“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”
In recent times a number of friends have expressed their alarm at the current trajectory of society in general and in particular for the future of their children and grandchildren who are being, and will be, born into it.
The reasons for their concern are becoming more evident every day as we see the ongoing perversion of God’s good plan for human relationships, families and the general ordering of human society and, more recently, the ‘Cancel Culture’ that closes down debate.
However, we cannot say we have not been warned, and from an unlikely source at that!
The warning came from the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, an Atheist no less, who as long ago as 1882 made his famous assertion that ‘God is Dead’. In saying that he did not mean that there was a God who had died, for he obviously didn’t believe in God. Rather he meant that the culture-shaping belief in God had died. In an exquisitely ironic paradox however, Nietzsche, in contrast to the intellectual blindness of those who want God and his influence in society to be dead today, also realized that the consequence of ‘God’s death’ was the loss of the Biblical world view and its moral guidance system that shaped western society, and this would not be a good thing. He expressed this concern when he said-
“When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet. This morality is by no means self-evident… Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God,
one breaks the whole.”
The belief that the Bible expresses God’s will for the governance of human society, and human relationships within that society, is one such ‘main concept’, the ignoring of which ‘breaks the whole’. The rejection of the One who is ‘Truth’ which is the current trajectory in schools, parliaments, the media and society in general, pulls the right to all aspects of Christian morality from under the nation’s feet, so precipitating a socio-spiritual cultural disintegration of Hiroshimic magnitude, one flashed across the news or tweeted in 140 character packets each and every day. This is the looming future that has raised the concerns of many, but perhaps it’s no longer awaiting our children, but in reality has already arrived.
The contemporary rejection of the Biblical operating system for human society, “The system, a whole view of things thought out together”, is the rejection of the system for which over centuries thousands of men and women gave their lives, most recently in the two world wars of the 20th century, that we might have the blessings of the society we now live in. The result being that our children and grandchildren will have to live their lives amidst the thudding of Nietzsche’s chickens coming home to roost on the landing ground of 21st century society (the consequences of dismantling the biblical world view), a future in which the poet Yeats words resound loudly-
“Things fall apart; the Centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”
That this ‘anarchy’ is being loosed on the world is well demonstrated by current events and trends that can fairly be described as the ‘Marks of Hell’. For example.
Mark 1. The March of the Tribes
In his book ‘The Great Divorce’ C.S. Lewis gave a description of Hell and its inhabitants, part of which is as follows.
‘The trouble is they are so quarrelsome. As soon as anyone arrives he settles in some street. Before he’s been there twenty-four hours he quarrels with his neighbour. Before the week is over he’s quarrelled so badly he decides to move. Very likely he finds the next street empty because all the people there have quarrelled with their neighbours-and moved’
Lewis envisages Hell as a grey and miserable place, one of the ‘Marks’ of which that strongly resonates with our time is conflict and disharmony.
The increasing disharmony now so characteristic of today’s tribalized Western societies is strongly driven by ‘Identification’. That is a person’s worth and value is defined by which one of a whole range of ‘Tribes’ they ‘Identify’ with as defined by skin colour, sex, sexual orientation and others. The consequence of this is increasing division.
This is in direct contrast with the now discarded Biblical moral and social guidance system which focuses on removing barriers, and through Christ bringing people together into the ‘One humanity’ described in Ephesians 2:15.
‘His purpose was to create in himself one humanity out of the two,
so making peace’
God’s purpose in Christ is the very antithesis of Tribalism, and is about removing the barriers between community groups no matter how defined, even to point of loving enemies, not making them, as pictured in the well know Good Samaritan story. Indeed, the deliberate Tribalizing of society is one Mark of a world where ‘God is not’.
2. Hell’s Tongues
‘The tongue also is a fire. A world of evil . . . .It corrupts the whole person sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.’ James 3:6,7
The main media through which many people now communicate are those of the various social media platforms. In these, words, frequently vitriolic and libellous, are used as weapons in order to attack people, some of which attacks damage reputations, lose some their jobs, and even sometimes cause people to take their own lives. Social media is an amoral, hate filled sewer in which words are used to wound and destroy, but should we be surprised for destruction is Satan’s stock in trade.
The discarded Biblical guidance system works on the basis that the-
‘soft word turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger’ (Proverbs 15:1)
In contrast what we see, especially in social media, are tongues that are indeed themselves ‘set on fire by hell’.
3. Eternal Guilt in the Land of the Unforgiven
‘we have created a world where there is no possibility of forgiveness’.
However, the most terrible of Nietzsche’s Chickens that we see in our time is the loss of any hope of forgiveness, and with that comes the prospect of Eternal Guilt.
We see this particularly in social media where things people have posted or things they have said in the distant past, even in the embarrassing immaturity of youth, and which they may bitterly regret, can be brought up even decades later. They are then used in the current time to damage them. This amounts to public ‘shaming’.
Something that is innate in every human being is a sense of the need for ‘Forgiveness’. This comes from an equally innate awareness of Guilt, as King David said ‘My sin is always before me’ (Psalm 51:3), guilt which, though much of the time we seek to suppress it, comes from an awareness that we often don’t even live up to our own standards for appropriate behaviour let lone God’s.
Dwell for a moment on the consequences of life in the land of the ‘Unforgiven’, where there is no possibility of forgiveness; Where accumulated guilt is a permanent burden to be born; Where there is no possibility of release. Imagine the horror of being in that state with its emotional, psychological and spiritual consequences.
That is one ‘Mark of Hell’ that is the result of the evacuation of the Gospel influence from society, an existence where our sin and guilt is continually brought before us and there is absolutely no possibility of forgiveness. Such a condition is reflected by Doug Murray in ‘The Madness of Crowds’ when he wrote,
‘we have created a world where there is no possibility of forgiveness’.
In this land of the Unforgiven, even John Newton, the former slave trader who came to Christ and celebrated God’s unlimited grace to him in the Hymn Amazing Grace, cannot be forgiven. No doubt, statues of him are already under threat of being defaced or torn down. Think of the irony. The world now will not forgive those whom God does!
It is in respect to this commonly felt sense of guilt that the Bible offers that most wonderful promise – that of forgiveness and the removal of the burden of guilt.
‘Repent and be baptized . . . . . in the name of Jesus Christ
for the forgiveness of your sins’ Acts 2:38
In contrast to the land of eternal guilt, central to the now lost Gospel-shaped society is the offer of forgiveness through faith in Christ.
Another Mark of Hell is that it is an existence where God is not and so, as God is Love, where Love is not. So we should not be surprised when in the spiritual vacuum created by God’s ejection from society, Love has been replaced by its opposite, namely Hate. This is especially the case in Hate for those not in ‘our Tribe’, and of course where there is no forgiveness Hate (along with Guilt) is permanent.
This is in stark contrast to the biblical guidance system’s exhortation to ‘Love your neighbour’ (Matthew 19:19) and look after the interest of others (Philippians 2:4). In the land of the Unforgiven, where vitriolic, hate-filled attacks on those who don’t tick all the right tribal boxes, the concept of loving even your enemies (Luke 6:27), is something from another planet.
Warring Tribes, Weaponized tongues, Unforgiveness and Eternal Guilt, Hate. These are the Marks of our society that are now with us.
So what can retrieve this situation? The only thing that can avoid the future people are increasingly fearful of for their children and grandchildren is, as Greg Sheridan recently wrote, ‘a re-energised belief in Christianity’. This can only occur through the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the ‘power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes’ (Romans 1:16).
But how can this happen? God’s vehicle is, and always has been, the Church. No not the contemporary, impotent, institutionalized version, moving as fast as social distance relaxation allows back to the same pre-Covid ways and models of church with the same entrenched missional failure. No not that, but a new 21st century culturally-appropriate expression of the New Testament principles for Christian community that will actually go into the Neo-Pagan society of our time and zealously communicate the saving gospel. A new entity that will effectively spread increasing amounts of the SALT of Matthew 5:13.
In ‘The Great Divorce’ sinners wait at a bus stop for the bus that will take them to Hell. If he were writing his book today Lewis would conclude that such a journey is no longer necessary, for Hell has come to us. If anyone would doubt this look harder, for its Marks, Nietzsche’s chickens (the consequences of the ‘death of God’) in the formerly Christendom-shaped societies of the West are all around us.
The Covid 19 Crisis that forced the shutting down of the institutional church’s ‘business model’ has provided an opportunity, possibly the last, for western Christians to rethink what ‘Church’ is, and to create radically new ways of doing church and mission in order to engage society with the claims of Jesus far more effectively than for at least 20 years. Ways that whatever they are, may create at least the possibility of turning the tide of the New Paganism that is engulfing the land.
Tragically there is precious little sign of that happening, rather all the thinking, discussion and energy would seem to be limited to returning to ‘business as usual’, which equates to ‘missional failure as usual’.
So, to the sound of ‘landing chickens’, that we were warned about so long ago, we must pray and work that things may be otherwise.