Reflecting God’s passion for righteousness, justice, and mercy in the new dark ages
If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought to conclude that for some time now we too have reached the turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope… We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another – doubtless very different, St Benedict.Alasdair MacIntyre
To model the kingdom of God in the world, the church must not only be a repentant community, committed to truth, but also a holy community.
The Judeo-Christian heritage is distinguished from all other religions by its covenant with a personal God who chose to dwell in the midst of his people. “I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God,” said the Lord) In Hebrew the word dwell meant “to pitch a tent”; God said he would pitch his holy tabernacle in the midst of the tents of the Israelites. In the New Testament we read “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Here also the word dwelt in the Greek is translated “to pitch a tent.” The covenant, both old and new, is that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who later became flesh in Christ, actually dwells in the presence of his people. And thus it: is that the central requirement of our faith is that we be holy, for a holy God lives in our midst.
The apostle Peter echoed this theme when he said:
“You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.”1 Peter 2:9
Reflecting God’s passion for righteousness, justice, and mercy
The church is to be a community reflecting God’s passion for righteousness, justice, and mercy. When we are that holy community, we make an impact on an unholy world, no matter how desperate the circumstances.
Thousands of such communities of light exist around the world in accountable fellowships where the Gospel is faithfully proclaimed and where members reach out in an effort to bring God’s mercy and justice to those around them.
…For as the church maintains its independence from culture, it is best able to affect culture. When the church serves as the church, in firm allegiance to the unseen kingdom of God, uses it in this world: first, as a model of the values of his kingdom, and second, as his missionary to culture.
God uses our faithfulness to preserve and restore human culture
The monks and nuns of the Dark Ages acted out of obedience to God, and God used their faithfulness – without their knowing it – to preserve culture and ultimately restore Western civilization. As Christopher Dawson has said:
“The culture-forming energies of Christianity depended upon the Church’s ability to resist the temptation to become completely identified with, or absorbed into, the culture.”Christopher Dawson
Only as the church maintains its distinctiveness from the culture is it able to affect culture.
Another example that clearly illustrates this comes from the Cuban Isla de Pinos, from a prison so dark and remote that most of the world never even knew it existed. The huge circular cellblocks were built during the 1930s under Batista’s regime. When someone asked the dictator why he had built it so big, he replied, “Ah, don’t worry. Somebody will come along who will manage to fill it up.” That somebody was Fidel Castro.
One of the prisoners there was a young anti-Communist named Armando Valladares. Early in his confinement, he often heard prisoners – fellow Christians – taken to the firing squad. Such executions always took place at night, and the dark silence would be broken by triumphant shouts: “Viva Cristo Rey! Long live Christ the King!” Then the explosion of gunfire – and silence again. Soon all prisoners were gagged before their executions. The killers could not stand their victorious defiance.
According to Valladares, the most faithful member of that tiny Christian community, made up mostly of Catholics, was a Protestant prisoner known simply as the Brother of the Faith. He constantly sang hymns to God and shouted encouragement to his brothers to have faith, to follow Christ to the end.
The Brother of Faith
Then one night several prisoners were forced from their cells, and guards began to beat them with sticks, truncheons, bayonets, and chains. “Suddenly,” writes Valladares, “as though to protect them, there appeared a skeletal figure with white hair and flaming, bizarre eyes, who opened his arms into a cross, raised his head to the invisible sky, and said, ‘Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do.’ The Brother of the Faith hardly had time to finish his sentence, because as soon as he appeared [the lieutenant] ordered the guards to step back… he fired his AK submachine gun. The burst of fire climbed the Brother of the Faith’s chest, up to his neck. His head was almost severed, as though from the blow of an axe. He died instantly” (Against All Hope, Ballantine Books, 1986, p. 421).
Fortified by the faithfulness of this one man, as well as by his own faith, in a way he could not forget, Armando Valladares survived gross inhumanity, psychological abuse, and torture for twenty-two years. In 1983 he was released and made his way to the West and freedom. His memoirs of those dark years, Against All Hope, have exposed to the world the hidden horrors of Castro’s prisons.
And therein lies the irony: Though Castro controls the Cuban press, suppresses the visible church, conquers academia, and rules a ruthless government, he cannot rule the spirits of those he has enslaved. He cannot extinguish the light of the soul set free by God. And out of a flicker of light in one dark prison came the indictment of his regime that shocked the world.
Out of brokenness comes wholeness and might
Is this not the way our Lord works? Out of brokenness and foolishness come wholeness and might. Out of prison comes power – real power – that defies even the most brutal repression. Out of tiny monastic outposts come education, moral endurance, and artistic excellence that can save a civilization. And out of holy obedience today, in communities of light, will come what he wills, as we are faithful.
Excerpt from Against the Night © 1989 by Charles Colson. This book was first published by Servant Books, 1989, Ann Arbor, MI USA. Republished in 1999 by Regal Books. Used with permission.
Top image credit: A people radiating light and unity standing together, illustration from Bigstock.com, © by Mike Kiev, stock photo ID: 1423299. Used with permission.