Today’s Bible reading
Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.
Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us. But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know. – 1 John 2:15-20
More thoughts for meditation
How did “Western civilization” get to a place where Christians could support Donald Trump and to the place where identity wars could divide brothers and sisters in faith? Here’s the philosophical/theological trail toward the answer Rod Dreher enumerated in The Benedict Option. Before you say “TLDNR,” just think of this history lesson as a means to meditate, perhaps a way to confess your sin of complicity and ignorance, or as a way for the Holy Spirit to potentially convict you of your worldliness, in light of today’s reading.
- In the 1300’s “nominalism” took the medieval philosopher’s sense that everything has an inherent, God-given meaning and tweaked it to say that the meaning of objects and actions in the material world depends on what humans assign them. You can see the seeds of our present preoccupation with our individual identities in this thought — how we have been named and how we name ourselves makes all the difference to most of us, and the title “child of God” is not usually our number one sense of self, since that derives from God and not ourselves.
- In the 1400’s optimism about human potential shifted Europe’s focus from God to humanity who was seen as “the measure of all things.” We’ve been measuring our progress ever since.
- In the 1500’s the Reformation broke any remaining sense of religious authority to shreds and started the infighting that makes Christians hard to trust. Martin Luther said, “Here I stand” and ably expressed the personal conviction that has been individualizing faith ever since.
- In the 1600’s The Wars of Religion in Europe further discredited religion and helped usher in the modern nation state. The scientific revolution replaced the organic sense of the universe with a machine. Descartes applied the mechanistic thinking to the body: “I think therefore I am,” not “I am an organic part of God’s world.” Most Europeans, like Descartes, still thought of themselves as faithful Christians at this time, but the way they thought of themselves and decided what is true began to change.
- In the 1700’s the Enlightenment created a framework for existence with reason, not God, at the center. Religion became private, not public. The United States protected an individual’s right to choose faith in a faithless state. France created an antifaith democracy.
- In the 1800’s The industrial revolution ended the connection most people had with the land. Relationships became defined by money. The romantic movement rebelled by emphasizing individualism and passion.
- In the 1900’s The horrible world wars severely damaged faith in the gods of reason and progress as well as faith in Jesus. The growth of technology and consumerism further convinced people to fulfill individual desires and submit to huge corporations which supplied that fulfillment. The sexual revolution elevated the desiring individual as the center of a new social order, deposing enfeebled Christianity and all other religions.
- Now in the 2000’s people have almost no moral center outside themselves to rely on, no community that is respected to monitor their behavior, and no sense of covenant that can require their sacrifice. We are reduced to individuals gathering enough power to win an argument about whether our desires will be legalized and our identity protected.
Obviously, Dreher was not making a comprehensive history and a lot of wonderful things happened at the same time. As Christians we love history, since it is the story of life and death with God in the center of it all. We do not fear it and we are great at learning from it. We trust God to be at work in it (as is demonstrated in Jesus and the church) and through it (to bring creation to right). Nevertheless, the track to the present Jesus-less world is striking!
Suggestions for action
If, like John says in our reading, the antichrists have gone out into the world, what do we do? We must return to Jesus every moment, hold on to the “golden thread” of faith that connects us to our beginnings, and live in the mercy/will of God. Would you write John’s paragraphs to your friends or children? If not, why are you different? Ask God what to write to them; you might even do it and see what happens.
Pray through your own history. Where has God revealed the antichrists? Where did you steer towards the will of God? Where were you deluded by the false prophets? Praise, confession, intercession will follow.