If we can look at the world as God sees it and declare, as He did, that it is good, we should be cheerful, even in the face of great darkness.
Today’s offering in our Timeless Essay series affords our readers the opportunity to join Joseph Pearce, as he looks to a greater hope than what our modern world would have us believe. —W. Winston Elliott III, Publisher
There is no doubt that things are looking grim and that they seem to be getting worse. The forces of hatred have been unleashed. The madness of infanticide is upon us. Modern-day Herods, heralds of a hellish future, are demanding child-sacrifice on the altar of self-empowerment, slaughtering the innocents in a feeding frenzy of pride. Nor is it only the bodies of millions of babies that are being butchered. The traditional family is also being butchered, ripped apart by those who hate fatherhood, motherhood, and childhood.
There is indeed no doubt about it. Things are truly looking grim. As we look towards the doom clouds on the not so distant horizon, we can see all too clearly the storm that is coming.
Surely these are grounds for despondency, even despair. “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here,” says the voice of the future. “The inferno beckons and there’s nothing you can do to escape its ravenous maw.”
The future, or the voice that calls itself the future, is certainly loud and proud, but it is also a liar. It never ultimately defeats the small and beautiful voice of humility, the latter of which whispers in the dark as did Samwise Gamgee in the darkest hour when darkness itself seemed on the brink of triumph. “Above all shadows rides the Sun,” says Sam, “and Stars for ever dwell.” His words are those of hope, which is itself inspired by the knowledge that the faithful soul is never abandoned, even when things look especially dark, especially when things look especially dark, for it is then that the Light beyond all shadows and the Love that defeats all hatred is most present. Above all shadows rides the sun, and above the sun is the One who gave the sun its light and beheld that it was good.
If the One who made the sun and the moon and the stars has beheld that it was good, it behooves us to behold its goodness too. The fact is that we live in a world of goodness, truth, and beauty, which is ultimately beyond the power of evil, falsehood, and ugliness, a world that is charged with the grandeur of God, as Gerard Manley Hopkins exclaims, a world which shines forth its Maker’s beauty in leaf and life, love and light.
“We’re all in the gutter,” says Oscar Wilde, “but some of us are looking at the stars.” One glimpse of the stars is enough to vanquish all darkness, as is the sight of sunlight on a solitary leaf. The witness of one saint outweighs the wickedness of countless tyrants. One candle vanquishes the darkness. One cathedral, ascending prayer-like to heaven, cancels out the din of the world’s distractions. Chartres shatters all mirrors of vanity into vainglorious shards.
But what of the future? What does it really hold and can we really be cheerful in the gloom of its shadow? Doesn’t such cheerful glibness in the face of impending calamity make us ostracized ostriches who hide our heads in the sands of time, oblivious that the sand is itself running out?
These are good questions but they are rooted in a false understanding of the future. As the Gospel song tells us, we don’t know what the future holds but we know who holds the future. And as the song continues, it’s a secret known only to Him. The point is that there is no future if we see it from the perspective of God’s omnipresence. Everything is present to God. Nothing is in the past and nothing is in the future. He knows what the future holds because He is in it. He is in the future as He is in the past and the present. All time is present to Him. He is in it, all of it, even as He is also beyond it in eternity. If this is the case, why on earth or in heaven should one who believes in God fear the future?
If we can look at the world as God sees it and declare, as He did, that it is good, we should be cheerful, even in the face of great darkness. If we can see history as God sees it, as His Story, being told in His omnipresence, we can be hopeful and cheerful in the face of any adversity.
And there is another reason to be cheerful in the fact that evil consumes itself. Returning to The Lord of the Rings, that repository of perennial wisdom, we have the words of Théoden that “oft evil will shall evil mar” and the words of Gandalf that “often does hatred hurt itself.” We don’t need to defeat evil because evil is always in the process of defeating itself. It is unsustainable and self-destructive. It cannot sustain life but can only bring death. What we are witnessing is not the triumph of the culture of death but its sordid and squalid suicide. To be sure, it is truly tragic that so many innocent lives are being destroyed in the death-culture’s death throes but even here we have great consolation. We know that the death-culture has already killed the one truly Innocent Life, hanging its innocent victim on the cross, and we know that Life itself rose from the dead. The innocent, in an eternal sense, are beyond the reach of the powers of darkness. Heaven awaits them. It is in heaven that we will find peace. Nowhere else. Heaven is our true native home, as Thomas Aquinas tells us.
All of us, whether we live in what we call the past, the present, or the future, have lived “once upon a time”; all of us have encountered the dragons of darkness and have either fought them or become them; for those who fought them, trusting in the power of God’s goodness in the darkest hour, there is the promise that we will move from “once upon a time” to “happily ever after.” Now that’s a reason to be cheerful.
This essay in our series of “Timeless Essays” was first published here in July 2019.
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The featured image is “Old Man Drinking Wine” by Eugenio Zampighi (1859-1944).