Beyond the End of the World

  Tomorrow marks the 125th birthday of G. K. Chesterton, and many of his fans might celebrate by curling up with their favorite Father Brown mystery. But Chesterton was much more than a mystery writer. He was a larger-than-life apologist for the Christian faith, a literary phenomenon who wrote books and essays on every topic imaginable. But it was in his masterpiece, The Everlasting Man, that Chesterton took on the mantle of prophet. Born near the end of the nineteenth century, Chesterton would have been astonished to learn that this book still offers a powerful message of encouragement for people living at the tail end of the twentieth century. The most striking chapter for today's readers is called "The End of the World," in which Chesterton describes the Roman Empire just before Christianity emerged. With magnificent roads, aqueducts, and architecture stretching from the Middle East to England, the Roman Empire was certainly mankind's crowning achievement. But as Chesterton observes, "a dreadful secret seemed to be written… across those mighty works of marble and stone, those colossal amphitheaters and aqueducts: Man could do no more." Rome's accomplishments represented the limit of what man was capable of two thousand years ago. Romans sensed this, and they began looking for "stimulants to their jaded senses," turning to violent entertainments and orgies. But of course that didn't satisfy them either. Their philosophers and wise men seemed to have run out of anything wise to say, turning into mere sophists and clever rhetoricians. Irony and cynicism set in. The great empire began to crumble from within. Then, into this decay and world-weariness, came a band of people talking about the death and resurrection of a Messiah sent by the Creator of the Universe. This was an outrageous and utterly original message, and it was like a splash of cold water in the face of a world-weary populace. Christianity presented a basis for true hope and a clear alternative to the decadence surrounding them. In America today the situation is remarkably similar: We are the world's only superpower; the Dow is well past 10,000. Unemployment and crime are at a 30-year low. And yet there is a deep dissatisfaction among people, a sense that this prosperity somehow isn't enough. The hope and optimism of a few decades ago have given way to a kind of cynicism. Nihilistic philosophies like deconstructionism deny the existence of objective truth or wisdom, and a self-referential cleverness seems to be the pose du jour. But the good news is that we Christians have the same opportunity in America today that the Roman Christians had two millennia ago. If our world has bumped up against the limits of its achievements and is still dissatisfied and hungry, perhaps people will be willing to see that the answer they are looking for has to come from beyond this world. Prosperity and low crime rates cannot satisfy. We need something transcendent, something that comes from beyond our human horizons, and His name is Jesus, the King of Kings, Who rose from the dead. That's what we ought to remember as we observe Chesterton's birthday. We must help our fellow citizens understand, as Chesterton did so brilliantly, that only Christ—“the Everlasting Man"—can truly fulfill their longings.  


Chuck Colson



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