“The United States is a spiritually dark country,” said the man. What made the statement leap out at me, was the felllow making it; a missionary to Colombia for over 20 years. Colombia is a mess; a country ripped apart for decades by civil war, drugs, and corruption. He himself had been kidnapped and held for ransom by guerillas. Yet he had the nerve to come to our relatively safe and prosperous country and make a comment like that – in the rural Midwest Wisconsin, no less.
It struck a jarring note for me, as one who dwells “in the land of the free and the home of the brave.” He must have been talking about the “bad neighborhoods”; infested with gangs and violence, right? Yet he said “country”. His s statement, though, after catching me off-guard, also resonated with me. I believe that he was right; that the “greatest nation on earth” is, in some ways, dark, and growing darker spiritually. The speaker didn’t define “darkness” in detail, but I define it as anything that pulls us away from God and His holy ways. This leads to our first question:
How is the United States growing spiritually darker?
1. It’s growing darker as it pulls more and more away from Christian standards
Although I doubt that the U.S. was ever really a “Christian nation”, the populace, as a whole, was once more sympathetic to Christianity which had a significant impact on our constitution, laws, and society mores. While we resisted a theocracy, or a national church, the assumption that God had something to say about our country was more accepted. Over the years, that general consensus has dimmed considerably. This leads to the next point:
2. It’s growing darker as it grows more intolerant to traditional Christian values
While we’re certainly called to love everyone, we’re also called to proclaim biblical values. What God condemns does not become “hate speech”, just because it’s out of phase with society. And all of us, even Christians, still sin and face biblical censure, not just one group. Christian standards, in general, are receiving increasing pushback, fueled especially by the militant atheists who aggressively attack Christianity and blame it for society’s woes.
3. It’s growing darker as evangelicals become more assimilated into social norms
Paul says, in 2 Corinthians 6:14: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” While I can’t do this justice without citing statistics, my gut instinct is that a lot of evangelicals, wanting to blend in, have also bought in. We’re wary of rocking society’s boat; plus, we’re kind of enjoying the boat ride, since this world does offer temporary pleasures. To test this, ask when the last time was that you were persecuted for taking a Christian stand.
4. It’s growing darker in that there’s a startling lack of interest in serious spiritual dialogue about Christ
A while back, while still pastoring full-time, I took on a second job. I loved being out among the general populace, most of whom did not seem seriously engaged in a church. I was treated well, and my faith respected, but all the spiritual dialogues I hoped and prayed for did not emerge. Although I tried to live Christ out as I worked, and to show His love, my co-workers, as soon as I mentioned God or my faith (and not in a preachy way, either), would quietly change the subject. Almost no one wanted to engage, even after years of friendship and hundreds of prayers. Most of our churches are shrinking in the U.S. and where they’re not, the majority of church growth seems to be transfer growth – people moving from one church to another, hopefully better church. It’s rare to hear of someone coming to faith in Christ, let alone large numbers. I believe that there are hidden spiritual barriers, invisible spiritual battles being fought that we can’t even envision. What’s heart-breaking is that not just obviously “bad” people go to Hell. Lots of apparently decent folks go there too. Without Jesus, not a single one of us is good enough to deserve Heaven.
What can we do about the spiritual darkness in our nation?
1. I battle the spiritual darkness by becoming as light as possible
Seek Jesus first and foremost, above family, friends, and all the world’s benefits. Knowing Him is the center of true life. Seek Him ardently. Obey him wholeheartedly. Love him deeply. Let His light penetrate every part of your being. Half-hearted Christianity is dim and impotent. Get radical. It’s not easy, but it’s exhilaratingly worth it.
2. I battle spiritual darkness by boldly living out my faith in public
Be humble, but be confident and unashamed. You’re a child in God’s family, a member of Christ’s body. Live like it, filled and emboldened by His Spirit. We shouldn’t be preachy or proud, but we can be confident, and bold. It’s important, of course, that our walk match our talk; that we live with love and integrity. In doing this, you will both attract and repel, much as Jesus did. But that comes with the territory.
3. I battle spiritual darkness by ardent prayer
Decades of the latest church growth strategies have not been successful, good as some of the strategies have been. What we need, more than a new strategy, is power – raw spiritual force. We need a spiritual tsunami to sweep this land, a real “Great Awakening”. This can only come through the Spirit of God. He alone has the horsepower required. By the way, I think that we should pray that God do whatever it takes to bring this country to its knees. Are you willing to do that? It may jeopardize our comfortable, secure American way of life. We may suffer greatly as a nation. Is it worth it? Totally.
4. I battle spiritual darkness by actively engaging unbelievers
I know that it’s considered “intolerant” to proclaim that anyone has “the answer” to spiritual truth. But what if it’s true? Jesus said, in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” If He was right, then people need to know about Him. And their salvation is more important than anything else in their lives. It involves their eternity. In the midst of all life’s demands, it’s easy to forget what matters most, which is helping people find Jesus. Society has changed, and so, like Paul did, we must adapt and seek to meet people where they are at spiritually. Most of this will be done outside of a church building. It will require love, prayer, friendship, patience, and time. Like the ancient prophets, we may not be able to stop the darkness in our land, but by God’s grace let’s push back.