“The Sun’s rim dips, the stars rush out,
At one stride comes the dark”
How much I wonder are these lines from Samuel Coleridge’s poem “The Ancient Mariner” appropriate for our times. How much I wonder are our times similar in many ways to those of Augustine who writing when the Barbarians were at the gates of Rome ascribed the fall of the Roman Empire to its inward moral collapse not because of military weakness. How much is there cause to ask whether our times mirror that event, reminded also by the words of the British Prime Minister David Cameron who said (primarily of Britain but applicable to the whole of western culture) that we are witnessing “a slow motion moral collapse.” Could it be that we are actually witnessing the fall of a new ‘dark age’ similar to that which engulfed Europe after Rome’s demise?
The Dark Ages is a term that emphasizes the spiritual, cultural and economic deterioration that (with exceptions) occurred in Western Europe following the decline of the Roman Empire. It is a term that employs traditional light-versus-darkness imagery to contrast the “darkness” of the period with earlier and later periods of “light, the period between the extinguishing the “light of Rome” and the rise of the Renaissance in the 14th century.
Is it not appropriate to suggest that there are now ‘New Barbarians’ at the gates of western civilization, not military but intellectual forces bringing destruction through the dismantling of the biblical norms that have for centuries underpinned and shaped western society but which are now being systematically removed from our parliaments and legislations.
It is a multi-faceted destruction. There is the rushing tide of relativism that for example redefines the family and marriage to be what the definer wants them to be. There is the destruction of the ‘collegial man’, the man God designed to live in Trinity-reflecting community; now replaced by the ‘autonomous man’ the individual, the rights-demanding, ‘I am free to do my own thing’ man; the ‘everyone does what is right in their own eyes’ man, living lives governed by ‘it’s all about me’ attitudes.
There is also of course the destruction of ‘Truth’, shattered into as many shards of ‘truths’ as there are people to hold them. Further the God who is Truth is splintered also into a multitude of the ‘gods’ I want to believe in.
Indeed one might ask as the ‘Son’s’ rim dips, as ‘the light of the world’ is extinguished from western culture, as the darkness falls, the darkness Jesus referred to at his arrest (Luke 22:53), is this not God’s judgment on society’s Babylonian captivity as we hurtle towards the ‘Abyss’?
We might of course also ask is there no antidote, no balm that can heal this primarily spiritual plague? Is there nothing to drive away the engulfing darkness? The answer of course is Yes! The answer is what it has always been – the ‘Gospel of Jesus’, God’s healing balm for a sick world, a world plunging into darkness.
If so how will that healing balm of the gospel be applied to society? If it is to happen it is by the deployment of that great and powerful weapon God designed for the purpose. What is that you ask? The answer is the church, that body of souls purchased by Christ’s blood and conscripted into the army of God.
Well of course that should be the answer, however what we actually see as we sleep walk into the iceberg is a church no longer powerful, rather it fiddles, fixed on and using nearly all its resources for, running nice, acceptable Sunday meetings. Meetings where the ‘comfortably religious’ can come and feel and stay comfortable. In such a church words like “deny yourself and take up your Cross” and “anyone who seeks to live a godly life will be persecuted”, are considered to be quaint, even faintly silly notions that cannot be taken seriously.
Coleridge’s famous lines may well be reshaped and applied to this time of falling darkness
“The Son’s rim dips, The light of God’s son sets on western society
The stars rush out, The erstwhile Christendom West focusses on the lesser lights of celebrity culture, and exalts them to the status of ‘gods’
At one stride comes the dark” The result is the striding of ‘Darkness’ over the landscape, as the light of the gospel recedes from society.
There is a fearful urgency for the church to be unbound from its apathy of self-indulgent slumber, to rediscover its reason to exist and join the battle God designed it to fight. To become once more the terrifying army of God’s intent and to fight with all the power that God’s Spirit gives us against the landscape-striding ‘powers of this dark world” (Ephesians 6:12).
Or the darkness will stride on!