The cultural revolution we’re living through is destabilizing and unnerving for everyone. For Christians, the temptation is to fiddle with our orthodoxy or orthopraxy so as to “meet the moment.”
This looks like Christians on the left relativizing dogma in the name of “love,” or Christians on the right using rude language as they #OwnTheLibs in the name of “truth.” Either reaction is just that: reactive, which is sub-Christian.
Christians are a people of hope, a people whose imagination is shaped by the kingdom to come. That’s a theological way to simply say: Christians have perspective. Discipleship is a long obedience in the same direction, as Eugene Peterson reminded us. The arc of history is long, but bent toward justice, as Martin Luther King Jr. observed.
Love God and Neighbor
The church can offer a non-anxious presence to the world. We can offer such a presence by loving God and loving our neighbor, in season and out.
“The pulpit is ever this earth’s foremost part,” we read in Moby-Dick, “all the rest comes in its rear; the pulpit leads the world.” Melville gets it: Christians call the world to react, not the other way around. The present gives us feedback, which we should consider, but the future gives us fuel. It’s easy to get that backward. It’s easy to allow present crises to give us our marching orders, while we grow frustrated that the word of vindication we’ll hear one day remains unspoken today.
Christians call the world to react, not the other way around.
Of course, we want to be like the sons of Issachar who “understood the signs of the time” (1 Chron. 12:32). To serve our neighbors well, we must listen to their questions and truly understand their needs. We don’t need to wear blinders in this age.
Yet we also want to be like John the Baptist, who lived a life unintelligible to his peers but made perfect sense after future events unfolded. When Jesus announced that he was reversing the curse, even the Baptist’s diet began to make sense in hindsight: as he prepared the way for Christ, he ate up and cleared out locusts, the signs of judgment.
Read God’s Plan Backward
Our lives, likewise, should only make sense in hindsight. The Puritan John Flavel observed that one understands God’s plan the same way one reads Hebrew: backward. Holding to a traditional Christian sexual ethic won’t win us the acclaim of the intelligentsia. Kindness is an ineffectual tool for fighting cultural battles.
But the call of Christ isn’t a strategy; it’s a cross. If you wish to follow him, you must pick it up. One day, when we see our little stories from the vantage point of heaven, the suffering will make sense. The sacrifices we were called to make will have been worth it.
We live in the here and now, but we live in light of the soon and coming. “When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off,” Corrie ten Boom taught. “You sit still and trust the engineer.”
Our cultural moment is dark, no doubt, but we must not retrofit our beliefs and behavior such that they “work” in the tunnel.
Our cultural moment is dark, no doubt, but we must not retrofit our beliefs and behavior such that they ‘work’ in the tunnel.
The tunnel is Babylon. This is not our home. We’re a people of light, not darkness. All moments pass, and this cultural moment will too. Let’s stay firm and bold, gentle and warm.
If you sang the songs I did as a kid, Jesus was preparing you for this season. “For the Bible tells me so” really is a sturdy epistemology, and “they will know we are Christians by our love” really is a worthwhile ethic. Christ is a solid rock; all other ground is sinking sand.
And so, don’t throw kindness overboard to save faithfulness, or vice versa. The train of redemption is moving, and you can’t get to the New Jerusalem without some tunnels. The kingdom is here; the kingdom is coming. Sit tight.