore non-Christian leadership, will always sooner or later disintegrate. And Christian leadership itself will disintegrate to the extent it has been dechristianized and is living away from living closeness to Jesus Christ and his living body, the Church. When that happens, there is no difference between Christian and non-Christian leadership.

In real Christian fellowship, the transcendent principle of the ecclesia is Jesus Christ, “which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive” (Acts 25:19), and the very essence of this principle is love. It is this living love, having overcome both death and self, that cements the Christian ecclesia into the most creative and enduring fellowship. For “charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away” (1 Cor. 13:8–10). And of course “that which is perfect” is always, by every count, in every respect, according to every measure, living love.

Milton D. Hunnex is professor and head of the department of philosophy at Willamette University, Salem, Oregon. He received the B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of Redlands and the Ph.D. in the Inter-collegiate Program in Graduate Studies, Claremont, California. He is author of “Philosophies and Philosophers.”

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