|IIIM Magazine Online, Volume 3, Number 26, June 25 to July 1, 2001|
While much has been written about the Columbine shooting that took place over two years ago, much was left unsaid. And what was said, for the most part, was most disturbing. Our country’s reaction to the tragedy shocked and sickened me almost more than the tragedy itself. People blamed gun laws, school boards, police departments, working parents – you name it, they blamed it. Why? Because we fail to recognize, once and for all, what Winston Churchill recognized in the tragedy of World War II as he looked over the ruins of yet another air strike. His sad commentary was, "The heart of the human problem, is the problem of the human heart."
The truth that Churchill put his finger on that day is a truth that we need to be reminded of daily. Namely, the crisis in our culture is not structural in nature; it is spiritual. In other words, we will not meet the deepest needs of our culture by developing new programs, new curriculums, new strategies, passing new laws, or even electing the right officials, as important as all these may be. If you stop and listen for a moment to the cry of our culture today, you will hear them crying out for an otherworldly dynamism, not a this-worldly solution.
Not too long ago, I heard this cry from my friend Justin while we were eating chicken wings together at a local sports bar. Justin is an 18-year-old who, as far as I can tell, is not a Christian. He recently lost a friend of his named Tony. Tony died in his sleep after he had come home from a party where he and his buddies, in an attempt to transcend the futility of modern life, decided to drink some liquid morphine. I sat across the table from Justin as he agonized over the loss of his childhood friend. He told me that he went to Tony’s house a few days after he had died to see his mom and brother. Justin asked if he could go into Tony’s room. And according to Justin, when he stepped into Tony’s room, he "felt the spirit of Tony" overcome him. Now, most of us would realize that whatever Justin felt that day it was not the spirit of his deceased friend. But it is quite revealing that, amidst Justin’s pain and confusion, what he was searching for was something otherworldly, ! something transcendent, something deeply spiritual.
Justin represents the voice of modern culture. Amidst their pain and confusion, our culture is crying out for something transcendent, something different. Just look around us! There is a deeper interest in and openness to spirituality today than there has been in hundreds of years. The influx of secularization has left many yearning for a unique otherworldliness that modernity cannot provide. The increasing fascination with eastern religions, angels, aliens, paranormal phenomenon, new age spirituality, etc., indicates that our culture is crying out for something different, something "out of this world."
The only way that we will be able to give them something different, though, is if we ourselves are different. "While men are looking for better methods," said E.M. Bounds, "God is looking for better men. Men are God’s methods." God has uniquely equipped us, his covenant people, with the power to affect the spirituality of our culture in a God-ward direction. He has called us to be "otherworldly" for the sake of this world.
My fear, however, is that the modern church’s emphasis on "structural renovation" and "doing church" has inadvertently communicated to our culture that we have nothing to offer them that is deeply spiritual and profoundly otherworldly, and so they have looked elsewhere. It is our unique privilege and responsibility as the church, as God’s "alternative society," to remind our culture that this world is not all that there is, and that they are not left to the resources of this world to satisfy their otherworldly cravings. As Christians, we can give them that transcendent difference they long for because it is the Christian gospel, and only the Christian gospel, that offers a true spirituality, an otherworldliness, that is grounded in reality and history. It is only the church that can truthfully proclaim in the marketplace, "Our God contracted to a span; Incomprehensibly made man."
The crisis today, then, is the opportunity! The old saying that we should "not be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good" is true as far as it goes. But it seems that in the modern world (a "world without windows," as Peter Berger puts it), our earthly good depends on our heavenly-mindedness. In order, then, to show Christian love and concern for a world which craves "otherworldliness," it becomes necessary to remember the words of C.S. Lewis, who maintained that Christians who "did the most for the present world were precisely those who thought the most of the next." Our desire to engage "this world" is a biblical mandate, but just in case we get caught up in our strategies and methods as ends in themselves, Os Guinness wisely reminds us that "the ultimate factor in the church’s engagement with society is the church’s engagement with God," who alone can open eyes to a world beyond our own.