“We’re seeing more and more, a government that is silencing and censoring of religious views, of religious beliefs and of religious symbols.” So states Mark Sharp, legal counsel for the Alliance for Defense of Freedom, responding to the U.S. Postal Service’s announcement that it will offer no new religiously themed holiday stamps this year. In Sharp’s view, this is “part of the effort to completely drive religion out of the public square.”
If you’re looking for bad news in the news, you don’t have to look far. California lawmakers have approved legislation permitting euthanasia in their state. The heroin epidemic continues to spread across the nation. The scourge of pornography is growing, especially among children.
It is easy for Christians to be discouraged by the trajectory of our culture. But God is working in surprising ways today.
For instance, Muslim refugees in Berlin are converting to Christianity in remarkable numbers. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently published an article titled “Why We Need to Resurrect Our Souls.” The Atlantic (not typically a defender of orthodox Christianity) carried a fascinating essay titled “The False Equation of Atheism and Intellectual Sophistication.” We often hear that millennials are leaving the church, but a recent study shows that more traditional or liturgical services have great appeal for young people seeking depth and significance.
None of these stories made front-page news. If we base today’s hope on today’s headlines, we’ll usually be disappointed. But it has always been so. Henri Nouwen: “Many people live with the unconscious or conscious expectation that eventually things will get better; wars, hunger, poverty, oppression, and exploitation will vanish; and all people will live in harmony. Their lives and work are motivated by that expectation. When this does not happen in their lifetimes, they are often disillusioned and experience themselves as failures.
“But Jesus doesn’t support such an optimistic outlook. He foresees not only the destruction of his beloved city Jerusalem but also a world full of cruelty, violence, and conflict. For Jesus there is no happy ending in this world. The challenge of Jesus is not to solve all the world’s problems before the end of time but to remain faithful at any cost.”
How do we “remain faithful at any cost”?
In Joe Biden’s recent interview with Stephen Colbert, the vice president was transparent about his grief following the death of his son Beau. He said that he and his wife have taped a Kierkegaard quote to the mirror: “Faith sees best in the dark.”
Here’s the larger context from Kierkegaard’s The Gospel of Sufferings: “The believer humanly comprehends how heavy the suffering is, but in faith’s wonder that it is beneficial to him, he devoutly says: It is light. Humanly he says: It is impossible, but he says it again in faith’s wonder that what he humanly cannot understand is beneficial to him [his emphasis]. In other words, when sagacity [worldly wisdom] is able to perceive the beneficialness, then faith cannot see God; but when in the dark night of suffering sagacity cannot see a handbreadth ahead of it, then faith can see God, since faith sees best in the dark.”
To paraphrase: when we understand God’s ways, faith is easy. When we do not, faith is essential.