Magnolia films are like Reese’s peanut butter cups to me—addictive. My newest favorite—The Hunter—did what a lot of “Mag” films do. It introduced quirky, flawed characters, explored an esoteric theme, and then ended imperfectly. The plot surrounded one man’s search for a Tasmanian Tiger. No mean feat, since the last one was purported to have died in 1936. It got me wondering. Did a wretched sense of loneliness possess that last animal in its final years? Did it intuitively understand it would never again encounter one of its own kind?
Maybe we could answer from first-hand experience. Christians are said to always be one generation from disappearing off the face of the earth. Given the uncertainty of our obedience to Christ and the excessive hostilities of our surrounding world, it has certainly seemed at times we’re on the endangered list. We’re scattered all over the place throughout cities and villages and boroughs. Think of us as being sprinkled, not poured. When we congregate there’s a sense of collective strength. But most of our lives aren’t lived in church meetings. We’re dispersed out into offices, schools, neighborhoods. As I said in the last post, we’ll seem oddly fitted, ill at ease with the general current of the culture. Every now and then there’ll be a claustrophobic sense of darkness pressing all around. We’ll wonder if the whole world is going insane. As Elijah said,
“Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.”
The prophet’s melancholy was obviously crushing him.
But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal” (Rom. 11:3-4).
A certain awareness of isolation will plague the serious man or woman of God. In the extreme, of course, it isn’t real. Things like negative media bombardment intensify the impression that “you alone are left.” God assures you that your faith is not the only game in town. He is working thousands of different angles. He’s also pretty good at getting what He wants.
The Apostle Peter wrote a letter to Christians like us. They were folks whose faith had turned them into targets of scorn. Nobody knows much about the particulars of their suffering. Were they Jewish or Gentile believers? Seminarians argue, but the real point is they were scattered throughout large areas of heathen darkness—”Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithinia” (1 Pet. 1:1). All these places were thoroughly pagan and at the time of Peter’s writing, increasingly hostile to Christian presence. The letter of course, gives obvious indications that Christians were not in possession of the favored culture. Peter referred to them (us) as being “in exile” and “sojourners” (2:11). That meant no widespread Judeo-Christian ethic and no high-profile witness for Christ. Certainly nobody was asking, “What Would Jesus Do?” except for tiny caches of saints dotting the landscape. Currently, it seems like western society is in the midst of a U-turn, trying to return to that point in time.
There are ways we can respond to this backward direction.
We can get mad at it—as in, “Should we call fire from heaven to burn them up?” (Luke 9:54).
We can hide from it—get a Christian barber, Christian realtor, Christian Mechanic, etc. That is, build a Christian bubble and move into it.
We can try to control it—legislate sin into submission (It worked so well with prohibition?).
We can ignore it—only tune in to the final three minute “Making a Difference” segment of the nightly news with Brian Williams. Pretend the rest doesn’t exist.
We can agree with it—pull the chameleon routine and become whatever the prevailing culture dictates. Shoot for popularity.
At best, these avenues are naïve. At worst, they’re manipulative. At the very worst they misrepresent Christ. Here’s the good news. None of us has to invent anything in order to meet the challenges of today. The apostolic “help desk” is open in Peter’s writing with solutions already embedded there.
Get ready for a ride.