Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas and the Gospel

The story of the Gospel begins at the incarnation. Well, really, it begins thousands of years earlier, in the first chapters of Genesis, where the Gospel is promised, ushering in a long period of expectation. But the story of how God actually reached His hand into human history and brought about the salvation of His people really does begin in the manger, when God Himself became man and dwelt at last among us.

This was the moment that, as Paul described, Christ, though one in the same as God, willingly made Himself nothing. He made Himself man. In fact, He made himself into something less than man—He made Himself a slave to all men. He was not born in a home—he was born in a stable. He did not lie on blankets; he lay on a bed of straw. He did not descend to the world, he descended below the world, to a place meant for animals. He did not die as a leader, He died as a common criminal.

Here, while lying on a manger and worshipped as both God and King only by his family and some shepherds, God began his work. The beginnings were humble and unassuming, and, though one might expect the story to turn here into an underdog tale of a scrappy insurgency into the world, in fact the rest of the story does not stray far—a carpenter like His father, an itinerant teacher who happened to have a message bold and new enough to attract a few followers even before the first of the miracles. The rest of the story came and went like a whirlwind: miracles, confrontations with religious aristocracy, crowds, parables, death, resurrection. Three years of ministry followed by two thousand years (and counting) of wonder and further expectation.

Whether or not we choose to believe it at all, the child in the manger proves the pivot on which the axis of history continues to turn. It continues to be more influential than any war or ruler; it is more dramatic than the rising or falling of any great empire. It stands as the event. The foundation of the Gospel of salvation. Neither the most confused skeptic nor the most hardened humanist can deny with any honesty the influence of the event on the history of the world.

But what is this Gospel that began at the incarnation?

It is something that ought to be desired by man. The word itself scream that it is “good news,” and it really ought to be taken that way. Any expression of the Gospel that does not coincide with this fact, but which turns the Gospel into a mournful or condemning one, is nothing less than a false gospel. The Gospel is not a law, it is not a list of rules, it is nothing less than a promise of salvation.

Still, far too often the “good” is neglected in our expression of the Good News, and the Gospel is taken to be something rather to be ashamed of or to be hid from. We think that the imperfections of the world are things that somehow offer evidence against the Gospel, and we turn meek and mild, thinking that in boldness we might come up against questions we cannot answer. We forget that the long, often sordid history of the Christian faith, though indeed embarrassing at times, is a history that confirms rather than contradicts the message of the Gospel—the same Gospel that began on Christmas Day. The winding road of the church only fortifies what the Bible says of the followers of Christ, who three times fell asleep on the night of the arrest of their master and fought amongst themselves about which of them were the greatest. The peculiar shortcomings of the Disciples, culminating in the threefold denial by Peter, amount to perhaps the perfect cross section of the Christian church as it has existed throughout history. As Christians we continue (so it seems) in a perpetual state of either sleep or denial regarding our faith. We are either apathetic or actively antagonistic toward our creator, and I cannot say which is worse.

The shortcomings of Christians, while regrettable, do nothing to diminish the truth of the Gospel. The Bible is in no way silent about the more embarrassing tendencies of the Christian, just as it is painfully candid about the shortcomings of the Jews. The New Testament does not tell the story of a new, perfect movement, destined to take the world by a storm of righteousness. Though Christmas really did mean the birth of the King, and it really did mean the beginning of a Kingdom, the fullness of the Kingdom and the true reign of the King are yet to be experienced in their fullness. The movement that started on Christmas day is now as it was then—a great, even momentous, struggle; we strive to spread the message of the Kingdom despite facing opposition both from within and without. It is an imperfect movement (though based on perfect principles) that, if we are going to be reasonable, really should have died a young, ignoble death long ago.

Christianity really should never have survived past that first Christmas. The name of Jesus Christ really shouldn’t have outlasted the furniture made by His hands. The religious movement He began really ought to have died with Him. And yet, even in those first years and decades the Christ movement was already proclaiming victory. Christianity, even at the moment when it should have been in the throes of death, declared itself to be a force capable of overwhelming the Earth. The conquering nature of the faith was promised long before there were any signs that such a thing was even possible.

Consider this: Right up until the ministry of Christ and the writing of the New Testament, when God finally announced that the message of his salvation was to be taken to the ends of the Earth—the moment he declared that this formerly localized religion was destined to completely overwhelm civilization—this was an unheard of conceit. The very notion of evangelism in the name of religion was practically unheard of. Religions had, until then, been driven by cultural forces—the culture and the people had created the religion rather than the other way around. It was as true in the Mediterranean world, where the gods of Greece, Rome and Egypt all bore an uncanny likeness to the cultures that bore them, as it was in the East, where Hinduism, Buddhism and the like seem almost inevitable. Before Christ, the only culture ever founded upon religion was that of the Jews, and still, these were a people who seemed to do everything they could to shake off the shackles of God and make Him conform to what they found more comfortable—and to their own demise.

The Jews wanted desperately to be like every other Kingdom—the Egyptians, the Romans, the Greeks, the Persians—who were not bound by religion. The people of these other cultures created gods for themselves that strengthened them. There was nothing challenging or burdensome about their manmade gods. We all recognize the truth that the God of Israel can be difficult to follow; He asks hard things from us and often offers no explanations. Who would dare create such a God? And who could possibly convince others to follow such a God, especially when it requires so much? We can see, in retrospect, that following God, though difficult, truly was the best for the people of Israel—for when they turned from Him it only meant disaster—but it is hard, almost impossible to understand this in the moment.

Still, even for the Israelites there was the sense that God belonged to them alone—that He was a God that had confined Himself to a single people. It is even more astonishing, in light of this, that the New Testament should be so presumptuous as to declare that the Gospel would overrun the world. And bear in mind, this claim is being made at the very time that Paul is writing to some of the earliest churches, who should have been quick to believe, being so inundated with first-hand witnesses of Christ, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you,” or from John: “I know of your works, you have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” Who, in light of these letters, in light of the turmoil of the canon debates and the rise of apostasy and Gnosticism and false gospels, could have been confident that such a church could ultimately not just survive, but soar? The early church was many things, but destined to overcome the world it was not.

Indeed, the church could not possibly have succeeded had it been built upon the shoulders of a homely religious leader like Paul or a lowly fisherman who could not hold his tongue like Peter. It could not have been built upon anything other than an absolute, concrete truth. It could not have stood on any shoulders but that of a true King—albeit one born under the lowliest of circumstances. It almost seems that it could not possibly have happened any other way.

The Bible ends with a dramatic prophesy of absolute hope—the revealing of the true, perfect Kingdom over which the Christ Child will reign—but that very same prophesy candidly acknowledges that the church will face tremendous hardships and make many mistakes before this comes about. The Bible ends with what seems to me to be this assurance: If the gospel is anything less than the truth—if the child born on Christmas is anything less than God Himself—rest assured, it will be sent through the fire. It will be purged until only the truth, if there is any truth to be found, will remain. The fires of history have shown that the weaknesses of the faith come in the form of the followers rather than the founder of Christianity. The Bible has withstood the tests of the skeptics, Christ has easily withstood His harshest critics, even when the Christian has failed. There is hope in this.

The history of humanity has always been—indeed, continues to be—a history of waiting for God to come. He came first to the garden and brought both condemnation and hope; He came in the incarnation and brought salvation; He promises to come again to bring the fulfillment of every promise. He came to the garden and Adam hid in his shame. He came to Bethlehem and the King tried to kill him, eventually succeeding. He will come in the end to rescue His people and to conquer and crush His enemies beneath his feet.

The season of Advent represents this time of waiting. It is a time when we ought to reflect upon not just what we are waiting for or who we are waiting for, but how we go about it. How are our lives reflecting our deep anticipation and hope? What roles are we choosing to play in the history of our faith?

If we truly believe the truth of the Gospel that claims itself capable of overtaking the world, why are we so hesitant to take part in this unstoppable force?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

An Advent for All

"The Adoration of the Shepherds" by Gerard von Honthorst, 1622

Peace. Love. Joy. Goodwill.

The meaning of the Christmas story—the ancient and beloved event we call “The Nativity” and the season called “Advent”—is one of such depth and complexity that it can scarcely be summed up by just one or two of those particular words, themes or phrases common in these last days of the year. It is profound and it is complex, and yet we often fall back on a specific and limited vocabulary to describe the atmosphere surrounding this simple, joyous holiday. It seems easy, after all, to associate particular words with this season, as if in those words and their modern meanings may be wrapped up the whole meaning and impact of the Christmas story.

Peace is one such word. It is easy to take the words of the angel chorus to heart and with them define the whole of the Christmas story: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.” One may indeed take great comfort in asserting that the Christmas story is one in which a true peace enters the world through the birth of Christ. As I wrote previously, however, it seems almost equally valid to say that the birth of Christ brought about the very opposite of peace. As Christ Himself said later, He came not to bring peace, but a sword. Brother against brother, parents against children. Siding with Him was siding against the world. The peace proclaimed by the Heavenly Host was quite real at the moment of his birth and it remains very much real today, but it is an eternal peace, rather than a worldly one. At Christmas we celebrate not a real, tangible, worldwide peace—it represents neither an end to war nor to human sin and suffering—but rather the hope and belief that such a peace is both forthcoming and inevitable. As we are reminded so often, and rarely more tragically than the events of this past weekend in Newtown, Connecticut, the peace we are promised has not come in its fullness. The peace of "God with us" remains something that can be and felt and experienced inwardly, but will only be truly understood in time. In that sense, Christmas very much is a holiday of peace, and we can say so with confidence even as we are bombarded by news of pain and suffering in our world.

We might also say (and often do) that this is a holiday of love. Such is a theme (like peace) woven throughout the various Christmas hymns and carols that pervade this season, and indeed it is certainly present in abundance within the Christmas story. So sums up the Apostle John in perhaps that most famous of all passages: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.” Christ was the love of God manifest, of that there can be little doubt. And indeed, among skeptic, pagan, and Christian alike, the season is awash in manifestations of a sort of humanly love that seems eerily absent throughout much of the rest of the year. Call it a product of excess commercialism or of some sort of herd mentality if you wish, but it is both present and visible, though it is only a pale, blurry (yet still beautiful) reflection of the true love of God. People give more to those in need, they find enjoyment in blessing others, their face shines with kindness and mercy… it truly is a season of love.

And what about joy? What about glory? What about salvation? What about the unsurpassable miracle of childbirth or the glorious, inexhaustible beauty of God Incarnate?

There is certainly no shortage of themes within the Christmas story; and it is this very fact that makes the holiday fundamentally unique among all the holidays and traditions of all the religions in the world. In Christmas alone is embodied those features that make Christianity—whether Protestant or Catholic—wholly unique among the world’s religions, for Christianity does not strive to be merely a religion that preaches peace, love and joy; it strives to be the very embodiment and perfection of those things on Earth.

This audacity makes Christianity unique among the world’s religions (more and more as our world loses its absolutes). It is remarkable, but it is rendered even more remarkable at Christmas, when opposites can truly coexist. Christ is love, but following him means that we may be hated. Christ brought peace but the gesture was something very much resembling warmongering. The nativity was joyful, but made the sorrow of Good Friday inevitable. It is the Christmas story wherein every disparate piece of human society is both physically and symbolically brought together to a single location in a single moment. Mary and Joseph, the common, faithful, orthodox Jewish parents are there, of course, along with the fearful working class shepherds and the mystical wise men from the east. These latter individuals, with their peculiar gifts (could they even have realized at the time the dramatic, messianic symbolism of the gold, frankincense and myrrh?), provide perhaps one of the most easily forgotten symbols of Christmas.

To think that a people of such great intellect—scholars, philosophers, mystics, or some combination of all three (as the wise men are believed to be)—could be drawn over such great distances in hopes of satisfying not a spiritual hunger, but a very human curiosity and scholarship, is something worthy of awe. The wise men were drawn by little more than intellectual fascination with a certain celestial aberration and arrived in Jerusalem only to be confronted by the King of Israel himself. After passing whatever test Herod had in store for them, perhaps by some demonstration of the faith of their own nation, they descended on Bethlehem and were at once brought to their knees, worshipping with exceeding joy, being led to true belief in the presence of nothing more than a baby born in the humblest of conditions imaginable. It is here, in this lowly child, that they found precisely what every other philosopher sought but had never dreamed of actually achieving—an all-encompassing philosophy of everything. A true quintessence in which all other thoughts and theories could be enraptured and made whole and complete. To quote Chesterton yet again, the Magi had found the truth: “The philosophy of the Church is universal. The philosophy of the philosophers was not universal. Had Plato and Pythagoras and Aristotle stood for an instant in the light that came out of that little cave, they would have known that their own light was not universal.”

The role-call at that improbable little event, then, is worth noting again and again: There are the parents (and their all-important child), the shepherds, and the Magi, all present at some point somewhere within the vicinity of that first Christmas (though the visit of the Magi might have happened as many as two years later). And then we mustn’t forget that there is the King of Israel himself, who was not physically present at the time of Christ’s birth, but might as well have been, as knowledge of his existence couldn’t have been far from the minds of Mary and Joseph, especially as word from the Magi arrived to them of the monarch’s secret plans. Herod was very much present at the birth, looming over that sorry lot like an evil, infanticide-prone shadow from his palace in Jerusalem.

Those who first embraced the Christ-child for who He truly was formed a diverse lot, unquestionably, but they also had much in common. They shared their devotion to the child, for certain, and they had their desire to know Him—in this alone they might have found sufficient cause for brotherhood, but there is much beyond this. They also share common ground in that, in their striving after the Christ child, they—each in their own way—utterly defied the world’s expectations of them. The father would not be confined to social conventions, but took Mary, whom he had never known, to be his wife. He chose accept (perhaps even gladly) the mockery and exclusion of his caste for the sake of his seemingly-dysfunctional little family. The mother, likewise, bore the brunt of social expectation; gladly, though not by choice. The shepherds, working-class men engaged in their labors, abandoned their flock and, at least for a time, ceased to be shepherds for the sake of seeking the truth found in the words of the heavenly host. The magi, for all of their reason, must have seemed utter fools to cross the face of the earth; to defy a king; and to offer valuable Earthly treasures in exchange for the opportunity to reach out and touch the face of heaven with their own hands.

Only Herod played the expected role, and it was he who was most resoundingly defeated. In fact, it was not only Herod, but all earthly kings and rulers who were defeated by the birth of the king at the incarnation. Just as Malcolm Muggeridge noted that the crown of thorns worn by Jesus at the time of his death proved a mockery to every crown worn by every monarch, past and present, the manger that bore the Christ-child may have seemed lowly, but ultimately proved more grand and more exalted than the greatest of thrones.

The Christmas story, therefore, cannot be summed up merely in saying that it is a time of peace, or of love, or of joy, or of selflessness. Rather, it is a time for something much more, and all of these things echoing words and phrases are merely vague, shadowy manifestations of the truth.

Christmas is a time when scholarship and religion collide and are suddenly found to mesh into one powerfully strong fabric. It is a time when every disparate class of society may be found suddenly and unexpectedly unified; worshiping together in a cave in Bethlehem.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Wars of Christmastime

Christmas for us in Christendom has become one thing, and in one sense even a simple thing. But like all the truths of that tradition, it is in another sense a very complex thing. Its unique note is the simultaneous striking of many notes; of humility, of gaiety, of gratitude, of mystical fear, but also of vigilance and of drama. It is not only an occasion for the peacemakers any more than for the merry makers; there is something defiant in it also; something that makes the abrupt bells at midnight sound like the great guns of a battle that has just been won. All this indescribable thing that we call the Christmas atmosphere only bangs in the air as something like a lingering fragrance or fading vapor from the exultant, explosion of that one hour in the Judean hills nearly two thousand years ago. But the savor is still unmistakable, and it is something too subtle or too solitary to be covered by our use of the word “peace”. By the very nature of the story the rejoicings in the Bethlehem stable were rejoicings in a fortress or an outlaw’s den; properly understood it is not unduly flippant to say they were rejoicing in a dug-out. It is not only true that such a subterranean chamber was a hiding-place from enemies; and that the enemies were already scouring the stony plain that lay above it like a sky. It is not only that the very horse-hoofs of Herod might in that sense have passed like thunder over the sunken head of Christ. It is also that there is in that image a true idea of an outpost, of a piercing through the rock and an entrance into an enemy territory. There is in this buried divinity an idea of undermining the world; of shaking the towers and palaces from below; even as Herod the great king felt that earthquake under him and swayed with his swaying palace.
G.K. Chesterton
“The Everlasting Man”

The Christmas story has long since ceased to appear revolutionary to most of us. So deeply has it become entrenched into every facet of our society that the celebration of Christmas has long lacked the qualities that allowed it to usher in a brand new world in the first place. It has rejected the revolutionary in favor of the redundant.

I fall into this trap just as quickly as the rest, but then I am reminded by wise words such as those above, and I am reminded of the true nature of Christmas. I am reminded that it is an uprising. A revolution. But it is certainly an odd sort of revolution, as it is one fought first by a child rather than an army. It is also a lengthy revolution—two millennia and counting. But strangest of all, it is a revolution whose end was already determined before it was ever initiated. It is a war whose battles we continue to fight—which we are supposed to continue to fight with every ounce of our being—even though it has already been won. I suppose there is some sort of beautiful irony in the fact that our inevitable victory is meant to encourage us to fight on with ever more boldness and vigor. Christmas marks both the beginning and the end of a great struggle in which even the most formidable powers of Earth are brought to their knees in humility; where a child can be born utterly unknown and unrecognized by the world, yet still strike so much fear into the heart of a ruling King that he believes it necessary to take the most drastic measures in order to devour the threat.

Herod must have seemed positively mad from any rational human standpoint to take so seriously the warnings of the Magi that he would take to slaughter infants, yet only with the benefit of hindsight may we look back and make the remarkable claim that despite his intolerably evil act; even in this despicable decision of an altogether vile man trying desperately to cling to his precious Earthly throne; Herod had been right to fear. And even more profound, we know that even in this cruel act Herod had still powerfully underestimated the power and influence of this baby who was being weaned in a lowly cave within his kingdom. He feared for his own power, but he could not have understood that the kingdom this child would establish was far greater than his own, and that he would usurp the throne not just of Israel’s king, but of every king and ruler in all of human history. The kingdom established by the Christ-child would be a kingdom whose soldiers, armed with love and literature rather than swords or spears, would prove far more effective in conquest than any human army, whether of the Babylonians, the Romans, or the Macedonians.

Even so, it seems that Herod, beneath all of his evil, may have understood the meaning of Christmas better than you or I. He could see more clearly the threat posed by the coming of Immanuel, and his actions demonstrated this perfectly.

The incarnation of God was nothing less than a call to arms; it was a call that demanded one to take up sides, either for or against. One kingdom facing off against another. That of Heaven against that of man. Herod chose his side, and he attempted to woo the visiting Magi into his plan, though with all the cunning of double-agents, they brought warning to the King’s enemy instead.

The world continues to fight against the child in the manger, of course, but it does so only in a sort of desperate last gasp—a futile effort to delay the inevitable. It is a war waged against the forces of God and heaven, who wait in patience (as we also are told to do) for the fulfillment of the Kingdom over which Christ is truly King—a kingdom that is all at once here and yet still to come.

It is because of the faith born on that first Christmas day that we fight on; it is because of Christ that we do not cease pressing forward in realization that the battle has been won; we do not shrug in complacency. We press on with ever greater confidence, resting in the warm assurance of our success. Our already victory allows us to endure every trial and every tribulation without fear, and it enables a boldness unknown to the world—a boldness that is of little worth if it is not leveraged to do great things. The man who truly understands Christmas is the man willing to give all in response to it. Just as Herod sacrificed his own humanity along with innocent children in a futile and evil attempt to put an early end to the threat, we also must come to understand the impact of the incarnation enough to embrace our humanity and to protect the humanity of others. If ever there was a season to understand the stark contrast between good and evil, it ought to be this. If ever there was a time to take seriously the desperate needs of our world, it ought to be this.  

Now, in these recent years, there is much that is being said of a “war on Christmas,” and it is with a heavy heart that I notice Christians beginning to cower in fear from the attacks on Christmas celebrations. Christians scream and shout of this great “injustice”—they run and tell their lawmakers in hopes of protecting their poor, fragile God and his holiday. They cower and hide from these dreadful heathens—dangerous non-believers who have come to so completely abhor the holiday that they positively bristle when they see signs that it is being celebrated in public; the same non-believers whose greatest fear is that some poor, weak-minded soul might be blindsided by the hidden, brainwashing messages of the season.

I don’t deny that all of this has been happening, and all the more publically with each passing year, but I feel somewhat alone in finding some encouragement in seeing that Christmas has come under attack. Why should I be anything but encouraged that the enemies of Christ appear to have taken their cue from Herod: they have finally begun to take Christ seriously enough to want to rid the world of him? Christ is his most potent when he is taken seriously, is he not? The message of Christianity is at its most dangerous when it is under attack, is it not?

I don’t deny the humanist his right to attempt to abolish Christmas—truly, if he has any desire to strengthen his own faith he has no choice but to do exactly that. Secularism absolutely cannot thrive in a world where Christmas is taken seriously. I cannot fault the opponent of God when he seeks to put an end to the singing of Christian carols in public schools, for the message of Christ is perhaps most easily understood by those who have not been corrupted by the false wisdom brought by age.

I don’t deny that Christmas is an open attack on secular values or humanist. What I do deny is the notion that Christmas is in any danger of disappearing as a result of the counter-attack, for Christians are no more likely to abandon the celebration of Christmas than Christ was in danger of being discovered by Herod’s minions. The same God whose incarnation we celebrate with this season will see to it that the season survives whatever onslaught the world may devise.

Christmas began under war-like conditions, and perhaps it is still engulfed in the same war after more than two thousand years. But only one side has any reason to be afraid of the outcome. Only one side ought to be shivering in their boots when they consider the vast consequences of the conflict. Christmas is a call to joy; it is a call to giving; it is a call to remembrance; but it is also a call to arms, and we would do best to remember that from time to time.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Truth and the Soul - An Essay on Christian Apologetics

The more I investigate Truth, the more I recognize how difficult the subject has become. I realize now that no philosopher or theorist has really ever been able to offer a decent, comprehensive definition of just what Truth is. There must be a very deep irony somewhere there, Truth being the one measure by which we assess every ideology, every theory, every weight and every measure. “But is it true?” we rightly ask of any important statement, to which one may rightly reply in the manner of Pontius Pilate: “What is truth?” This question should seem strange. The definition of Truth is, superficially at least, almost too simple for words. Need we even search for a definition more definite than: “Truth is the opposite of falsehood”? Or, even simpler and probing even closer to the point, “Truth is that which is”? That which is, is Truth. That which is not, is undoubtedly falsehood. Unfortunately, one simple search into even the shallowest waters of philosophical traditions for a simple, coherent definition of Truth yields a mess of contradiction and confusion. 

The problem is that, by most measurable accounts, there is no one “Truth” that covers the multitude of needs required: There is no one Truth that covers empirical matters, like, “How long is this yardstick?” and more vaporous matters, like, “What are the limits of human knowledge?” There are things measurable, and things immeasurable. There are Truths scientific and Truths epistemological—and thus far it has proven well beyond our capacity to reconcile the two with a single theory or definition. And even beyond this, there are the matters of perception. We have our senses, but then we have Plato’s terribly overused cave analogy tugging at us,[1] asking if we can even trust ourselves. What are we to do with that?

In light of the inability of the greatest scientists and philosophers to come to any coherent conclusion, I present, for your consideration the one source of Truth that humanity has turned to more than any other throughout history: God.

If there is to be one Truth to cover the multitude of life’s possibilities, it must be an infinite Truth; if it is to cover the sheer diversity of man’s questions and doubts, some of which lie far outside the realm of knowability, it must exist in the form of a being at once knowable and unknowable.  If we are to reconcile all of science and all of philosophy and all of mathematics and all of human emotion and all of art into a single embodiment of Truth, it can have no name other than “I Am.” To accept that anything else might be broad enough to span this impossible chasm is almost laughable.

You may accept God or deny Him, but if I was to be asked for an answer concerning the dilemma of a universal, all-encompassing Truth, this is the best I have been able to come up with. Surely it is the closest humanity has ever come to an answer. And I would arrive at my answer far quicker than the fruits of centuries of philosophical and scientific labor, and I would know it with far more certainty. In fact, more than two thousand years of searching in both science and philosophy have so far turned up only greater certainty that there can be no such universal answer to the universe’s many questions. Like a particle in quantum mechanics, the closer we look at Truth, the hazier and more impossible it seems. It is only tangible in the abstract, and there is something absurd about that.

I mention all of this not because I think that the human desire for Truth necessarily proves the existence of God, but because the search for Truth is the beginning of Christian apologetics. It absolutely must be. It is the one question that I have continually fallen back on as I have explored the various questions regarding what it means to know and believe in God. God is Truth; all Truth is found in God and nothing True may be apart from Him. To apologize for something is to offer a defense; and while I think God perfectly capable of mounting his own defense against the insignificant litigations of man, I believe that I am also called, perhaps more as an exercise for my own heart and mind than as any true benefit to my Creator, to offer my own response to the challenges of skeptics. To strengthen my faith by allowing it to be tested. I hope to acknowledge the arguments of the world in order that I might more boldly stand against them. God may in fact use me, though I must never be so vain as to think that he needs me. If God exists, He is more than capable of withstanding the petty attacks from His own creation. If He does not exist, of course, His foundations will crumble under the weight of argument—and good riddance.

I, for one, have found the former to be consistently and demonstrably true, and though I have lately surrounded myself with the words of the foremost skeptics of the age, I find myself growing daily less concerned by the possibility of the latter.

Before I can even begin to offer my own apology, however, I want to take a moment and comment on some of the things that I don’t consider valuable in terms of apologetics. I don’t, for instance, consider that an ultimate, perfect, unassailable case may be made for the existence of God; I don’t believe that faith can (or should) be circumvented. Though the skeptic may immediately point to this as a weakness of the Christian argument, I will only say “so be it.” I gladly admit that, while God does find ways of showing himself through His creation, no one piece nor accumulation of pieces of creation will ever offer empirical proof of His existence. At some point faith must include a leap into what is believed but unproven, and anyone who says differently has either never understood the meaning of faith or has never understood what it takes to turn evidence into fact.

Too many apologists, I think, have attempted to prove God by extraordinary weight of evidence; lists of evidence after evidence, as a public defender making a case for his client. Even Thomas Aquinas attempted this in his Summa Theologica, offering five proofs for the existence of God, each of them making clever use of traditional logical arguments (i.e. “Nothing can exist without a creator; we exist, therefore, we have a creator”), all of which have long since passed from regular use, as they are easily dispensed with by resorting to scientific uncertainty.

Besides these, there are a few more arguments that are frequently made that I will equally try to avoid here. Among them:

1)      The Argument from Morality
2)      The Argument from Meaning
3)      The Argument from Life After Death

Now, I cannot possibly say that any of these arguments are entirely without value. Many have offered evidence that true morality must come from God; that without God life has no meaning or hope; that the decision to follow Him or not will reap our eternal reward. And by doing so the hearts of the hearer may even be pricked. There is benefit here, and I would never suggest that these ideas be dispensed of entirely. What I am saying is that if one’s purpose is to provide evidence of God’s existence to a mind already skeptical, then short of the miraculous intervention of God in the heart of man, these ideas are all-too-easily countered.

These arguments are each based on an idealistic notion of how things ought to be. To believe in these things is to truly hope that God does exist—and it is clear that it can be none other than God that put these desires uniquely into the hearts of man in the first place. Certainly, without God it is difficult to argue for the existence of an objective moral law, and therefore it would be wonderful if there was a good, supreme God who could provide one. Each of us hopes that this life might hold some meaning beyond the toil and turmoil of this Earth, and in our hearts we all know the hope of a life beyond this one, and therefore we either truly hope that there is a God to offer us this life after death. Our desire for meaning, morality, and eternal life offer not a proof of God, but a hope for God. A longing for God, or at least something like Him. It is difficult to argue for any of these without acknowledgement of the divine, but none of these, either alone or together, should lead one to truly believe that there must be a God.

So what are we left with? Absent God, we have neither morals nor meaning nor hope nor an eternal destination for souls (nor, for that matter, do we have souls at all); at least, we have none of these in any absolute, objective sense. But still we have not proven God. We have merely shown that it would be beneficial to us if God should exist. Even our “secular” society seems to understand this. Despite feverish protests, we still honor the halls of some courthouses with the Ten Commandments for, absent God, where does the law come from? The commandments remain out of necessity, for a transcendent law-giver must be acknowledged, even if only passively, by some words etched in granite by forgotten craftsman. We know, somewhere in our hearts, that should we tear them down we would be left to our own devices to assemble some sort of coherent “Law of Man.” God help us!

All I can truly say is this: Thanks be to God that He does, in fact, exist (proven or not), bringing each of these beloved realities to the hearts and souls of men.

The honest apologist must both understand and acknowledge that God will never be scientifically proven. He will remain (as he has derisively been called) a “God in the gaps”—an entity that exists where human knowledge is lacking. But what have we to fear from that? We mustn’t ever be foolish enough to believe that these “gaps” in human knowledge have narrowed even a hair’s breadth, even during these industrious times. More often than not, the pursuit of science has only widened our gaze, bringing to light ever more consequential questions—new gaps and new opportunities for God. We may have recently spent billions of dollars to dig a massive hole in Switzerland in hopes of coming to terms with nature at its smallest, but what have we truly built for ourselves but a pitch-perfect negative of the Tower of Babel, this time descending into the depths of the Earth rather than the heights of heaven (yet still dramatically failing to reach God). Though opposed by a vocal few, God’s work among and through his people continues to grow, even among a people who know only the language of science (which was once simple Latin, but then devolved into some mess of calculus and symbolism that would make an Egyptologist blush) and the dialect of reason-at-all-costs. His popularity and influence continue to grow despite the desperate voices of the humanists who proclaim, as has been proclaimed often in the century following Nietzsche, that “God is Dead”. Nietzsche, to his credit, believed that we simply hadn’t realized it yet, and that as human progress continued, we would soon come to recognize and acknowledge our independence from the divine. We stand now, after some of the most tumultuous, testing decades the world has yet seen—two world wars, a depression, atomic bombs, economic booms followed by busts, along with an almost supernatural advancement in technology that has surely hurt as much as it has helped—and yet the death of God seems to have drawn no closer. Even in an America that is best defined by indifference, Churches continue to grow. The faith spreads even faster in the third world, where the reaction to the gospel is often violence. Beyond all reason, beyond all science, beyond all logic, God’s footprints are still seen treading the Earth, as He first did the garden.

Though most often presented as a matter of the mind—a matter of logic and reason— apologetics must find its truest, deepest expression in the heart. Too often this Truth is lost on the loudest voices speaking on behalf of God (whether or not He requested it of them). The apologist must first acknowledge that the growth of the Jesus-sect, the Christian cult, The Way, takes place only when truly rational minds choose to make a truly irrational decision. It happens when hearts of flesh and blood are somehow transformed into spiritual organs of grace and Truth; a phenomenon unexplained by science and subject to no experiment of flesh and blood.

The academic arguments for God must necessarily acknowledge a point of impotence. The bludgeon of logic can only tenderize the modern mind so much—it alone will never result in any true spiritual commitment. The apologist must tread a line—though a somewhat hazy line—between arguments of the mind and the wordless groans of the spirit. Prayer and compassion must be allowed to intermingle with science and philosophy. Too often even the most noble apologist may neglect the Holy Spirit—one in the same being as the God he is trying to prove!

I am left with this final assertion, and I cannot say it boldly enough: One who argues for God should truly believe in God. There are some who will simply not be reached, either by intellectual arguments or by the fruit of the Spirit. They will be left perpetually unimpressed by Christian assertions that either their scientific principles or their ethics are lacking; they will care nothing of our good works or kindness. If we ourselves do not believe—truly believe—that even these souls are able to be won over by the supreme, omnipotent, perfect God we claim to argue for, then why should they believe us? Apologetics starts with faith, and from there the Truth (that is, God) will be made known.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy sums up the confused state of secular philosophy when it declares that it would be “impossible to survey all there is to say about truth in any coherent way...” In response I offer only this: “I am the way, the Truth, and the life...”

In the essays to come I hope only to show the depths to which I truly believe this to be true, and the profound effect this Truth can and does have on the human soul.

[1] I say that it is too well known not because it is not interesting, or even that it is not clever, but simply because it seems to hold far too much weight in first-year philosophy classrooms, where the entire intention is to encourage a belief in the impossibility of a student ever knowing the Truth. If the purpose of a lesson is nothing craftier than an upheaval of certainty, than the Cave Analogy is a great place to start. I, for one, am weary of hearing Philosophy 101 students explain to me, with absolute certainty, just how little we can actually understand about our own perception. The Cave Analogy simply makes a person too superficially philosophical, and thus insufferable.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Worship of the Skeptic

In today’s politically-correct and eagerly-offended world, much is made of names. What we choose to call ourselves reveals a great deal about who we are and what we believe, and what we choose to call others reveals perhaps even more. Though it is rare that I find myself concerned about such trivial things as names, I admit that I have given a fair amount of thought to what name I give to those who oppose what I believe.

More often than not I tend to call them skeptics, and I do so with great purpose and forethought. I use it as a broad brush with which to paint the wide swath of humanity that has not yet tasted the fruits of Christendom and have no hope in the Kingdom of God. I imagine that it includes the whole panoply of straying and stumbling individuals, from the man whose credulity toward modern science allows him to suffer the first real searing pangs of doubt, loosening his grip upon the faith he once professed so proudly, to the most fervent denier and despiser of the faith (or any faith). I use it—though it may be terribly inadequate—to describe those who are not complacent in merely disbelieving, but who refuse to sit idly by and allow others to bask in the freedom of faith—the anti-evangelist. Everything from the quiet, peaceful hesitancy of the struggling parishioner to the shrill battle cry of the militant God-hater. These are the skeptics.

But perhaps the one word is insufficient. Others choose to divide the skeptics into the agnostic and atheist schools—one is wary of God, the other disbelieves entirely. The former is okay, as there are some who are very genuinely uncertain, but I want to be adamant in asserting that I will no longer (unless, as right now, the situation demands it) use the word ‘atheist.’ I won’t use the word because I really don’t believe in such a creature. I think that the word itself presents a contradiction. Or, rather, I believe in the atheist, but in much the same sense that some might believe in unicorns. It seems possible, in theory, that some genetic malformation might result in a horned horse (though what evolutionary advantage such a modification might allow is difficult to imagine—certainly survival-of-the-fittest would quickly take care of such an abomination), just as the same might produce a man who truly knew no god, but it does not seem very likely.

Though the atheist is a mythical creature, the term remains in somewhat regular use, but I think it’s telling that even the disbelievers have progressively shied away from the word. It is difficult to say just what sort of politically correct reasons might be behind it (though I suspect that there is a decided pretentiousness about it), but a careful search of skeptical literature reveals a decided shift toward a preference for “secular humanist”. Secular humanist websites, secular humanist books, secular humanist churches (believe it or not).

This evolution of nomenclature among the skeptics has almost certainly not come about for the same reasons that I have discontinued use of the word, but I like to believe that there might have been some subconscious revelation. Atheist, taken literally, means to be “without god,” and though I readily admit that the humanist is a person who emphatically opposes the idea of god, and who rejects the truth and influence of religion, it can scarcely be said that to deny God is the same thing as to be without God.

Man is never—can never be—without God. The atheist is not a creature who has somehow found a way to throw off the shackles of his own nature, he has simply found some clever ways of disguising it.

Run from him though we may, man is incapable of fully rejecting his own nature, which is a nature of worship. We exist—and exist solely—to give glory. This very simple truth may be discovered not from a careful reading of the Bible, but from even a cursory examination of humanity.

Man is a creature created to worship.

To deny God is not to destroy God. Truth cannot be destroyed—it cannot even be damaged by disbelief.

The worshipfulness of man may not be directed toward God—it may, in fact, be intentionally directed away from Him—but it will never cease. It will never so much as wane. Worship is the one truly universal value; every man, whether theist or humanist, has his chosen (or default) object of worship. To many it is the worship of the self, as in the case of the humanist, who is at least somewhat honest about it. The humanist is a man who has divorced himself from the negativity of atheism for the much more accurate union with the self-worship of humanism. The humanist cannot deny that he needs an object for his worship, so he naturally chooses himself. He is not an atheist. He is not without god; he has readily embraced the god of man.

What seems to me the clearest and sanest objection to skepticism is this: One may stray from God, but in doing so one is inevitably straying toward something else. Man cannot escape this need to hold something up as supreme; to seek it with all his heart, soul and mind. The tragedy of skepticism is that almost inevitably this non-God object of worship is either man himself or something made by man. But has there ever been a creature less desiring of worship than man? Has there ever been a deity less worthy of glorification than a man-made object? At least the Romans, Norse, Greeks and Egyptians seemed to understand their own limitations enough to create mythology to direct their worship—even a false god seems preferable to a man-made one.

The truth of this is written in the tendencies of our hearts, but it has also played out over the course of history: Why did the Israelites flirt so regularly with rejecting God in their Exodus from Egypt? They did so because they refused to be led by a God who sought to lead them, and desired a new god who could be led. It is telling that they did not refuse to believe in God outright; they did not rebel by rejecting god and taking up atheism. They started no “death of god” movements and they raised up no altars to science or reason with the promise of being freed them from the very idea of God. They did not become atheists, they became idolaters. They would not be led by God, but in their humanness they sought to somehow regain control of their own lives. They turned to statues of gold; not that they believed there to be any deity within the statues themselves, but because they thought that if God could be made to dwell within a physical object, they might finally force deity to align itself with their interests rather than His. God may order them to one place or another, but their idol could be carried wherever they decided to go—and of course it led to their own enslavement and eventual destruction.

The idolatry of the Old Testament seems somewhat foreign and archaic to us today. Though this very literal idolatry may still be prevalent in some cultures today, our worship rarely takes on the form of bowing or praying to an inanimate object. Our tendencies are the same, but our gods have come to look a little different. We may think curiously of the Pentateuch when it speaks of “household gods,” but certainly even ancient Palestine, even the cities of Canaan, could not have dreamed of the menagerie of gods cluttering the homes and cities of the 21st century. Our devotion to the things we hold dear—whether it is our lives, our money, our fame, or our things—is absolutely a form of worship, but a form of worship that absolutely pales in comparison to true worship.

True worship demands a true God. Worship that is worthwhile demands an object of worship that will not disappoint; an object that continually lives up to the glory that is ascribed to it. The scientist may find his worship in the mysteries of the universe, but how much more worthy is the One who set it all in motion? The materialist may worship money and possessions, but how much more worthy is the One who promises the eternal riches of glory? The humanist may worship man, but how much more worthy is the one man who was also God?

It is perhaps appropriate to seek to better understand the glories of the universe, and there is nothing outwardly wrong with hoping for a comfortable or successful life, but it is cold and empty and meaningless to believe that from any of this will come anything more satisfying than another way of passing time in a pointless life before a pointless death—a death that remains just as certain as it ever has, despite centuries of medical idolatry, the miracle of plastic surgery, and the unraveling of the genome. This is not an insignificant point—the life of man has remained the most consistent variable in the lives of man through his history. All will die, either to the nothingness of the skeptics, or the eternal reward or damnation believed by the Christian.

In the end, according to Kierkegaard, “There is only one proof that the eternal exists: Faith in it.” And faith in God arises most clearly and most definitely once the faith in all things less than God have proven their ill-worth. Only when the idols have proven their insignificance. Only when the humanist has lost his faith in humanity; when the materialist realizes that there is no hope in materials. Only then will the skeptic’s skepticism begin to crack and he will perhaps become open to a truer object of worship.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Reflections on a Changing World

What have I learned from the events of these past days? How is one to respond to disappointment. I admit that I suffered the first waves of despair over the choices made by our nation last night. I admit that I entertained momentary thoughts of a doomed nation and a declining national ethic. I admit that I caught myself believing the worst of the path we've chosen for ourselves.

But in less than a day I have come to a number of revelations, and I cannot help but find deep, lasting solace in the present state of things.

I've come to realize, perhaps most importantly, that when your world seems to turn against all that you truly believe, you can respond in either despair or joy, both of which arise naturally, depending on the condition of one's heart. Despair wells up far too quickly within the heart of the one who believes that man must save himself. The one who believes that our fate rests in politicians or the laws of man is a man who feels the most at home in the depths of despair.

I felt the first inklings of despair last night, but I am happy to say that I quickly found a greater and more lasting home in joy. I eagerly attest that it was no other but the hand of God that led me to write last week on the prevailing power of the Kingdom of God over the kingdoms of men, with absolutely no forethought of how those thoughts might prove relevant so very soon within my own heart.

I am eternally grateful to have been reminded by the events of this week that no earthly King or President, no matter how righteous or intelligent, will ever bring us any closer to the Kingdom of God, and no earthly King or President, no matter how foolish or malicious or corrupt, will ever stem the progress of the hope that comes from the true Gospel of the Kingdom. An election may have positive or negative consequences, but an election is not the Good News.

And in a way, I can even find reason to be grateful for my present disappointments, for if my chosen candidates had emerged victorious, if the initiatives of my state had passed or failed as I desired, I would certainly find myself as guilty as those who are pleased with last night's results—I would find myself acting against all that I have come to believe, holding out hope that a man or man-made measure could somehow turn the tide of history and bring real peace to the world and real, lasting prosperity to my nation or my world. Those who believe that the present rulers will bring about peace have truly never understood the nature of men; those who believe that somehow we might have turned the tide of man if the other side had won are similarly deluded. I might have hoped for a different outcome for the temporary relief it might have signaled; I might have enjoyed the freedoms it would have offered, but I ought to know better than to fall into despair. I ought to be far quicker to remember to be thankful for a Gospel that does not depend upon the power of man to fix his own problems.

How can I be so quick to fall into despair when I see the petty bickering of politicians; the filth of mud being slung back and forth; the perpetration of terrible, slanderous lies? How can I fall into despair when I know that it is all just a reminder of the truth of the Gospel? Man cannot save himself, and the world itself offers continual, unceasing evidence as to the truth of that statement. How can anyone open their eyes, looking either to the past or to the present, and find hope in man’s attempts to save himself? What sort of madness is that?

True, a bit of comfort and a bit of hope for our nation’s health may have been sacrificed yesterday, but what worth are the idols of comfort and nationalism when compared to the indescribable glory of a true Kingdom, built and ruled by a true and worthy King?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Kingdom of God

(The following is intended as a companion to my first post. Together they form a sort of introduction. If you have not read The Modern Mind, I recommend doing so first)

Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come!
Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, oustretched caressingly?
‘Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest me.’
                                                -Francis Thompson

Though I wrote condescendingly, and perhaps somewhat bitterly, of the Modern Mind, and though it may come across that I have somewhat fallen into a spirit of pessimism toward my fellow man, I intend this as a sort of other hand. On the one hand, The Modern Mind has been a destructive, even paralyzing force in every age in which it has arisen. On the other hand, the Kingdom of God is the perfect antidote to this destruction, and it is a relevant topic in any and every age.

I do not intend to write only in the negative. Though it is easy to wax on about the reasons a person might find for despair, at some point even the most ardent cynic becomes disingenuous in his criticisms of society. One must try very hard to be an absolute pessimist; and it is all the more difficult when discussing a topic of such joy as The Kingdom of God—a topic that really ought to be returned to more often in Christian Literature, for here is the point where the apologist may be transformed into a poet. It is a point in which a man used to playing the defendant is transformed into a man who is no longer offering excuses and alibis, but is instead offering a perfect, beautiful vision of the freedom and joy available to every man.  

While discussing the Modern Mind in the future I may spend time defending what others view as the weaknesses of the faith, but this is not my ideal; the ideal is to turn every topic to this beautiful, perfect vision, for in discussing the Kingdom of God one is inevitably extolling the greatest strengths of Christianity. And anyone who has tasted that glorious sweetness will readily assert that, in light of its strengths, the apparent weaknesses of the Christian sect grow almost invisible.

The thing that is most often forgotten about The Kingdom of God is that it is not just something to look forward to. It is not merely a fanciful way of saying “Heaven.” It is not merely a vision of a thing that is to come; it is, in a sense that can be difficult to understand by those who are unaware, very much a present reality. It is a both something to be fervently sought and yet something already obtainable. It is already and it is not yet.

That, in some respects, this long-awaited Kingdom is already available to us becomes particularly important when observed in light of man’s persistent attempts to dispense with God and to build such a kingdom for himself. The story of humanity since the time of Christ is the story of a people with no knowledge of architecture attempting, again and again, to construct a tower reaching into the heavens. Their wasted effort is especially tragic, of course, because it is being constructed directly beside a tower already completed. Man’s tower is a crippled, reeling edifice of mud and straw, unable to support its own weight; a poor, pathetic imitation of the perfect tower. The building of man either grows too tall and collapses under its own weight, or it is destroyed by other men, who believe their own blueprints to be superior. Either way, the building is continually toppled and almost without hesitation, the work is begun again, as if an important lesson has been learned.

Throughout these centuries of futility, the tower of God’s Kingdom has stood, entirely unaffected by the tragicomedy in the adjacent lot. The tower of the Kingdom of God is unshakable, built of hardened steel, fortified with a foundation of concrete that will never be unearthed.

The history of man’s attempts apart from the Kingdom of God is, to put it bluntly, a history of failure.
No one writes more perfectly of this rarely-noticed phenomenon than a man who witnesses the phenomenon up close. One such man is Malcolm Muggeridge, who must be quoted at length:

“We look back on history and what do we see? Empires rising and falling, revolutions and counter revolutions, wealth accumulating and wealth disbursed, one nation dominant and then another. Shakespeare speaks of “the rise and fall of great ones that ebb and flow with the moon.” In one lifetime I have seen my fellow countrymen ruling over a quarter of the world, the great majority of them convinced, in the words of what is still a favourite song, that “God who’s made the mighty would make them mightier yet.” I’ve heard a crazed, cracked Austrian proclaim to the world the establishment of a German Reich that would last for a thousand years; an Italian clown announce that he would restart the calendar to begin with his own assumption of power; a murderous Georgian brigand in the Kremlin acclaimed by the intellectual elite of the Western world as wiser than Solomon, more enlightened than Asoka, more humane than Marcus Aurelius. I’ve seen America wealthier and in terms of weaponry more powerful than all the rest of the world put together, so that Americans, had they so wished, could have outdone an Alexander or a Julius Caesar in the range and scale of their conquests. All in one little lifetime. All gone with the wind. England now part of an island off the coast of Europe and threatened with dismemberment and bankruptcy. Hitler and Mussolini dead and remembered only in infamy. Stalin a forbidden name in the regime he helped to found and dominated for some three decades. America haunted by fears of running out of the precious fluid that keeps the motorways roaring and the smog settling, with troubled memories of a disastrous campaign in Vietnam and of the great victory of the Don Quixotes of the media when they charged the windmills of Watergate.”

One may readily refuse to believe in the existence of God—one may fight him tooth and nail, denying, decrying, defaming both the Creator and His Kingdom—but if there is to be one thing that is impossible to deny—one clear point of agreement between the theists and non-theists and anti-theists—it must certainly be this: man, despite his best efforts, has not yet obtained his goal of a perfect, just and peaceful society. Perhaps we can even agree that the one force that has ultimately stymied man every step of the way in his efforts is himself. Nations (when not self-destructing) are destroyed by other nations; Presidents and kings fall from grace because of their own impotence or indiscretions; Emperors are more often killed by their own when they are not gallivanting around without clothes. Man, it should be undeniable, has only himself to blame.

But our efforts have been great: Perhaps we came close to something important in the days of the Russian Revolution, when the overthrow of the bourgeoisie gave way to the rulership of the proletariat and the rise of a true communist utopia. Little could we have predicted that the proletariat, being human, would prove just as prone to dictatorship as the bourgeoisie. Perhaps we were even closer with the laissez faire doctrines of the roaring 1920’s, when the economy of the United States saw unparalleled growth, absent the intrusion of Government. Little could we have known that the hand of man, whether greedy or power-thirsty or simply idiotic, would turn the greatest upturn into the greatest depression within a single decade.

It is the utter lunacy of the Modern Mind that even in accepting this much—in acknowledging the hand of man in his own perpetual downslide—there remains a real hope that man may overcome the thousands of years of history that readily demonstrate otherwise. It is a madness known only to man that he thinks himself singularly worthy of besting his fellow men, whether in his political theories or the cleverness of his maneuverings.

I believe that anyone looking honestly at the history of the world must recognize the truth of this, and in so doing, one must be led either to an admission of hopelessness regarding the fate of mankind, or to a desire to find some Kingdom outside of man in which to place our hopes.

If this still seems too cynical, just wait! Muggeridge beautifully resolves the tension of his own observations:

“In Christian terms, such hopes and fears are equally beside the point. As Christians we know that here we have no continuing city, that crowns roll in the dust and every earthly kingdom must sometime flounder, whereas we acknowledge a king men did not crown and cannot dethrone, as we are citizens of a city of God they did not build and cannot destroy. Thus the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, living in a society as depraved and dissolute as ours. Their games, like our television, specialized in spectacles of violence and eroticism. Paul exhorted them to be stedfast, unmovable, always abounding in God’s work, to concern themselves with the things that are unseen, for the things which are seen are temporal but the things which are not seen are eternal. It was in the breakdown of Rome that Christendom was born. Now in the breakdown of Christendom there are the same requirements and the same possibilities to eschew the fantasy of a disintegrating world and seek the reality of what is not seen and eternal, the reality of Christ.”

I find it encouraging that the Kingdom of God was not created recently, that it was not fabricated in response to the continued hopelessness of man’s failed conquests. It does not respond to man’s inability, it predicts man’s inability. The message of The Kingdom arose at the very height of the Roman Empire, just as man was undertaking perhaps his greatest attempt at unifying the Earth under a single throne. The message of the Kingdom first arose just at the point when man had perhaps the least need for it. Christ demanded that both Heaven and Earth would pass away before his message, but he did so at a time when it seemed inconceivable that even the Roman Empire would ever pass away! And this same message has remained the one consistent hope of man, surviving the sackings of Rome, the watering-down and politicizing of Christianity under Constantine, the horrors of the Crusades and the Inquisitions, the Mongols and the Mohammetans. The message of the Kingdom of God, which really ought to form the foundation of all sects of Christianity—surpassing all false gospels of morals and methods—is a message that has survived precisely because man has so utterly failed. The cross remains an enduring symbol precisely because man continues to fail to live up to the standard of the man who died upon its beams.

The good news of the Kingdom of God is that man is no longer compelled to create a kingdom for himself. He is no longer compelled to instigate his own salvation by way of fame or wealth. He is no longer distressed when he looks at the world and sees that everyone is just as lost as him. This is the aspect of the Kingdom that is here already—the only true freedom offered to man, surpassing all Earthly slavery. The message is that we may live as free men, unburdened by the eternal weight of his own soul. This freedom—a freedom more perfect than any known to man—is the great gift of the already Kingdom.

The aspect of the Kingdom that is still to come is the thing that is worth giving up all simply to seek. The Kingdom to come is the pearl of great price and the treasure hidden in a field, for the sake of which a man might give up all he has and never be disappointed in his reward. The Kingdom of now is but a shadow of the Kingdom that is to come, but one must lead to the other. The “already” Kingdom culminates in the “not yet” kingdom. One makes life worth living in the present; the other offers something to hope for in the future.

“Let us rejoice,” Muggeridge concludes his own discussion of The Kingdom, “that we see around us on every hand the decay of the institutions and instruments of power, see intimations of empires falling to pieces, money in total disarray, dictators and parliamentarians alike nonplussed by the confusion and conflicts which encompass them. For it is precisely when every earthly hope has been explored and found wanting, when every possibility of help from earthly sources has been sought and is not forthcoming, when every recourse this world offers, moral as well as material, has been explored to no effect, when in the shivering cold the last stick has been thrown on the fire and in the gathering darkness every glimmer of light has finally flickered out, it’s then that Christ’s hand reaches out shire and firm. Then Christ’s words bring their inexpressible comfort, then his light shines brightest, abolishing the darkness forever. So, finding in everything only deception and nothingness, the soul is constrained to have recourse to God himself and to rest content with him.”