It was midnight ― pitch black, and I was descending a steep hill on my bicycle without a light. I had been fortunate so far; there had been ample streetlights. Now, however, as I hit the sharpest incline, the last streetlight faded behind me, and I hurtled down, squinting to pick out the white dashes in the center of the road. I wasn’t concerned about cars ― they would have headlights, which would solve my problem. My worry was going off the road and getting intimate with a sturdy pine tree. The periphery of the road was thick with them. In addition to all the other hazards, the road had sharp curves.
I was reluctant to slow to a crawl, safety concerns notwithstanding. I wanted to use all my momentum to save energy. I’d already biked from 217th and Stark to 92nd and Division (more than seven miles) to catch the last train to Clackamas. By the time I got there, most of the buses had stopped running, so my only option was to bike another six miles home. It had already been a full day, with various other bicycle trips and assorted exertions.
So I sped down the hill at least twice as fast as was advisable. My hair stood on end as the white center line disappeared from view. This might have been fun if I’d paid $20 and were eating popcorn and enjoying it with friends. But I was all alone. I uttered a quick prayer, and soon the lights from Highway 212 began to illuminate my way again.
The experience was jarring enough to get me thinking. What I had just done ― speeding into the unknown ― is exactly what most people do in this life. Oh, we think we know where we’re headed in life, sort of. We read the newspapers, seek advice from our parents and trusted friends, and so on. But most of our informed decisions have to do with jobs, careers, consumer choices, health care, politics ― things concerning our material lives. We’re not so good at addressing the crucial questions: Why am I here? What is the meaning of human existence? Is there a God? Does he expect anything from me? Why do I consistently hurt other people ― and myself ― in my quest for personal satisfaction? And why is satisfaction so elusive? Where will I go when I die?
These questions are generally ignored by the world, and even when they are addressed, the answers usually fail to influence our major decisions in life, as though we weren’t really driven by our intellect but by something vile we can’t bring ourselves to confront.
This hurtling into darkness is the rule rather than the exception in this fallen age. It happens to individuals, families, organizations and nations. The worst of it is that we have the means to illuminate our way, but if we used it, we’d have to look at all kinds of slithery things that have collected in the darkness. We would have to surrender to the Maker.
This isn’t a fable. The darkness I’m talking about isn’t out-and-out ignorance; it’s more of a deliberate ignorance ― idolatry. Hedonism, self-righteousness, customized Christianity, secularism ― there are a thousand flavors of idolatry, and it all spells disaster, though with tasty concessions served along the way. This is the history of modern America in a nutshell. We’ve chased our fantasies until we’re falling apart, and we’re still not ready to admit defeat. We still have Blazers games to attend, vacations to take, larger houses to upgrade to, boats to acquire, Pizza Hut and Haagen-Dazs to eat. If we have a comfortable enough home with a state-of-the-art home entertainment system and a refrigerator full of food and beer, we can silence that vague feeling of impending doom ― if we’re one of the unlucky ones. Somewhere an ancient sage whispers to us that it’s all vanity, chasing after the wind, but we shake him off like a gnat and cram another Hershey bar into our mouths.
You’d think consumerism would lose its appeal with all this going on ― and national decline to boot. But it doesn’t. We’ve forgotten that there is such a thing as real gold and spend our time collecting all the iron pyrite we can get our hands on. The end has started, but we’re pretending it hasn’t because we hope there’s a chance we won’t hit the skids just yet. We still have our creature comforts. Most of us can still afford to eat Carl’s Jr. and drink Rock Stars and attend film festivals, so we don’t have to acknowledge reality. Yet. But the signs are everywhere. Our population has been emasculated by government coddling and a media that has trained us to believe we are all victims of poor upbringing, psychiatric disorders and right-wing conspiracies. There are no more good causes ― at least not organized ones. All the social movements have been reduced to a game of musical chairs on the deck of the Titanic. Activism is a collection of snarling dogs fighting over a dwindling pile of raw meat. Instead of addressing the real issues ― money in politics, the poisoning of our food and national sovereignty (among others), people and political groups attack each other as all of us — black, white, Democrat, Republican, gay and straight, swirl around the drain like plastic toys left in the bathtub.
America is dead. Gangrene has set into all the major organs — the family, education, law, art — even the Church, in good measure. Social Security, Medicare and Food Stamps are the food of cannibals. What killed us? Debauchery, narcissism and most of all, godlessness. Atheists will tell you different, but then they’re still trying to make a meal out of the gangrenous flesh. There is no more government, only international financiers and their employees in the White House, Congress and the Supreme Court.
America had to die. It was the hope of the world, which only postponed the inevitable. Even before its moral free-fall, Christianity in America had become more about a hawkish nationalism than about reverence for Christ. These are growing pains. We were never supposed to derive our hope and motivation from earthly kingdoms. Great people, nations and cultures ― as much as we want to find security and permanence in them ― are all under sentence of death. The ugliness and chaos that rules the hour need not threaten us unless we resist God.
Am I saying that everything in America is rotten? Not by a long shot. We still have a great infrastructure, and God is still at work here. Many people are enjoying vibrant lives. But it doesn’t have anything to do with America, per se. The good things taking place here positively clash with what is going on in the national picture. American culture has become the enemy of godly people, and the government the enemy of us all. Some have predicted a great revival, and I pray for it. My hope is that people will stop trying to fix America and focus instead on what God is doing in the hearts and souls of people. This is what scripture calls “the kingdom of heaven.”
This isn’t a lament. It’s a sounding of the horn. A different country is calling. It is a heavenly one, like none that has ever been seen, but it is real and it has existed all along. It is a vast, blessed place, full of love, joy and peace, and there is room there for everyone who wears the mantle of Christ Jesus.
“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” -Revelation 21:3-4