Living in the New Dark Ages
JANUARY 6, 2021
I’m writing this in November on the Sunday after the election.
This morning my pastor reminded me that 160 million people disagreed with me. Actually, I’m sure there are more . . . but at least that many. I hadn’t thought of it that way. Frankly, I really don’t understand it given that I’m quite sure they’re wrong and I’m right. Now that I think about it, that’s true in other areas too. There are 7.8 billion people in the world and, while Christians are far and away the largest religious group, we make up only 31.2% of the total world population. So while millions disagree with my political views, billions don’t buy into my theological or religious views either.
That’s a lot of people.
That’s bad. Yes, in a way it is, but it’s good too!
A number of years ago (1989) my late friend, Charles Colson, wrote a book, Against the Night: Living in the New Dark Ages. When I first read that book, I thought it was a bit over the top and his case was somewhat overstated. I repent. Chuck was a prophet and saw it long before many of us did. In the book, he describes the death of Western Culture (the “new dark ages”) where the dark engulfs almost all of the institutions that are “glue” in society—politics, church, family life, and education. During the original Dark Ages (another name for the Middle Ages), Christians decided to hunker down and, once the dark lifted, to emerge with the light they had preserved. While Chuck didn’t advocate that, I do (at least sort of), but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Before we get started, I want you to know that this isn’t a political statement. My political views are, of course, wise, insightful, and correct (more than yours J), but for the entirety of the ministry God has given me over the years, Jesus won’t let me share those views. That’s quite irritating. I get to vote here, but not there. There isn’t an election going on in the heavenly council. Our King wasn’t elected and he will never be deposed. That doesn’t mean I don’t get to say what I think before the throne, but I get the feeling that God isn’t nearly as impressed with my political views as I am.
Let me say something that isn’t controversial—or shouldn’t be for any Christian, no matter where he or she stands politically. The rapid social, political, and cultural changes we’ve all experienced in the last few years is not only disconcerting, it’s dark . . . really dark. I won’t take the time and space here to talk about the obvious—a soaring suicide rate, out of control drug addiction, families divided and destroyed, abuse, sex trafficking, hatred, the darkness of social media, political loathing, the cancel culture, evil called good, good called evil, academic/elitist cultural bias, blindness, shallowness, selfishness, violence, etc. If you don’t get that, nothing I say will change your mind and, if you do, nothing more needs to be said.
The question before the house is: what are Christians to do?
First, Christians need to repent. And that is always in order. Repentance should be the easiest and most important thing, marking who we are. Paul wrote that there isn’t a single righteous person anywhere (Romans 3:10). Self-righteousness is not only blind to reality; she and her ugly sister, condemnation, are destructive to everything important in our nation. If there is one thing that marks our culture, it’s that. When biblical views of sin, repentance, forgiveness, and mercy are no longer acceptable, there is only one option . . . self-righteousness. I’m obviously right and you’re wrong. I run with the “cool kids” and you don’t. You’re evil and I’m good. That makes hatred an asset and that’s scary.
I think I told you about one of my former students who, in a sermon preached after another presidential election, said, “All across this nation there are Christians dancing in the aisles of their churches and celebrating. And in other churches, there are Christians who are depressed and down. I have a message for both. Repent! All of you have a higher opinion of politicians than you ought to have and a far lower opinion of God than you should.” Good point on repentance, but it should go far deeper than that. Repentance is a recognition that starts with me. As Luther said, “I’m a great sinner and I have a great Savior.” It starts with a regular and consistent prayer: “Lord, I can’t think of a single thing in my life that isn’t tainted by ego, self-interest, and selfishness. I have nothing to bring to you whereby I might commend myself in your presence.”
But Steve, they don’t give a rip about our repentance.
I know, and I’ll get to that. Stay with me.
Second, during the “new dark ages,” it’s important that truth be demonstrated, if not in the culture, then in the family of God. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). They may not like what they see, and they may make fun of it and dismiss it as naïve; but, if they take the time to look, they will know. If they look, they should find Christians worshipping the true God and doing what Christians have always done, clinging to the verities that we’ve always clung to, and never compromising the truths God revealed to us about “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, [and] whatever is commendable” (Philippians 4:8). It’s what Christians did under Rome and Nero, and what Christians all over the world do now as they face unrelenting persecution and even death. In his final and quite effective sermon, Joshua said that he didn’t know what others would do, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).
In a text our daughter Jennifer sent following the election, she pointed out that after King Darius issued a decree to execute anyone who prayed to anyone other than the king, Daniel continued to do what he always did, “got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously” (Daniel 6:10). In other words, Daniel told those who threatened him that he didn’t care what happened. He just did what he always did.
In Matthew 8, Jesus talked about the cost of following him, and some made excuses. One person asked for time to attend to a family funeral, and Jesus responded, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead.” Given that dead people have trouble digging graves, Jesus was saying something else important: “Do what you do and don’t let all the other things, as bad as they are, keep you awake at night. Do what you can when you can, and let the devil take the hindmost.” Jesus probably wouldn’t put it that way, but that’s what he meant. (When I asked Jesus, he said, “Close enough.”) Do you remember when Peter asked for specifics about John? On that occasion, Jesus said to Peter, “What is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:22).
That works for me.
And then one other thing. What I’ve written sounds like a checklist of the right things to do, no matter what. It’s not. Frankly, we’re all so needy, neurotic, and sinful, that we hardly ever do it all right. In politics, it’s hard to keep from being upset and even angry if your folks lost; and, if they won, it’s hard not to gloat. Add to that a pandemic and these stupid masks, and Jesus will cut slack. He does, you know.
If we do as much as we can when we can, it will be enough. There will come a time when a lot of people won’t be able to see in the dark anymore. In fact, it’ll be so bad that they’ll look for answers in places they had once dismissed. Thirsty people are driven to look for water, and hungry ones for food. Just so, meaningless, guilt, fear, and a restless heart will look, as Augustine said, “to find rest in Thee.”
When that happens, we’ll still be here doing what we’ve always done. “We’re glad that you came,” we’ll say. “We were expecting you.”
As Paul said to the Philippians about shining like stars in a “crooked and twisted generation” (Philippians 2:15), we will shine just by following after him as best we can. We won’t do it perfectly, but he will make up for the lack.
Besides that, when it gets dark enough, even a little light will do.
He told me to remind you.