As I reflect on some of what has happened in the last year and look to the New Year, I keep thinking of two quotes, one of which I aspire to have frame my attitude in the coming year.
The first is from Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way . . .”
That seems as apropos today as it did at the time of the French Revolution, the period of which Dickens wrote. Our culture is likewise in upheaval. What else can you say about a culture in which five lawyers have attempted to jettison for the whole country an understanding of marriage that has been held for thousands of years and in which the constitutional guarantee of religious liberty no longer prohibits the government from forcing you to participate in events that you find antithetical to your core beliefs?
It sure seems like “the worst of times” for those who believe that the judiciary is only supposed to judge laws, not make them; that marriage still should be what marriage has always been; and that the government should protect your religious liberty, not punish you for it.
In view of that, what then could possibly be the countervailing “best of times”? It is in response to that question (one I admit I have asked myself a lot lately) that I’m reminded of another quote from an obscure book by an obscure man.
The man is Athanasius and his short little book is titled On the Incarnation. These are the words he penned while living through one of the worst periods of persecution in history, during Emperor Diocletian’s attempt to purge the Roman Empire of the Christian Faith.
“[W]hile idolatry and everything else that opposes the faith of Christ is daily dwindling and weakening and falling, the Saviour’s teaching is increasing everywhere! Worship, then, the Saviour “Who is above all” and mighty, even God the Word, and condemn those who are being defeated and made to disappear by Him. When the sun has come, darkness prevails no longer; any of it that may be left anywhere is driven away. So also, now that the Divine epiphany of the Word of God has taken place, the darkness of idols prevails no more, and all parts of the world in every direction are enlightened by His teaching.”
Such optimism and hope in the face of the horrors of Diocletian’s persecution! How could it be? How could that have been the “best of times”?
The answer is contained within the quote. It rests on the epiphany of which Athanasius spoke, which will be celebrated by certain Christian denominations on January 6th.
For the modern church, Epiphany is mostly a recognition that, in Christ’s birth, God’s salvation was extended beyond the Jews to all men. But for Athanasius this salvation encompassed more than the modern Christian idea that salvation means getting to rest on God’s celestial shore after we’ve endured hell on earth. Rather, the epiphany was that God had come to earth to set things back in order on earth. It was, as Christians sang in recent weeks, “Joy to the world! The Lord has come! Let earth receive her King!”
So it is with Athanasius that I can answer my question and say, “It is the best of times.” Not because the present circumstances are as I would wish them to be, but because earth’s King has come. And the prophet Isaiah assured that when the Child-King came, as he prophesied would happen, the government of all things would rest on His shoulders and of the increase of His Kingdom there would be no end (Isaiah 9:7).
It’s on that thought I will place my hope for the year to come.
David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.
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