“This is one of the best days of my life. I feel like I might be dreaming or something. I thought my life was over. I will remember this day for a long time. You don’t know how much I appreciate this . . . you really don’t know.” This is how a one-hundred-year-old veteran thanked a stranger named Isaiah Garza for taking him to Disneyland.
A now-viral video posted to TikTok shows Garza approaching the elderly man (after coordinating with the man’s caregiver) to say, “I’m sorry to bother you, but I’ve had a really rough day. Do you want to go to Disneyland with me today?” The man was shocked but delighted. Garza told a reporter later, “First we went on the tea cups and it was his first ride in like fifty years and then It’s a Small World and sang it together like fifty times it was so cute.”
Garza captioned part of the video: “Became best friends for the day.”
“The nicest place on the internet”
Unsurprisingly, Harvard University reports that “loneliness appears to have increased substantially since the outbreak of the global pandemic.” More than half of all US adults are considered to be lonely; young adults are twice as likely to be lonely than seniors.
In response, a website calling itself “the nicest place on the internet” will give you a virtual hug. Social media offers unprecedented virtual community. But we need community that is more than virtual.
What God said of Adam is true of us all: “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). You and I were made in the image and likeness of the God (Genesis 1:27) of triune community (2 Corinthians 13:14) who created us to love him and to love each other (Matthew 22:37–39).
As we close our weeklong focus on our status as the children of God, let’s focus on this fact: if you are a child of God, you are part of the family of God. The community he offers you and offers the world through you is a gift no one else in the world can give. It is a gift we were created to need. It is a gift that makes the church uniquely relevant to our fractured culture.
It is a gift you are invited to embrace and to share for an especially urgent reason today.
“The source of order in man and society”
Gnosticism (from the Greek word for knowledge) was a second-century heresy that believed humans can save themselves from this evil material world through a special type of knowledge of the divine mysteries. However, this knowledge was reserved only for an elite group who claimed to understand what others did not.
Eric Voegelin was a German-American political philosopher. In The New Science of Politics: An Introduction, he used this ancient concept to describe the rising secularism of Western culture: “The more fervently all human energies are thrown into the great enterprise of salvation through world-immanent action, the farther the human beings who engage in this enterprise move away from the life of the spirit. And since the life of the spirit is the source of order in man and society, the very success of a Gnostic civilization is the cause of its decline.”
Let me recast his crucial insight in a current context: Like the ancient Gnostics, a group of cultural elites is convinced they can bring about the “salvation” of society through secular progressivism. However, “the life of the spirit” stands in the way of their secular utopia. As a result, they employ LGBTQ ideology, abortion activism, and other unbiblical causes to expose and condemn the “discrimination” inherent in Christian orthodoxy and thus free society for radical individual “authenticity.”
Here’s their problem: as Voegelin notes, the “life of the spirit is the source of order in man and society.” Consequently, the disintegration of our social unity, escalation of crime, and epidemic of sexual immorality we are witnessing today are inevitable results of their secularist agenda.
“The final word in reality”
Voegelin’s thesis explains why it can be difficult for evangelical Christians to reach cultural “Gnostics” and those they represent: they are foundationally convinced that they understand what we do not. They are certain either that the Bible is wrong on the cultural issues of our day or that we are wrongly interpreting it. Either way, they have no interest in rational dialogue or personal engagement with people they consider dangerous to society.
How, then, are we to reach them and those they influence with God’s word and grace?
Here is where today’s focus on community is so relevant. Every person who has ever lived was created for authentic, life-giving relationship with others. However, from Cain and Abel to yesterday’s shooting in Raleigh, North Carolina, that left five people dead, sin disrupts and corrupts these relationships. Secularism has no solution for sin; it can try to legislate against its symptoms, but it cannot reach their source.
As the Christian psychiatrist and author Curt Thompson notes: We have to change our lives if we want our lives to change.
You and I are called to “have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1 Peter 3:8). Then, we are to extend this community to our critics: “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called” (v. 9). When we experience such grace with each other and offer it to the world, the “God-shaped emptiness” in every soul is drawn to the Source of our love.
On this day in 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. won the Nobel Peace Prize. In his acceptance speech, he proclaimed: “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.”
Let’s speak that word into reality today, to the glory of God.