Nearly 70 percent of Americans believe in the existence of angels, according to a recent Associated Press-NORC survey. The same percentage believe in heaven, though even more (72 percent) believe in the power of prayer. (I wonder: If there’s no heaven, why pray to the God who lives there?)
However, only 58 percent believe in hell, and even fewer (56 percent) believe in the existence of the devil.
I can understand why we would favor this cafeteria-style religion. Most of us want to think our prayers are heard, angels exist to help us, and heaven is our future. Fewer want to worry about the alternatives.
But ignoring reality makes it no less real.
Is another “tripledemic” coming?
According to Axios, “existential threats to humanity are soaring.” The article cites climate change, artificial intelligence, and Russian and Chinese nuclear arsenals. Health experts are warning of another “tripledemic” of COVID, flu, and RSV this fall; the US Surgeon General has identified an “epidemic of loneliness and isolation” in our society.
We can tell ourselves that the Russians and Chinese are our friends, that AI and climate change pose no threats, and that viruses and loneliness are problems for other people. But those who downplay geopolitical enemies often make them worse (as British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Adolf Hitler tragically demonstrated). Ignoring technological, climate, and physical and mental health dangers only makes them more dangerous.
As C. S. Lewis noted in The Screwtape Letters, Satan wants us to discount his existence so he can act in a world that is ignorant of his devilish schemes. He especially wants us to reject the existence of hell so he can convince us that we have no need to be saved from it.
How can Christ followers make a difference in a lost society that doesn’t believe it’s lost?
“The great problems call for many small solutions”
In Losing Our Religion: An Altar Call for Evangelical America, Russell Moore tells of the time poet and novelist Wendell Berry met with a group of environmental activists. He told them that the worst obstacle to their effort was the idea that their solutions should be as large-scale as the problem they were addressing.
Instead, he said, “The great problems call for many small solutions.” This must start with the honesty to name things as they are, he explained, and the imagination to see that it doesn’t have to be this way. This is frustrating, he acknowledged: “Some will find it an insult to their sense of proportion, others to their sense of drama.”
Dr. Moore observes: “You cannot change the human condition, and you cannot change the technological or cultural ecosystem in which you live and move and have your being. But you can be changed. And you will need to be” (his emphasis).
Jeremiah would have agreed: “I know, O Lᴏʀᴅ, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). God agreed with his prophet: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lᴏʀᴅ. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land” (Jeremiah 17:5–6).
Is America “cursed” today?
By contrast, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lᴏʀᴅ, whose trust is in the Lᴏʀᴅ. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit” (vv. 7–8).
Is America “blessed” today?
The joy of living “coram Deo”
Now let’s get personal. Living in a secularized, post-Christian, even anti-Christian culture, why would you and I trust in God more than we do and in ourselves less than we do? The answer transcends the intellectual: we can believe that heaven, angels, hell, and the devil exist, but such rational assent changes nothing in our lives or our world.
As the Protestant Reformers noted, notitia (the content of our faith) must lead to assensus (believing our notitia is true), but this must then lead to fiducia (entrusting ourselves to the God who is Truth). No doubt, you have taken the first two steps.
Why do you need to take the third today?
Pause for a moment and ask your Father: “What part of my life is not fully yielded to your Spirit? What is my next act of fiducia?” Then ask him to help you take this step now. If you lack the faith to do so, pray for the faith to have faith (cf. Mark 9:24).
Life is best lived coram Deo (“before the face of God”). Such holistic, joyful holiness changes us and changes our culture, one soul at a time.
Scooping the ocean with a thimble
The philosopher Peter Kreeft introduces his personal website with this story: “Augustine tells of a vision of seeing a little boy at a beach scooping up the ocean thimbleful by thimbleful and emptying it out on the sand. Then he sees an angel who tells him that this boy will have emptied out the entire ocean long before Augustine has exhausted what can be said about God.”
What was true of the greatest theologian after Paul is certainly true of you and me. But we can experience our omnipotent Lord in ways no words can capture.
When last were you awed by God?
NOTE: Our culture is confused and confusing, and no one may be bearing that brunt more than our children and grandchildren. As they begin a new school year, let’s commit to consistently praying for them. To help with that commitment, Christian Parenting (a brand of Denison Ministries) has released Marked by Prayer, a weekly prayer journal focused on relevant topics to your child’s spiritual health with space to write down what you’re grateful for and how you’re praying for your kids. Request your copy of the guided prayer journal Marked by Prayer today.