Because of the unique polarity that is created in the world by orthodox Christianity, I have always looked at the world a bit askance. I don’t trust it – I suppose I never have. Which, of course, is one half of the Two Kingdoms – the world being the Left, Eternity with Christ being the Right. That the Left is of sin and degradation and death, is no surprise – since it is ruled by the satan, and his evil is the law in this world.
I don’t need to go to the great Christian philosophers to verify that one, but merely Luther’s quip (paraphrased from the Large Catechism on the Lord’s Supper) “Let the world know you are a Christian, and the devil and the world will beat a path to your door to take it away from you!” To anyone having been there – you know it is as true as the day is long. As an aside, I consider Luther one of the finest Christian philosophers, primarily because he based his “philosophy” on the right and proper understanding of Scripture and theology going back to the Church Fathers and the Apostles themselves.
But as you read the LC on the Lord’s Supper, a number of things become quite clear. While the world and culture languish in their ignorance of evil or even rank denial of evil (unless, of course, some special group or cultural plan is threatened!). Luther saw the threat of evil from a very sober perspective. Christ had indeed redeemed mankind (though not all believe), but the world’s redemption will begin at the Parousia. Until then, the satan rules this world – it is his until then, and throughout that whole Lord’s Supper section of the Large Catechism, Luther alternates between how strong the power of evil is that the satan wields, and how very much in need of the Sacrament we are! He is alerting us to the reality that only with “Christ in us” as happens in the Eucharist, can we have even a ray of hope fighting of the satan, his wiles, and his pure evil!
But – we must look at the world – and consider all of what we see. For no matter what any of us says about ourselves personally in the world, the world has much to say about you. And unless you’re hiding out in some remote cave with a ton of survivor food kits and pirated wi-fi (and even all of that may not be enough!), you will have to deal with what is happening in the world. Thinking we can somehow avoid any of that, is foolish.
The “short-hand” many Christians use is that they are in the world, but not “of it.” Now, of course I fully agree with the “not of.” We are pilgrims, making our way to our Heavenly home. It is a literal journey, not one imagined or figurative. Of course there is always someone there with furrowed brow and down-turned features reminding us we must follow “the straight and narrow.” That is all well and good as an ideal, in its proper context, of course. But as I look back on the road I have traveled to this point in time and in the Faith – it looks more like an obstacle course zig-zagging all over the map, combined with a demolition derby – the result being large dents and dings and occasional stalling out outright!
I have come to realize that as I am now entering my “later years” – the Lord offers two gifts that would serve well even a much younger person than myself. Some might think I might count moderation on my short list – but let the devil take the hindmost on that one! I shall retain my fierce intensities until my Guardian Angel grabs my arm and yanks me outta here!
No, I speak to the two things that I have come to welcome as very dear friends – somehow able to curb my wilder intensities, and likewise, cause me to chill out at the time it seems others and running about hither and yon, losing their heads. They are not grand secrets – I could have had them much earlier from the Hand of the Lord had I merely asked. I never thought to ask. He has let me traverse the obstacles and demolitions in my life to find my way there/here when best for me.
The first is retrospection – the ability to look calmly and objectively back at my past, and despite many face-palms about certain times, to be thankful I can now wax philosophically about my many sins and errancies and crashes and very near-misses, and also, the Lord’s grace in Christ always drawing me out of the “china-shop laying in ruins” around me at many times and especially – now able to understand the full nature of my concupiscence, and my need for Confession and Absolution and the Eucharist.
The other gift is introspection. Not merely the ability to see clearly how I think and why, and how I approach the world and life and the Faith – warts and all – but the gift of God to be able to laugh at myself honestly, and heartily. I always remember the fierce words of the Lord –
“Who are you, O man?!”
Those are sobering words to a man of conscience. They also have couched within them, as do all words of a good Father, His love for me. His words bring the side-benefit of introspection – perspective – as in remembering I am the “created” – not the Creator. It’s good, fatherly advice to be ignored at one’s own peril.
Having said all of that, I was going somewhere with it. It appears, from all angles, that satan has stepped on the figurative gas-pedal, and we are now rushing at a speed formerly unknown, to God only knows where, and sure to end in a horrific crash. It is at this point, as I see all manner of contradictory responses to it all by the world, that I go to my earlier statement about Luther’s sober perspective. It is really no different than the observation by Chesterton in his magnificent book – Orthodoxy:
“It is easy to be a madman: it is easy to be a heretic. It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one’s own.”
In fact, the entire piece from which that snippet of wisdom cometh, is worth repeating:
“People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. It was sanity: and to be sane is more dramatic than to be mad. It was the equilibrium of a man behind madly rushing horses, seeming to stoop this way and to sway that, yet in every attitude having the grace of statuary and the accuracy of arithmetic. The Church in its early days went fierce and fast with any warhorse; yet it is utterly unhistoric to say that she merely went mad along one idea, like a vulgar fanaticism. She swerved to left and right, so exactly as to avoid enormous obstacles. She left on one hand the huge bulk of Arianism, buttressed by all the worldly powers to make Christianity too worldly. The next instant she was swerving to avoid an orientalism, which would have made it too unworldly. The orthodox Church never took the tame course or accepted the conventions; the orthodox Church was never respectable. It would have been easier to have accepted the earthly power of the Arians. It would have been easy, in the Calvinistic seventeenth century, to fall into the bottomless pit of predestination. It is easy to be a madman: it is easy to be a heretic. It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one’s own. It is always easy to be a modernist; as it is easy to be a snob. To have fallen into any of those open traps of error and exaggeration which fashion after fashion and sect after sect set along the historic path of Christendom — that would indeed have been simple. It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect.”
(“The Paradoxes of Christianity” by G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy 1908)
So what about the “signs of the times” that so many are seeing as apocalyptic – and bordering on the nature of Divine ultimatums? I tossed aside Hal Lindsay’s original 1970 edition of the Late, Great Planet Earth after my first reading in 1975, as I began transitioning to Confessional Lutheranism. As with all in the past – especially those since the Reformation, all of their “prophecies” so self assuredly advanced, are way past their “Use by” dates. The new ones now put in front of us have never been theologically or historically factual, but the authors sure live well in their “last days!”
It does seem that something akin to the theory about the Fourth Turning might be occurring; there may well be a major civic upheaval in America’s relatively near future. Even we Confessional Preachers can attest to that. That does not equate to the end of the world, however, most certainly not the end of The One Holy Church. Many in American, including some of faith, intertwine the Church with the American nation, and all sorts of semi-theological, semi-political critters can be found creeping around in the news any more.
I find my hopes, dreams, comfort and solace all in the same place – where the Word of God is preached in purity and truth, and the Blessed Sacraments administered in accord with the Holy Gospel of Christ. That has not changed ever, despite necessary adjustments when error had crept into the works. One can properly be a good citizen, as it were, without ever compromising the Church or the Faith. If such occurs, we know on which side we shall be found. Martyrdom? To many in the Church that is happening as I write this. Martyrdom to the Church is not a new phenomenon, nor is it the suicidal nonsense advanced by radical Islam that kills many more than just the one seeking martyrdom.
Are there troubles on the earth? Oh, Heavens – YES! One would have to be totally ignorant to say otherwise. Again, the summation of Chesterton serves as to what the Church knows about such matters, as it was warned by Christ as well of the perpetual “wars and rumors of wars.” Again, as I said awhile back, this is satan’s domain at present. St Paul told us “all of creation groans for its redemption.” The Crucifixion redeemed mankind. Our Resurrections will be when all flesh shall be raised, and Creation completely renewed!
Until then, the nations shall rage and make wars – even in the middle of the incredible technological advancement of the last 200 years. We have used that for three horrendous wars, and countless smaller ones. Many live in a prosperity never dreamed of in centuries past – even mere decades in the past, yet hate and revenge remain primary forces in the world. Even the most conscientious believer in the world knows they still abide in the dark crevices of the human heart, and prays they be removed. They shall indeed be fully and eternally removed from the faithful at the appointed time – but hardly by any earthly proclamations of government!
So I am, as Chesterton encourages, about trying to keep my head in the midst of the current maelstrom of events in our country and in the world. How will matters turn out? None of us knows, and even supposed indicators in days past have proved far less than accurate.
We can instead emulate St. Paul, writing in Philippians 4:8 –
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”