From The Blog

Mission Monthly – August 2005

“Came then the men from the East, telling how the frontiers were closing one by one on the Christian idea. And how one by one the old missionary foundations were being destroyed while the idea of an earthly paradise took hold of the minds of men who needed it so desperately because they had so little time to enjoy it.”

The Shoes of the Fisherman by Morris West

I’m sure most of you are familiar with the expression, “The world seems to be going to hell in a hand basket.” I don’t know the origin of this saying but having heard it several times as of late I am pressed to give thought to what I’m sure we all would agree is a world in crisis. Examples of injustice, terror or moral depravity need not be cited here for each of us to be reminded of what a perilous place our world can be.

As I think about these things I am reminded of a striking passage from the Epistle of St. James, “What causes wars, and what causes fighting among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members? You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. Unfaithful creatures! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (4:1-4). If this is true then we must be ready to ask ourselves some very serious questions. What is it that I most treasure? Is the structure of my life built on the sole desire to fulfill the will of God? Are my soul, mind and strength set in pursuit of heavenly things? Am I thankful for my situation in life or is complaining a part of my daily routine? Am I really attending to the daily disciplines of a life of faith? Am I at all drawn to the true joy that comes from a life of sincere repentance or am I mostly drawn to the things which “the world” tells me will bring me satisfaction and pleasure? Have I ever given serious thought to what St. James wrote, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?”

Morris West’s fictional character, His Holiness Kyril Lakota, often meditates on these very practical questions as he walks in “the shoes of the fisherman” as Pope and bishop of Rome. His story is set in a time of great world unrest similar to the time of the “Cold War”. Weapons of mass destruction were in the hands of a hungry world, putting mankind in great peril. Capitalism, communism, socialism, democracy, monarchy, dictatorship—all forms of social government were failing – ways which make ideological promises of happiness. China’s over-populated Marxist society was starving, Russia’s Communist society was crumbling from within, and the Capitalist West was adrift, growing wealthier and suffering from rapid moral decay. Men were looking for answers and they were desperate; a fictional world not much different from our own.

It is the “men looking for answers” that caught my attention, and the notion that man in general is still looking for that illusive “earthly paradise.” Whether obvious or subtle, what has really changed since the time of Babel when men sought to build a tower leading to heaven? The ideology of pleasure still rules the minds of so many, even to the extreme of Islamic suicide bombers who reportedly are “promised” a certain number of virgin women to enjoy in heaven should they give their life in serving the holy jihad.

This is a difficult climate in which to proclaim—and live—the Good News of Jesus Christ. In our own western society—which I believe we must be most concerned with—the ideologies of personal freedom, self-expression and the pursuit of material “happiness” often and clearly stand in direct conflict with the central Christian doctrine of joining ourselves to Christ as co-redeemers. While we must not reject the world outright there are many aspects of the world which must be viewed as anti-Christian. The ideologies of personal pleasure and self-indulgence have not created a thrifty class of spiritually motivated Christians who remember that the heaven we seek is not of this world.

I would discourage the negative view of the world as “going to hell in a hand basket.” There is so much joy in the life God intends for us. But we must never forget that heaven is not of this world, and that no system of government, personal freedom or carnal pleasure will ever satisfy our longing for “paradise.” The limited time we are given in this life is blessed for friendship with God; and when this is our pursuit we will find the one true paradise our hearts are seeking.