Merging into the New Century

by Rick Shrader

This article appeared in the Baptist Bible Tribune, January, 1996.

We are ready to pay our last nickel of time to the twentieth century. If the first ninety-five years are indicative of the last five, we had better fasten our seatbelts and prepare for warp drive. Learning to navigate the “information super highway” is not unlike the experience of merging onto I-70 for the first time as a sixteen-year-old student driver. I didn’t know if I would like it but I had no choice. Years later, and a thousand miles from the hills of southern Ohio, I’m thankful for the speed and ease of I-70. But to tell you the truth, I would rather be putting along old Oxford-Milford road on a lazy autumn afternoon with no particular place to go!

The difference between I-70 and the information super highway didn’t begin in this century. It began on May 24, 1844 with an inventor named Samuel Morse who never drove a car nor heard of a computer. With one small impulse through a metal wire, Morse removed space as a barrier to the exchange of information. Immediately, neither the horse nor train (and therefore neither the clock) were necessary to get information from one location to another. The very next day, over the same Washington-to-Baltimore line Morse had constructed, the Baltimore Patriot sent a news story from Congress to its readers on the Oregon issue. The information age had begun! Today we have over 11,520 newspapers in the U.S.; 11,556 periodicals; 27,000 video outlets; over 500 million radios and 100 million computers. Instantly, we can see and hear anything that happens anywhere in the world.

The Christian, perched on the on-ramp to the twenty-first century, is faced with a real dilemma: it’s called change. He will have to accelerate from the avenue speed to the Interstate speed. It’s a dilemma because he knows that most people on this new highway are determined to go as fast as possible, ignoring all restraints until they crash and become a faceless casualty on the side of the road. He also knows that an immutable God has made a world which both changes and remains the same. He agrees with C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape who writes to his nephew Wormwood to explain about God’s wish for man, “He does not wish them to make change, any more than eating, an end in itself, He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. He has contrived to gratify both tastes together in the very world He has made, by that union of change and permanence which we call Rhythm.”

A new year has begun which contains new challenges, hopes and fears but it is not really new, it has happened before thousands of times. Springtime will bring new flowers and grass and sap in the trees but it is not new; it is as old as Eden. Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “God had infinite time to give us; but how did He give it? In one immense tract of a lazy millennium? No, He cut it up into a neat succession of new mornings, and, with each, therefore, a new idea, new inventions, and new applications.” It is that “rhythm” of change and permanence that brings quality to life. Hunger is a good and enjoyable experience but it is meant to be taken in cycles. To stop eating or to never stop eating takes away from the intended pleasure and creates an abnormality.

It will be our temptation (since we are children of our age) to desire change for change’s sake more than to desire the things that never change. To our generation the perfectly good word “permanent” has become “stagnant.” Early in this century G. K. Chesterton wrote, “It is true that a man (a silly man) might make change itself his object or ideal. But as an ideal, change itself becomes unchangeable. If the change-worshipper wishes to estimate his own progress he must be sternly loyal to the ideal of change; he must not begin to flirt gaily with the ideal of monotony.” Sunrises and sunsets are monotonous because they happen every day and yet because they are each different they create true abundance in life. It is the child full of vitality for life who says, when bounced on daddy’s knee, “Do it again, daddy!” At the close of each day or the end of every season, at the climax of each worship service, we should say as well, “Do it again, Heavenly Father.”

The Christian legacy in this world is the balance between change and permanency. The Christian hates suicide but loves martyrdom because he understands the difference between the two. He is the keenest visionary, understanding the signs of the time, and yet is a lover of tradition in order to give past generations a voice in his affairs (what Chesterton called “the democracy of the dead”). He understands that God, who is the “same yesterday, today and forever” has also said, “My Spirit will not always strive with man.” The cycles of God’s creation are always the same as before but always different, in perfect harmony with His character. In this way God shows the world “His eternal power and Godhead so that they are without excuse.” The Christian has accepted the permanent attributes of God as well as His changing stewardships and has made both a part of his life.

With this balance of things old and things new, believers can present their Savior to a generation who are stuck in either forward or reverse and never able to fully see God’s purpose in life. The Christian who hides in the past and wishes tomorrow would never come as well as the Christian who worships the future and ignores what happened yesterday have both left the front lines of Christian warfare. We are called to confront the emptiness of our time, not desert and run away nor surrender to the other side.

So let’s pull on out onto this new highway, look ahead, find our open space and get up to speed. But let’s not forget to look in both mirrors as we pull out. A good glance back as well as forward will get us an “A” in the class. And when we’ve roared down the highway for a while and covered more ground than any generation of drivers before us, let’s pull off and take the side road a ways so we don’t miss the flowers that are blooming again or this evening’s sunset.

Rick Shrader

Note:  The author regrets that the footnote references were lost due to the article being originally written on an older PC system.