There seems to be a perpetual lament circling in American Christianity today, a sort of exposition of the futility of civic action. It usually goes something like this:
“Gone, gone, gone!” the lament begins. “The glory days are gone! Gone is the Golden Age of American Christianity, those gilded days of our most virtuous founding, that most veritably illustrious, that most magnificently noble, that honorific paragon of chivalric, equitable magnanimity…” and so forth with the superlatives, “but alas, America hath gone the way of Rome, and all is lost, there is no hope of return, the end is nigh...” and so forth.
Put the Half-Baked Stoicism Down…
Unfortunately, this argument smacks more of fatalism than Christianity. It’s based on an old Stoic idea of Eternal Return, that is, the idea that history necessarily follows a cyclical pattern, and there’s nothing that we can do to alter the movements of fate. Nations rise, nations fall, and they all follow roughly the same pattern. Similarly, America rose, reached a turning point, began her decline, and now she’s about to burn herself out like all the other nations, and there’s not much we can do about it (besides stocking up on canned goods and bracing ourselves for The Book of Eli).
There are a couple of major issues with this. The first is the concept that history moves in cycles. On first blush, this idea may seem slightly Biblical. Ecclesiastes, after all, tells us that “there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9). Human nature doesn’t change, and we have seen consistent patterns of nations rising to a point of decadence before beginning their decline.
There is another crucial Biblical truth, however, that is missed by the cyclical model. Christianity, while affirming the constancy of human nature, also believes that history is ultimately going somewhere. History is a story, which began with creation, had its climax at the Incarnation, and will experience resolution in the Second Coming of Christ. History has a purpose, and God uses the nations in order to accomplish his plans. History is full of stories of God raising up and smiting nations for specific purposes, saving them from the brink of destruction and restoring them, judging them and blessing them for his own purposes.
The second problem is that this philosophy of history paints decline as inevitable. It paints all human activity as necessary, determined by some decree of fate. Once a nation enters a period of decline, there is no way to pull out of it.
Scripture, however, teaches that God is an interactive God, promising restoration for those who choose to follow him. God said that he would withhold judgment from Sodom if ten righteous men were found there (Gen 18:32). He promised to heal Israel if his people prayed and turned from their wicked ways (2 Chron 7:14). History is fundamentally relational, and the central theme of its story is one of redemption.
I believe America is still being extended the opportunity for redemption. It’s true, she’s in a pretty bad spot – culturally, morally, and religiously. She’s damaged, but she is not yet destroyed. Our task, then, is to zealously seek for renewal, first in our own lives, and then in the life of our nation. The more miserable she is, the less we should leave her.
Photo Credit: Larry West on Flickr.