I suspect that most of us right now would be pretty uncomfortable in a powerful manifestation of God’s presence. The evidence of history (unless you a priori rule out the possibility that there is a God who can and does act in history, and so disqualify a priori any sources that describe how He has acted in history, and therefore still can if He were to so chose) is that when God or even a messenger from God shows up, just about everyone is overwhelmed. In the words of some who testify to such experiences, they tend to grovel or tremble or try to hide or fall on the knees or faces in awe and fear – yes fear! As Isaiah said when he ‘saw the LORD’ – “Woe to me, for I am a man of unclean lips.” Paraphrased, he was saying “I am dirty with sin through and through.”
We are probably the vainest culture that has ever existed. All our public figures are primarily concerned with their images in order to gain or maintain or increase their following and popularity. They and their parties employ professional ‘handlers’, ‘spin-doctors’, and image-makers to make sure they always ‘appear to best advantage’ as they announce anything and everything in just the right setting with just the right wording and approving audience. In any contest of optics versus substance we know always know which will win out.
But the practical side is also crystalline: “Give us today our daily bread” – a request that we receive what we need (not want, lust after, crave to get) materially in the here and now. This is for two purposes – first so that we can carry on with the business of bringing God’s Kingdom into this age for as long as we are here, and second so that we can meet the needs of others who do not have enough and so show them the real love of their Creator.
What it looks like is a subject with no definable boundaries in our “normal” way of talking about human societies. It is also impossible to fully know in “this present age” even though those who find the Door into it begin to experience it as they travel its road. For the Door is a Person, not a place or a thing. And the path is a relationship, not a set of doctrines, dogmas, or commandments. At best, such things can be signposts, but they must not be mistaken for HIM.
Neither whisper is going away. Both will remain, breaking ever in upon us, piercing our armour of self-sufficiency and independence at the most inconvenient and unsuspecting moments. The monstrous Nazi and Soviet horrors of the twentieth century remind us. At such moments the whispers become warning shouts, alarms, that our true nature is other than the myth of self and independence, the conspiracy of silence (or rather silencing) about the greatest story of all time. Even a great leader of the West in that moment (Winston Churchill) recognized that it was really about the survival of “Christian civilization”, which even in 1940 was well on the road to a fading echo, although not then quite a whisper.
The Enlightenment myth of Christianity’s suppression of truth and human dignity was a caricature born of the many sins of leaders following more in the footsteps of the old gods rather than in those of the Creator-Redeemer they paid lip-service to. The great stumbling block for the secularist philosophes was that this Jesus-fellow as an historical person. It became necessary to mythologize him, strip him of his real humanity and historical presence and certainly of any hint of miraculous properties.
The saddest part of the West’s identity crisis is that the triumphant secular establishment does not have the courage of its own proclaimed convictions. It has gone beyond the pendulum-swing analogy of a strong reaction against the stifling shackles of the old religion and its clinging tentacles.
For more than a thousand years, the divide in the West’s soul created the dream of “Christendom” on the one hand while still lured and divided by the old habits of heart and mind of power, greed, and lust. The cynics, or perhaps realists, have always had plenty of ammunition to question the dream of the coming of the Kingdom of Christ in the warp and woof of human history – Christendom!
Point of fact, there are no cultures or societies on the planet which have any reason to believe themselves more righteous in this sort of history than any other. Indigenous enslaved and oppressed other indigenous –even before the coming of those devilish Europeans. Ancients enslaved other ancients in the millions. Muslims perpetrated (and some still do) all the same sorts of evils on peoples they conquered and forced to assimilate or face all the usual sorts of consequences for not doing so.
“Money is the root of all evil,” a saying of the Apostle Paul, must be understood as part of an even bigger picture: that humans have turned their faces away from the Creator towards the bewitching glitz of things that can never do more than give fleeting pleasure and simulated happiness (and yes, even fifty, sixty, or seventy years is fleeting beside eternity). Beneath the hunger for the glamour and shine and sense of being in control that real or digital bullion promises, there is the age-old original lie. “You will not die if you take it, but you will become as wise as God, knowing all about [and by implication controlling] good and evil.”