Today’s reading took me again to Roman Catholic and Kuyperian expressions of optimism. In the face of mounting evidence that our society is coarsening, Billy Boyce and Michael Sean Winters affirm hope. First, pastor Boyce (the Kuyperian):
But there is a way forward. Kuyper’s emphasis on the antithesis keeps us humble, recognizing that there will always be spiritual warfare in this age against the powers of darkness. Simultaneously, Kuyper’s emphasis on common grace allows us to participate in the public sphere with hopefulness that, by our faithfully sowing seeds of righteousness, we can reap a harvest of flourishing for the common good. To quote Dr. Vincent Bacote, “Ultimately this is a vision of a society where change occurs because Christians participate in the realm of common grace, and, as a result, the world gets better.”
There may never be a Golden Age (I’m an amillennialist, after all), but this does not mean that we cannot look for cultural renewal in this life. Because we acknowledge the presence of sin, we can view our past with honesty, as a mixed bag of good and bad. But because we know God is at work, we can hope for more. Our hymnal teaches us that “not with swords’ loud clashing, nor roll of stirring drums, but with deeds of love and mercy, the Heavenly Kingdom comes.” These deeds of love and mercy are powerful, and they include all sorts of cultural participation, even politics. Ours is a long march forward; our enlistment in the Church Militant is for the entirety of this age.
If not a Golden Age, at least point to an instance of cultural renewal. If we can spot that, then we might identify the ingredients that make for such positivity. Without the specifics — 1550 Geneva? 1630 Boston? 1900 Amsterdam? — we have only haze.
Michael Sean Winters (Roman Catholic) also keeps hope alive:
These prophets of doom may or may not be culturally attuned, but they misunderstand who is in charge. Maybe it is just that I have been reading Kuyper, but it seems to me that a truly holy preacher of the Gospel does not invite his listeners to despair, but to hope, hope not in their own efforts, but in God’s promises. Love and labor, then, not breast-beating and complaints about slippery slopes. Besides, sometimes we humans even slip up the hill.
So what does the Bible say about what Christians should expect from their futures on planet earth?
Anyone remember the curse?
To the woman he said,
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.”
And to Adam he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:16-19 ESV)
Unless I’m mistaken, the curse is still in effect. Mothers chime in if you want to correct that impression.
Remember Paul’s counsel to Timothy:
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:3-5 ESV)
Not much forward rhetoric there.
How about Peter’s closing words?
This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:1-13 ESV)
Is waiting for the world to get torched much of a plan for cultural renewal?
But let’s not leave out Jesus’ pessimism:
“So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matthew 24:15-31 ESV)
Perhaps hoping for a restoration of cultural standards in the United States comes up a tad short of the kind of cataclysm that seems to await sinners in the hands of a righteous God.
Of course, some might want to point to any number of Old Testament prophecies as the basis for hope (even while avoiding signing up for Jack Van Impe‘s newsletter):
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.
They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.
In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.
In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that remains of his people, from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Cush, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea.
He will raise a signal for the nations
and will assemble the banished of Israel,
and gather the dispersed of Judah
from the four corners of the earth.
The jealousy of Ephraim shall depart,
and those who harass Judah shall be cut off;
Ephraim shall not be jealous of Judah,
and Judah shall not harass Ephraim.
But they shall swoop down on the shoulder of the Philistines in the west,
and together they shall plunder the people of the east.
They shall put out their hand against Edom and Moab,
and the Ammonites shall obey them.
And the LORD will utterly destroy
the tongue of the Sea of Egypt,
and will wave his hand over the River
with his scorching breath,
and strike it into seven channels,
and he will lead people across in sandals.
And there will be a highway from Assyria
for the remnant that remains of his people,
as there was for Israel
when they came up from the land of Egypt. (Isaiah 11:6-16 ESV)
But if that is what the hopefuls are optimistic about, then they may want to stay away from the U.S. State Department’s diplomatic team in the Middle East.