When it comes to the general revelation of God, the human person adds a whole new level. What do I mean? Check it out.
Hosanna—Lord, save! Savior of the world, worthy and wise, receive our worship. We cannot praise you as you deserve, for your glory is beyond declaring and your majesty beyond understanding. Thank you, eternal Son of God, for coming to our rescue. Thank you, Father of Light, that you loved us so abundantly as to give your best-beloved. Thank you, Spirit immortal, for the gift of life and the promise of resurrection. Hosanna to the Son of David!
The pandemic has called up a variety of responses, some of them more helpful than others. “Keep Calm and Wash Your Hands” is sound advice. But is there a deeper message we might speak to this time of fear, danger, uncertainty, and death?
Actress Gal Gadot got together with a number of other celebrities, producing a little video that was promoted by major media channels. The idea of serenading the world in a time of crisis was a kind sentiment, and good for morale; the content of this particular serenade was awful. Gadot says that the time of isolation has got her feeling philosophical, and says that she heard of another serenade she heard, of John Lennon’s “Imagine.”
Gadot then begins the song, which is picked up by numerous celebrities as described here. The song is a naïve humanist fantasy, imagining a world where the elimination of nations, private property, and religion leads to perfect unity and peace. The hypocrisy of a group of celebrities singing a song that contains the line “Imagine no possessions” is staggering, but not nearly so troubling as the rest of the vision for mankind they exhort us to imagine.
“Imagine there’s no heaven…No hell below us,” the song suggests, as though the loss of a sense of eternal destiny will encourage generosity and the brotherhood of man. “And no religion too” it later adds, as though the loss of transcendent morality and meaning will contribute to world peace. The song’s diagnosis of the human condition is profoundly flawed.
But, more importantly, it is a delusion. We are being asked to imagine a world that simply does not and cannot exist–a world without God and without hope. It is a comfort to know that Lennon’s vision can never be realized; even a global atheistic socialist state could do nothing about the fact that there is a heaven, there is a hell, and there is a God whether humans acknowledge Him or not.
In a time of crisis, we need to be reminded of the profound truths that define our existence in this life and in the life to come. That is what has been lacking in so much of our society’s response to the pandemic, and it is the opposite message of “Imagine.” On the contrary, this is not a time to daydream, but a time to wake up.
Memento Mori, says the ancient Christian tradition–remember that you have to die. A pandemic should serve to remind us that life is finite, and all too often short. Life is serious, and meaningful; but it is serious and meaningful because there is a life to come. There is a God above, there is a heaven and there is a hell.
We have had national calls to prayer, and that is very good; but they ought to be accompanied by national calls to repentance. It would be a tragedy if concern about the pandemic moves us to wash our hands, but not our hearts. It would be a travesty to pray one moment for God’s deliverance, and the next moment to sing “Imagine there’s no heaven…and no religion too.”
I am not a prophet, to claim that COVID-19 is God’s judgment on us for x sin. But every disease is a consequence of the fall, and a reminder that we live in a fallen world. And every such reminder urges us to wake up and look to the wellbeing of our souls and of the souls of others. God sent His Son to bear the sins of the world, to take away the curse and bring us the offer of eternal life by faith in Him. And God offers, to all who will receive the gift of life in Jesus Christ, a future more wonderful than we can possibly imagine.
A worldview’s understanding of cosmic origins implies an answer to that most pressing philosophical question, the question of meaning. What is the meaning of life? What is a meaningful use of my life? These are, in some sense, questions of where we are going, and the answer is informed by the answer to the question of where we came from.
If we came from nowhere, we are going nowhere. The only logical implication of naturalism is nihilism. If we are the products of blind chance destined for annihilation, it’s hard to see how anything we do with our lives can be meaningful in any real and transcendent chance. That is, we may bring comfort to ourselves and others for the moment, but all such good is destined for oblivion. Silence has the last word.
I think there are very few thorough-going nihilists; it’s simply too depressing a philosophy, and too hard to reconcile with what we experience of beauty and good and evil, too hard to square with our longing for eternity. Elite intellectuals may embrace philosophical nihilism, and their counterparts in the art world may revel in nonsense, but such ideology doesn’t trickle down well. I think that most naturalists, even the elites, decline to follow their beliefs about the cosmos to the unavoidable conclusion that there is no meaning, no right or wrong. Instead, there is an effort to argue for morality and meaning in spite of the denial of all transcendent reality—arguments never convincing but understandable because the alternative, within their worldview, is oblivion. Much more common is practical nihilism, which shows itself in our culture’s obsession with entertainment—the eagerness to be turned aside from meaningful uses of our time.
There is a much happier alternative, one that emerges naturally from a theistic worldview. If there is a God, then there is meaning. We have a purposeful beginning, and a purposeful destiny. What we do in this life matters, there really is good and evil, and silence is not the last word.
In fact, the revelation of the one true God gives us definite answers to this pressing question. We were created by a loving God in His own image and likeness. His character provides the transcendent standard of right and wrong. His boundless life is the foundation of eternity, and He offers an eternal destiny of life for those who receive, by the Holy Spirit, the gift of life that comes through faith in God the Son incarnate, Jesus Christ.
What we do in this moment is meaningful. How we spend our time matters, because our actions are pleasing or displeasing to the all-worthy God. Our choice to receive or reject the gift of life determines our eternal destiny. Our labors in this life are eternally significant, as we care for others who also have an eternal destiny and for God’s good creation.
Hail, Son of God, child of Christmas, born for us! Hail King of kings, son of David, Holy One of Israel! Bright is the morning that heralds your birth, and lightens our hearts with the hope of heaven. Here in your nativity is the promise of new life, the promise of eternity. Jesus Christ, Savior of the world, be glorified now and evermore.
Life Eternal, thank you for the life of this day, and every day, and all the days to come eternally. You have life in yourself; thank you for the wonder of Christmas, that you descended to share in our life so that we too may have the true life in you. May I rest complete in you tonight, satisfied that you are my life and that all the other things of life matter nothing next to finding life in you—Amen.
Eternal God, bless our waiting days with nights of rest. Let your miracles in the past give us certainty of your glorious intervention in the future. Let your first advent, Son of the Most High, keep us ever sure of your advent in the coming day. So will we sleep in peace, knowing that you, Lord of history, hold the future also in your hand. You have fulfilled promises long ago; you are as good as your word for the promises to come—Amen.
You are eternal, but we wait, God Everlasting. You are perfect fulfillment, but we linger in expectation, as Israel awaited Messiah’s coming—so we await Christ’s return. Teach us to wait. Teach me to wait actively, and fruitfully, to wait wisely and well. Temper my works in this day with a blessed and sure sense of expectation, an eye to the future as I live in the present, in everything pleasing to your eternal majesty, God over all.
Be praised, God, in the night as in the day. You sent your Son into our night to bring us everlasting day; and in you even the darkness is light. Keep my heart set on you from one day to the next, on the King born two millennia ago in Israel and on the kingdom come and yet to come. Teach me to yearn past Christmas to that still promised day, and to know the gladness of prophets, who rejoice in certainties unseen—Amen.