Another year; but hardly business as usual. The world ended on December 21 last year, or so they were telling us right up to the day. Those pesky Mayans—who knew that they had it so wrong about the apocalypse! Of course a certain Family Radio speaker had backdated the event to a few months earlier; but is equally silent now about what happened, or didn't happen. Someone once said that "making predictions is very difficult, especially about the future." It's usually said that the tumble-tongued Yogi Berra made the comment; but there are many other attributions—Mark Twain being more plausible and Confucius likely to claim first use.
We had an election at year's end, and I had thought this editorial could comment on the surge of optimism that we'd be riding by now. I can hardly remember as flat a reelection moment. (Although Clinton with an impeachment looming and Nixon with smoking tapes do come to mind.) Certainly the reelected president has made no overweening comments about wanting to use political capital. Maybe that's bad—at least a number of Web prognosticators have characterized the strategy as "stand back and let it happen." But is that fair! Not even a president controls reality.
Bruce Springsteen in "Tonight in Jungleland" veers toward the Simon and Garfunkel imagery of "the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls," when he sings "Outside the street's on fire in a real death waltz between what's flesh and what's fantasy. And the poets down here don't write nothing at all. They just stand back and let it all be." Ignoring the Beatles allusion, I have to say the imagery is apt: outside our own shaky neighborhood, the streets of the world are increasingly on fire—literally. And let's not kid ourselves; there is the smell of smoke and more than the odd crackle on our own increasingly unquiet streets. I recently watched a relatively evenhanded documentary about the abortion wars in the United States: it was titled "Lake of Fire." And I wonder; What is our culture about to be thrown into?
So often in the past we have called upon the "guardians" of the American experiment for their advice on what they meant by such things as democracy, freedom, and religious liberty. It's become de rigueur for religionists enamored of the Christian nation model to quote the more godly statements, even as they ignore the contrary ones and, even worse, things that show deist views, Masonic confabulations and, worse still, outright support of the French terror. I was impressed by a late 2012 PBS special on religious freedom that handled all of this in a way that was uplifting and respectful of the international wonder that these men wrought. Yet they feared pure majoritarian democracy and expected the people to easily and at some point revert to the excesses that led to the revolution in the first place. It is amazing to read the late life correspondence between Adams and Jefferson, and to come across Jefferson's opinion that Christianity would not survive in the United States. Obviously he was wrong on that count—but how's a mere mortal to know? Unless one is reading Bible prophecy, of course!
Could these men have seen us heading so deliberately off the fiscal cliff? Maybe Hamilton, I guess.
Could these men have seen economic crash and meltdown in our future? Well, they had seen the South Sea Bubble burst in Europe! But I doubt they ever had intimations of a debt that is expressed in trillions or multiples of the gross national product. You've got to go to Revelation to pick up on a global scenario in which all the merchants lament because "in a single hour all this wealth has been laid waste," (chapter 18, verse 17). Sometime up ahead that will happen, even though 2008 gave us a little taste of how it happens.
After the crash of 2008 we wait to see what will happen next time. After the Arab spring we wait to see what a seemingly unstoppable cycle of revolution will bring to the Middle East and Middle Earth. And the bright star over the Sea of Japan this near Christmas brought little hope for that region. Help! What next?
Lewis Carrol, of the Alice in Wonderland, fantasy, but actually an accomplished mathematician, wrote that "if you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there." Too many of the roads up ahead signal trouble. We need to know where we are going—not necessarily whether the world will end one day. I often tell seminar attendees that I can stake my life on one prediction: the world as we know it is about to pass away. Beyond this present world construct is likely a time of runaway technological control and dislocation. Beyond is sure to be a time of declining resources and more wars for access. It will be a time of more natural disasters caused by such things as unnatural global warming. And, I can already sense, a paradoxical swing toward mass faith expression, even as many will come to regard minority faith views as a luxury that species survival cannot afford.
More than 100 years ago the people who eventually began this magazine got into quite a debate about how religious liberty should be projected to the nation's thought leaders. Some wanted to keep the argument to historical and legal points. Another group insisted on the necessity of giving those arguments together with a biblical framework. They insisted that religious freedom in the United States must be linked to biblical faith and eschatology. And in particular they mentioned the Bible Sabbath (a matter of much debate within Christendom) and the second coming of Jesus Christ (a central teaching of Jesus, without which one would have little more than the wise sayings that Jefferson redacted from the Gospels).
This magazine has continued that second approach. We know that the second coming of Jesus Christ is the only perfect solution to all that ails the world and our nation. And we sense that it may be soon. But as the apostle Paul wrote, "That day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed" (2 Thessalonians 2:3).
There might come a day when the basic tenets of the Constitution are practically put aside: that certainly will be a time of crisis for religious freedom (but we defend it because that day can be pushed back).There may be uncertain times ahead for social cohesion. There may be stormy days more blustery than any mega-storm yet seen on the East Coast. But keep an eye on the horizon. Poet Gerald Manley Hopkins wrote how at such a time "morning; at the brown brink eastwards, springs." We must be watchers for that event. We must not be easily daunted by ill-informed end of the world prognosticators and, worse, their solutions. Keep freedom alive in your heart and in your actions.
Author: Lincoln E. Steed
Lincoln E. Steed is the editor of Liberty magazine, a 200,000 circulation religious liberty journal which is distributed to political leaders, judiciary, lawyers and other thought leaders in North America. He is additionally the host of the weekly 3ABN television show "The Liberty Insider," and the radio program "Lifequest Liberty."