We have good reason to remain hopeful:
Some of you will recall a major theme of a book penned back in 1946: Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. It has to do with his experience as a prisoner in German concentration camps. He argued that those who had a sense of meaning and purpose – and thus hope – were better equipped to survive in these horrific camps.
Yes, hope is crucial. The Christian faith of course is built on hope. We know that as the world grows ever darker, God is still at work. The psalmist could put it this way:
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God. (Psalm 42:11)
The writer to the Hebrews said this: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). Paul put it this way: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13). And we have the blessed hope: the promise of Christ’s return (Titus 2:13).
Hope is what keeps us going. But of course it is hope in Christ, not hope in ourselves or in our surroundings. As the popular song states, “Because he lives, I can face tomorrow.” And that is true even in our most difficult and desperate periods.
One key figure in recent times would have had reason to despair and give up hope. But he kept going, despite a shaky start. He went from the Marines to the White House to prison to a remarkable global Christian ministry. I refer to Chuck Colson (1931-2012). Those not familiar with his amazing story will find it discussed here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2012/04/22/notable-christians-charles-colson/
In this piece I want to quote from something he wrote over a dozen years ago. It is still well worth revisiting. The book is this: The Sky Is Not Falling (Worthy Publishing, 2011). It is a collection of his columns he had penned for Christianity Today over the years. But the Introduction is still of great value, so here I will present most of it. What follows then is what he wrote, almost in its entirety:
On all sides I hear battle-weary Christians talk about abandoning cultural engagement and tending our own backyard instead. Like other leaders in Christian ministries, I know the most effective fundraising is to screech that the sky is falling, but we should resist that temptation. We should inspire hope.
The most compelling reason for hope comes from looking beyond any current election at deeper, long-term historical trends. The twentieth century was the age of ideology, of the great “isms”: communism, socialism, nazism, liberalism, humanism, scientism. Everywhere, ideologues nursed visions of creating the ideal society by some utopian scheme. Whether by revolution or racial purity or scientific technology, these True Believers set out to build a modern Tower of Babel, reaching to the heavens (metaphorically, since most were aggressively secular).
The attitude was captured in the film Titanic, when a passenger glances proudly at the ship and declares, “Even God himself could not sink it.”
Other idols have sunk just as surely, if not as quickly. Nazism was forever disgraced by the horrors of its concentration camps. The Soviet Union crumbled with the Berlin Wall. Around the globe formerly socialist nations have eagerly lined up to establish free economies. Liberalism, while still powerful, has lost its luster: American politicians eschew the label. Even science often seems a Frankenstein’s monster turning on its creators.
This was the most significant fact at the end of the twentieth century: all the major ideological constructions had failed, tossed on the ash heap of history. For all were based on the same underlying theme: liberate the individual from the oppression of family, church, and local custom, and he would be autonomous and free. But today it is clear that weakening the marital bonds of family, church, and neighborhood does not lead to freedom but to alienation, loneliness, disorder, and crime – and even to the rise of the totalitarian state.
The dream of autonomy has turned into a nightmare of chaos and coercion. Today the tide is turning as Americans grow desperate for the security found in the moral bonds of family and community.
The only remaining “ism” is postmodernism, which is not an ideology but a repudiation of all ideologies. Its relativism is the admission that every attempt to construct a comprehensive, utopian worldview has failed. It is a formalized expression of despair.
Only one compelling claim to transcendent truth remains, one secure hope: Christianity. The church has stood unshaken through the ebb and flow of two millennia. It has survived both the barbarian invasions of the Middle Ages and the intellectual assaults of the modern era. Its solid walls rise up above the ruins littered across the intellectual landscape.
This moment, when the culture at large is facing the bankruptcy of its systems, is the worst possible time for Christians to despair. On the contrary, it is time for us to blow trumpets and fly the flag high. To desert the field of battle now would be historical blindness, betraying our heritage just when we have the greatest opportunity we may ever face. This is the time to make a compelling case that Christianity offers the only rational and realistic hope for both personal redemption and social renewal.
This is not a Pollyanna vision of our culture which ignores the depth of our cultural, governmental, economic, and ethical problems or pretends they are not real and serious. They are appallingly real and deadly serious. And if they are not checked, the sky will fall. Our culture will collapse as surely as that of ancient Israel when they turned away from the protective and life-sustaining principles of God. But collapse is far from inevitable because the church has in its purpose, worldview, ethos, and mission everything needed to turn culture around.
He concludes by saying that the church has the answers to the problems that beset us and surround us. His final sentences are these: “Never has it been more important for Christians to remain engaged in the task of cultural renewal—to stay at our posts. And if we are steadfast, we have no reason to fear that shards of the wild blue yonder will come crashing down on our heads.”
Of course if Colson were still around today, he would see that things have indeed gotten so much worse in so many ways – at least here in the West. But for him – and for us – that should be all the more reason to keep hope alive. As long as God sits on the throne (which will forever be the case), there is still hope.
While we work for cultural, social and political change, as part of our calling to be salt and light, there will always be setbacks and disappointments. But we must persevere. Colson certainly did. He could have abandoned all hope while languishing in prison after the Watergate affair.
But he did not. His new-found faith propelled him into full-time service for the Lord, and as a result millions of people around the world have been impacted by the man and his ministry. We need to seek to do the same, by God’s grace. So keep on going. The sky is not falling, and Christ still reigns.