Just imagine for a moment what would happen to the Earth if the Sun suddenly disappeared. I expect all sorts of things would happen but focus on these two: the Earth would simultaneously lose its light and lose its way. Everything would be plunged into darkness and the Earth would no longer continue to glide on its beautiful orbital path around the Sun; instead, without the Sun’s powerful gravitational pull, planet Earth would fly off on a new path of its own.
It’s a picture of what is happening to our culture. We live in a society where the meaningful reality of God has disappeared and the result is that we have lost our light and our path. It’s been happening in slow motion over centuries and decades but the results are increasingly obvious.
Once the central ‘gravitational pull’ of God has gone, society begins to follow its own very different path. This isn’t very obvious at first. The Christian faith had such a great impact on our society that it powerfully shaped our values – things like our views of justice, scientific endeavour, family life, freedom. But this Christian foundation was laid down over such a long period of time that we take it for granted – we generally forget that in many ways these things were the product of the profound influence of Christianity on us. Christianity didn’t make our culture perfect and some bad things were done in the name of Christ, nevertheless the Christian faith shaped us – and for the better.
As a society we turned our back on the Christian God a long time ago but we continued to hold onto many of His ways. So while the idea that God stands at the centre of everything has been diminishing for a very long time now, the effect of this has only become clear gradually. But it is becoming clear – clearer and clearer.
At an individual level, if God has ‘disappeared’, then I’m free to fly off in my own direction. God no longer tells me how to think about myself – who I am or how I should live. I no longer have any sense of belonging to Him or being shaped by Him. I belong to myself, I shape life to suit me. And this shows itself in our morality, our sexuality, our communities, our families, our schools and so on.
If you still believe God is at the centre, this is all very challenging. We gladly follow the beautiful orbital path His ‘gravitational pull’ defines for us – we want our lives to continue to circle around Him and we want to live life by His light. But it sometimes feels like we’re living on a different planet! Increasingly we feel less and less at home in our culture.
We mustn’t panic. Christians have been here before. Over the coming weeks in the morning services we’ll be reading through Peter’s first letter. It was written to Christians who felt like ‘aliens and strangers’ in their own society. Peter wrote to help Christians deepen their sense of their own identity as God’s precious people, encouraging us not to retreat into a ghetto, but to live confident Christ-centred lives, expecting to feel uncomfortable, but knowing that we can have a positive impact on others. We need Peter’s wisdom! My prayer is that we would find Jesus encouraging and strengthening us this term as the Spirit speaks to us through His word.
With love in Christ,