At once as far as angel’s ken he views
The dismal situation waste and wild,
A dungeon horrible, on all sides round
As one great furnace flamed, yet from those flames
No light, but rather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all; but torture without end
Still urges, and a fiery deluge, fed
With ever-burning sulphur unconsumed:
Such place eternal justice had prepared
For those rebellious, here their prison ordained
In utter darkness, and their portion set
As far removed from God and light of heaven
As from the center thrice to th’utmost pole.
Paradise Lost: Book 1 [John Milton]
What a description. Milton’s vision of Hell, a realm of Darkness
This place, forged by God before time itself began in preparation for any rebellion.
Adam and Eve were sent from the Garden of Eden, but Satan was sent to Hell. Milton’s imagery is stark and unrelenting. There is power in the words, but as vivid as the description is it does not begin to describe the war we are fighting.
In the beginning [before all time] was the Word (Christ), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God Himself. 2 He was [continually existing] in the beginning [co-eternally] with God. 3 All things were made and came into existence through Him; and without Him not even one thing was made that has come into being. 4 In Him was life [and the power to bestow life], and the life was the Light of men. 5 The Light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness did not understand it or overpower it or appropriate it or absorb it [and is unreceptive to it].
John 1:1-5 Amplified
“The darkness did not understand it or overpower it or appropriate it or absorb it [and is unreceptive to it].” How much more of a description of the situation in the World today do we need than these words, penned by John, the Beloved Disciple around 2000 years ago?
Prophetic? Maybe. Accurate? Certainly.
We walk as figures of Light in a dark world, just as Jesus did. Soldiers of Christ in a war that makes the Normandy Invasion look like a kindergarten outing.
The World – especially in the West – stands against everything the Gospel stands for. We must live in the World, without being corrupted by it. And that’s not easy.
We start out as children of darkness, then we are born into the Kingdom of Light when we accept Christ. But this transformation is an ongoing process. It only truly ends when we pass from this fallen World into the World to come, where Christ makes all things new, wipes away every tear and Death itself is vanquished.
Some of my wording in this entry is deliberately reminiscent of the older hymns I grew up singing as a child and young Christian.
“Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to War”, “Soldiers of Christ! Arise and put your armour on”. Calls to battle. Powerful words from an age when Christ and Christianity was taken seriously, when Christians shaped all walks of life by building schools, prisons, hospitals and a welfare system to support the poor – which in the majority of places have been taken over by Government and the Christian beginnings eradicated until we are left with schools where God is eliminated from the curriculum in favour of the religion of Atheism; prison systems where if you weren’t a hardened criminal when you went in, you are by the time you come out; hospitals where religious influence is minimised at best and usually restricted to prayers over the dead; and a welfare system that encourages the poor to stay poor rather than seeking to help them find a way out of their poverty – it encourages the disabling of the most vulnerable.
How can we not see the darkness in this change? As Christians, how can we live with the bastardisation of what was created by our forefathers to uplift and help all people, beaten into a tool to keep the weakest weak and protect the most powerful and rich?
I think Jesus would look at the Church today, or rather what passes itself off as it, and wonder what happened. There were so many things in the first hundred or so years of Christianity that were done by Christians without hesitation. They gave up possessions, land, houses, family and ultimately their lives rather than see another person in need or deny the presence of Christ in their life.
Today, things are somewhat different. Too often church has become a social club we go to on a Sunday – sometimes – rather than a description of the people who make up the group.
I had the experience of living in the lives of about 30 or so young Christians when I was in my 20s, from the area around Totnes in Devon, England. We lived in each others lives, ate at each others homes. If one person had a car and another needed transport there was no question of demanding petrol money – it was practically forced on the car owner! We would go over to see someone for coffee and end up staying three days. We met together as a group, yes, but the group didn’t define us. Our presence in each other’s lives did that. It was the most amazing time of my life, Spiritually, and although it somehow evaporated those people remain fast in my heart. I would not, no: I could not be the man I am today without the input from those young men and women of God. At 25/26 I was one of the oldest in the group. I was regularly admonished and corrected by younger members, some of them still under 17, who held wisdom and insight far beyond many adults – and I deeply miss their presence in my life on a daily basis.
There was Light in that group. A Light that the darkness of the World couldn’t grasp and couldn’t overpower. We shared everything and thought nothing of it.
But the driving force wasn’t from us, the members. It wasn’t from the church eldership either. The power behind it was we were drawn together by something much bigger than ourselves. Bound together by love, respect and a desire to grow ever closer to Christ as one body. Young men and women sharing space with no question of impropriety even occurring to anyone. We’d crash on the floor together at the end of an evening, sleep on sofas and beds in spare rooms without any question of “motive”. It was simply we were drawn by a desire to grow together.
Darkness never entered the group.
It couldn’t. We looked out for each other too much for it to have a chance to.
It was a reflection of Paradise for me. Heaven on a smaller scale (with less gold on the floor).
It’s not too late. If it could happen in a small group of youth, it can happen on a larger scale.
We can build a vision of a reflection of God’s World in this Fallen state simply by returning to the principles of the Church as led by Peter, Paul and the Apostles.
Paradise does not have to be lost.