“The opening chapters of two great New Testament books keep running through my mind. Both deal with God’s creation and its despoilment by sin; both hold out the alternatives of salvation or judgment. Both chapters are familiar to you, I’m sure. One is the classic prologue of John’s Gospel; the other, that awesome first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans.
John’s prologue twice mentions darkness, each time sweepingly enough to cover not only man’s fall and sinfulness but also the darkness of Crucifixion Day, and even that of our own declining civilization. How graphically this work ‘darkness’ brings into focus the moral malignancy and spiritual sham of the human race! ‘The light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not’ (1:5, KJV). Other versions stress the point that no fury of darkness can overcome or extinguish God’s light; until endtime judgment overtakes us, the light of God’s living Word will continue to expose human wickedness for what it is.
Romans chapter one is much more specific about moral evil. The exploding wickedness of the Gentile nations supplies a sort of Richter scale of civilizational decline, a measure of the slide of men and nations into the abyss of iniquity. As shocks and aftershocks of ethical earthquake surge over modern life, Paul’s letter speaks not only to the Romans but to us also about the crucial crisis of our times, and the judgment that lowers above us.
The theme of Paul’s epistle and John’s Gospel is the same: The light of God is shining through the darkness of human history and is penetrating the very mind and conscience of even a rebellious age. Suppress the truth of God though it may, fallen mankind can in no way eradicate it. God’s light and truth remain and continue to unmask what we are ….
Even in the midst of this dark hour, the Christian community is called upon to sound the call of repentance, forgiveness, and God’s triumph. God is still active in our secular society. He not only warns the impenitent masses of dire judgment but prods them also toward faith, and even prepares some for salvation. Multitudes today are thirsting for personal faith. Many are looking for a messiah; they must be turned from false christs to the risen and returning Lord.
God’s Logos is still lighting every man, still shining in the darkness. The truth of God is still penetrating the mind and conscience of even the most wicked. Even some who seem hopelessly given over to iniquity may come by God’s grace to new life and hope and joy. God is still at work in our world. He is manifesting the consequences of rebellion by abandoning the impenitent wicked to licentiousness and by allowing a long-privileged West to revert to paganism. But God is also lifting to his Savior Son those who seek refuge from the nihilism of daily life without Christ. In his mercy God enables even the desperate to embrace Christ as the rescuer from ruin and despair.
When Paul wrote his letter to the Romans this planet was overwhelmingly pagan. All the Christians to be found in the ancient empire city of Rome could have squeezed into a few small homes. But Paul knew something that, hopefully, you too know and will carry with you into a world desperately needing a vanguard of devout and dedicated disciples. Paul knew the reality and power of the Risen Christ who can turn a vagrant world right side up, can restore recognition of the Lord of nature, of history, and of conscience.
If hope is to prevail in our time, we who know God’s transforming mercy and power must become roving tentmakers in the service of Christ who pitched his tent in a terribly wicked world and unveiled, for us to see, the glory of our life-renewing God. Let us call individuals and nations to a new vision of justice and righteousness. Let us invite a vagabond race to share with us the joys of life redeemed and fit for eternity. For the crisis of our times, the light that shines in darkness is still more than adequate.”
–Carl F. H. Henry, “The Crisis of our Times and Hope for Our Future,” May 14, 1979, published in The Christian Mindset In A Secular Society (Multnomah, 1984), 143-150.