“Llama therapy” is in today’s news. A Washington Post writer tells of a recent hiking expedition with her family in Yellowstone National Park aided by a “calm and gentle beast of burden” who carried their gear and bonded with them on a “calming immersion in nature.”
Emotional support animals are more popular than ever. From “emotional support fish” to dogs and other animals, they are one way many people are coping with the challenges of our day. For example, depression in America has reached epidemic levels, increasing by 450 percent since 1987. Five times as many people are taking antidepressants now as then.
Let me be clear: depression is a very real disease, one that must be treated by every means available. Like cancer or heart disease, it often requires the help of medical, psychiatric, and psychological professionals. Other forms of anxiety and emotional trauma are very real as well and should be taken with utmost seriousness.
However, I believe there is a causal factor behind much of the emotional and psychological pain of our day that is never discussed in secular media and is especially challenging for Christians.
High school crowns transgender homecoming queen
Repairs to stop the fifty-eight-story Millennium Tower in San Francisco from sinking have made it worse. Consider this story as a parable of our times.
A transgender teenager was recently crowned homecoming queen at her Florida high school. Evan Bialosuknia said, “I’m the first, but I hope I’m not the last, and I just hope that people will start to open up and see that it’s normal and that trans women are women.”
A Netflix series called “Sex Education” is being praised by the New York Times for its “frank but sensitive depictions of teen sexuality” including “more stories about queer relationships” and “gender presentation.”
In an important article titled “The end of vice,” Bryan Walsh notes that “all the old vices—from sex to gambling to drugs—are quickly becoming legal as both society and the criminal justice system rethink their values.” For example: legal betting on NFL games is up 32 percent. Support for decriminalizing prostitution rose from 24 percent in 1978 to 52 percent last year.
Our secularized culture is busy “repairing” the supposedly intolerant legalism created by Judeo-Christian values. But how is that working for us?
In The Hungering Dark, Frederick Buechner writes:
“If darkness is meant to suggest a world where nobody can see very well—either themselves, or each other, or where they are heading, or even where they are standing at the moment; if darkness is meant to convey a sense of uncertainty, of being lost, of being afraid; if darkness suggests conflict, conflict between races, between nations, between individuals each pretty much out for himself when you come right down to it; then we live in a world that knows much about darkness.
“Darkness is what our newspapers are about. Darkness is what most of our best contemporary literature is about. Darkness fills the skies over our own cities no less than over the cities of our enemies. And in our single lives, we know much about darkness too. If we are people who pray, darkness is apt to be a lot of what our prayers are about. If we are people who do not pray, it is apt to be darkness in one form or another that has stopped our mouths.”
Satan’s backup strategy
Jesus called himself “the light of the world” (John 8:12). The definite article shows that he is the only light of the world. He also told his followers, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14) as we bring his light into the darkness. Note again the definite article.
If the room is dark and I have the only flashlight, whose fault is the darkness?
I believe that if God’s people brought the light of Christ more fully into the world, the world could not stay the same. But to bring his light, we must stay connected to his light. As the moon must remain aligned with the sun to reflect its rays at night, so we must remain aligned with the Son to reflect his love.
Jesus taught us: “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Oswald Chambers observed: “I cannot save and sanctify myself; I cannot atone for sin; I cannot redeem the world; I cannot make right what is wrong, pure what is impure, holy what is unholy. That is all the sovereign work of God.”
As a result, we must “abide” in Christ constantly to bring his light into the dark. We therefore know that we must avoid public sins that shame our Lord and ourselves.
However, while Satan would obviously like us to commit such grievous public sins, he has a subtle backup plan: he tempts us with so-called “private” sins that the world never sees and we can be deceived into believing do no real damage. Such sins are especially dangerous since we can be tempted to continue committing them without apparent consequence.
But know this: Any sin grieves and quenches the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30; 1 Thessalonians 5:19). Any sin breaks our alignment with the Son and eclipses our witness in the world. We may not recognize these disastrous repercussions since they do not cause positive harm so much as they prevent positive good.
Only in eternity will we see how much fruit on earth and reward in heaven we forfeit by sins we believe we can commit without consequence (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:12–15).
The path to spiritual freedom
If you want to find true peace in a world of pain, abide in Christ. If you want to shine true light in a dark culture, abide in Christ. Abide in him on Monday, not just on Sunday. Abide in him in your private thoughts, not just your public words and actions. Recognize “private” sins as the cancer they are. Malignancy starts with tiny cells that, left untreated, can eventually kill the patient.
As a result, I encourage you right now to take a moment for a spiritual inventory. Ask the Spirit to bring to your mind any “private” sins you are committing, then confess whatever comes to your thoughts, claim God’s forgiving grace (1 John 1:9), and ask for his help in refusing them in the future (1 Corinthians 10:13).
The next time you are tempted by a sin that appears to have no consequences, recognize this as a lie from the devil. Now “submit it to God, resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7, my paraphrase). You will live in spiritual freedom, and your life will reflect the transforming light of your Lord to a world desperate for your hope in Christ.
Dwight Moody observed, “Character is what you are in the dark.”
What character will you choose today?