Saturday, October 1, 2011


A crisis is a fork in the road of life. It is a place of decision; an inescapable shift in one’s direction. Most of us do not like such moments. We would much rather maintain the leisurely pace of habit and routine.  We would like to keep doing what we’ve been doing. Be who we’ve been. Believe what we have believed.

Crisis requires a reevaluation of things we would rather just take for granted.

A medieval peasant for example, did not question his piety or his view of reality. He lived life and approached death with the security that “as it was from the beginning, is now and shall ever be, world without end.” He knew that the world ended somewhere beyond the straits of Gibraltar, and that somewhere beyond lay the boundaries of human habitation. Great dragons and monsters guarded that boundary and terrorized those foolish enough to venture toward the edge. He knew that there were four corners of the earth. The sun and moon rotated around the planet to give humankind light and heat. The stars sprinkled the skies to help us navigate the seas and, could, if properly studied, give directions about whom to marry or when the hour of death would come.

Then Copernicus and Columbus shattered the way the world worked.  They shook the foundations of Europe’s faith. After them, how could a man still believe that the sun once stood still in the valley of Ajelon and gave Joshua more time to win the victory over his enemies? How could one still believe that the sun runs his daily course across the heavens like a bridegroom processing to his wedding?

Well, most peasants just dismissed the news about a round earth and the discovery that we inhabit a heliocentric solar system. So if pressed, they responded to such information with amusement, indifference or anger. Why not? There were crops to plant. There were babies to conceive. There were old people to bury. Abstract intellectual ranting in big cities was not worth the normal person’s concerns.

That’s why phrases like “the setting of the sun,” and “the ends of the earth,” survived, even to our own times.  Common people ignored the implications of important discoveries for a very long time.

So, in time the old phrases became poetic forms of speech.  Gradually, the knowledge sank in and the words shifted their meaning. People who still believe in a flat earth now become wards of the state and are forced to wear funny jackets.

The crisis in cosmology that ended the medieval world, and turned the word “sunset” from a description about reality into a poetic metaphor, took centuries.

We don’t get centuries to process our intellectual revolutions. Since 1901, we have absorbed the equivalent of a Copernican revolution every five years:  the theory of relativity, quantum mechanics, continental drift, the double helix, the digitalization of records, translation software that promises to make all data accumulated in all times and in all places available to all in their own tongue - need I go on?  

We simply have not absorbed what all this means. However, we will not have the luxury of living as though the world is the same as it was in 1880.

In one sense, we haven’t done that, of course. For many generations now we have been using nifty new gadgets produced by all these discoveries. The point it though, we have been doing our best to ignore the radically different view of reality that these discoveries have made possible.  Nonetheless, the world has been shifting as we have fought our wars, made our money, raised our children, and yes, said our prayers.

Now the explosions of new information have become impossible to ignore, even at the popular level. All sorts of global crises in a number of fields are forcing us to the crossroads. Furthermore, by the time we adjust, new pieces of information make our adjustment obsolete. We find ourselves required to adjust again.

We are just not built for this. It is like constructing a house in an earthquake.

So, if our faith is in a system, dogma or protocol; we are going to treat new information like sea monsters. Our terror will grow. Our rage will increase. Our grip on sanity will become ever more tenuous. The center will give way.

As we approach the crossroads, we will decide to take the right fork, only to encounter another crossroads. We’ll stumble through that one and find ourselves facing yet another. At each turn, we will only be able to guess about where to turn because we have no maps for this new territory.

What we do have though is a friend who knows the way.

It was a Person who guided our ancestors across the horror of their collapsed system of medieval thought. That person delivered our ancestors safely into the modern age. That is why it is difficult for us to understand why the changes were so excruciating for them. We are so adjusted to modern thought that the medieval systems of thought, so carefully constructed on a foundation of faith, seem to us bizarre and alien. The crisis forced a new way of thinking about the world and about faith. Yet, we do not experience that shift as a loss of faith, although our ancestors certainly did at first.

The same Person is with us that was with our ancestors. Of course, he does not override our idolatrous obsession with systems and protocol. So if we refuse to trust Him, we may miss the turn, all the while clutching our terrors and mumbling our clichés and slogans. 

These are times that try men’s souls. The crisis is painful and disorienting.

The crisis is also unavoidable.

Our old world is not coming back.

Unfortunately, many of our maps are inaccurate.  They describe the territory of that old world, like those maps everyone loves with the sea monsters at the edge of the earth.

Since we don’t have a map, we need to listen carefully to our Helper.

Otherwise, we will have to wrestle with the monsters, even if they are not really there.

We will not win that fight because we will be fighting our own heads.

There is only one way through this crisis: we must cling to the Christ.

Image of a DNA helix

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