We are mostly blind to the darkness that is all around us:
I was recently asked to talk about where we are at as a culture with 250 prayer warriors on a zoom meeting. I said the following: ‘I am an old guy, so I have witnessed three phases in the West. When I was born, we could speak of the Christian West. It later became a post-Christian West. Today we seem to have become an anti-Christian West.’
I mentioned that it is quite easy to see the cultural and spiritual decline all around us – that is, if our eyes are open and you do not have ideological blinders on. One simply needs to read the daily newspaper headlines to see what is happening.
Others agree. The fifth volume (of eight volumes) of expository sermons on the book of Ephesians by Martyn Lloyd-Jones is called Darkness and Light. I like what he has to say in his discussion of Eph. 5:8-13. He writes:
The monstrosities that man has produced are not God’s production at all. So the Apostle talks of this as the works of darkness. It is something mechanical, something which is organised. Perhaps we see this today more clearly than mankind has ever seen it before. The newspapers of today are becoming more and more the finest commentary that I know of on the Bible. In them we see the utter artificiality of the life lived in darkness. There is nothing real there at all, but something has been erected and put up; it is all man’s work, man makes it. And so life goes on, and it is called civilisation. But the Bible calls it ‘the works of darkness’!
This is how we are to understand the bigger picture. A very brief and broad-brush summary of the last two millennia would go something like this: ‘Paganism and darkness abounded. Then Christianity came along and gradually overcame and replaced that paganism with truth and light. Now we are seeing a new paganism taking over, as Christianity steadily erodes in the West.’
So that is our state of play. That is where we are at if we make use of our spiritual GPS. That is the condition we now find ourselves in. Things have gone full circle. Sure, as I often point out, God is not finished with planet earth, and we see the church growing and thriving in many parts of the non-Western world. Christianity is flourishing in much of Africa, Latin America and Asia.
But things in the West are looking very bleak indeed. As I keep saying, we will not be blind-sided or deceived if we are regular students of two vital books: the book of history and the book of Scripture. Studying these two will help us see clearly what is going on. It will help us see why we are in such a mess today.
We live in a topsy-turvy world. There has been a massive reversal of fortune. All the good that God has intended for us has been rejected, with evil put in its place. Virtue is swapped for vice, and vice for virtue. Consider just three key Old Testament texts which speak to this very matter:
Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20)
“Is it not for you to know justice?—
you who hate the good and love the evil.” (Micah 3:1-2)
You have wearied the Lord with your words. But you say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them.” Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?” (Malachi 2:17)
What Yahweh said through these three prophets to ancient Israel would be just as appropriate to the West today. We have rejected what is right and true and embraced what is wrong and false. And we wonder why things are going down the tubes so quickly.
And the New Testament also speaks of how we have managed to turn everything upside down. Just one text from Paul will suffice here. Consider what he said in Romans 1:21-25:
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
This is hardcore. As but one example of this, consider the headline of an article by Brendan O’Neill in today’s Weekend Australian: “Iranians stand up for women, the West erases them.” He opens his piece as follows;
“In the West, progressives fight for the right of men to be treated as women. In Iran they fight for the right of women to be treated as human beings. This wildest of culture clashes – between a West that has lost the moral plot and Iranian protesters who are driven by the truest of moral convictions – has been thrown into sharp relief during the past week.”
The problems we face today are very serious indeed. They are very deep down and stubbornly entrenched. Superficial remedies will not help. Mere band aids will not heal anything. Serious work needs to be done to fix what ails us. Until we admit the depth and seriousness of the problems, and accept the need for radical surgery, our condition will simply get worse.
And the Old Testament prophets spoke to that reality as well. Jeremiah spoke about this at various times. As we read in both Jer. 6:14 and Jer. 8:11: “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.”
This has often been the case with Christians. By failing to comprehend the enormity and urgency of the problems we face, they have no or little reason to look for a genuine cure. At best they offer cosmetic and useless remedies to something that requires very deep and thorough surgery. The most urgent need of course is to get right with God through Christ. But we also have massive social and cultural problems that need to be attended to as well.
But those who warn about the need of facing our problems head-on and dealing with them realistically are usually mocked and ignored. It happened for example in the 1930s in Germany. Some Christians were aware of the magnitude of the problem and were desperately trying to sound the alarm, but most Christians scoffed at them or refused to listen.
Things are just the same today. Indeed, one American author who knows all about this is worth quoting from. Eric Metaxas has already penned an important biography on Bonhoeffer. In his newest book he applies the lessons learned (or forgotten) from there to the situation in the US today.
In Letter to the American Church he warns not just American believers but all Western Christians of the dangers we now face, and the need for a radical response. Waking up to the threats all around us is a good place to begin – and then start speaking out. As he says early on in the book:
The German Church of the 1930s was silent in the face of evil; but can there be any question whether the American Church of our own time is guilty of the same silence? Because of this, I am compelled to speak out, and to say what—only by God’s grace—I might say to make plain where we find ourselves at this moment, at our own unavoidably crucial crossroads in history.
Believers today, like German Christians of last century, are largely ignorant and spiritually blind to what is happening. He goes on to say this:
They could not believe that the Nazis were devotedly anti-Christian—and that they were essentially atheist and pagan tribalists working to eventually obliterate the Christian Church. In mostly willful ignorance of these things, they blithely went along with the general mood of the time, feeling that was the safest course. Many churches hung Nazi banners and flags outside their churches, and even inside their sanctuaries. It was a small but significant departure from the idea of displaying the German flag, which any German Church happily would have done before this time. But healthy patriotism was no longer enough, so hanging the swastika—what was called the ‘Crooked Cross’—may be seen as the virtue-signaling of that time. It may also be plausibly compared to when well-meaning churches today display rainbow banners or BLM flags. Most of them “know not what they do” and are only trying to show solidarity with those they have deemed somehow disenfranchised. They only wish to show that they are not like those other rigid and narrow-minded churches, that they are inclusive, and generally mean no harm. They don’t seem to know that the forces behind those banners are only smiling at them in order to deceive them; as soon as they have the cultural and political power they will show their dedicatedly atheist colors, and will show very clearly what they think of such quaint Christian virtues as mercy and humility and love of one’s enemies. This is too painful for many to imagine, so they simply look away and denounce those who would point such things out. At present they are gaily riding on the back of a tiger, and all seems well enough.
I hope to do a full book review of this important volume in the days ahead, so stay tuned. But the point is, most folks are blind to the situation they now find themselves in. And that includes far too many Christians. We need to get out our spiritual GPS and put it to work. Without it we are lost – big time.