Milton! thou shouldest be living at this hour:
England hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;
Oh! raise us up, return to us again:
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power.
Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart;
Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea:
Pure as the naked heavens, majestic free,
So didst thou travel on life’s common way,
In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart
The lowliest duties on herself did lay.
This was the cry of William Wordsworth early in the nineteenth century as he saw the demise of English culture underway. The Church, the state, the home, the writers and shapers of society were called to task, for the nation had lost its soul and was hurtling headlong towards moral defacement. “Milton!” he cried, “England hath need of thee.” I wonder today who we would cry for to be alive again, to lead us through the wilderness.
But where do we look and to whom shall we go? In American politics the name of Lincoln looms large as a symbol of honor and courage. In racial strife the voice of Martin Luther King, Jr. still echoes in our streets, pleading for the end of hate. Do we cry out, “Lincoln, we have need of thee!”? “King, we have need of thee!”? Yet, as I thought of them and of what they stood for, I was struck by the realization that both of them were silenced by assassins. The crimson tide of violence, the best voices notwithstanding, has never been stemmed since Cain drew the blood of his brother Abel.
The thundering question emblazoned in newspaper and on many of our minds—”WHY?”—looms rightfully large again. And yet, as one who stands before audiences all over the world facing hard questions I am sometimes tempted to ask a question of the questioner, “Do you really want a solution or is the constant refrain ‘why’ a way of escaping the responsibility of the answer?” The Bible tells us, “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Jesus wept over his own beloved city and said, “If only you knew the things that belonged to your peace, but now they are hid from your eyes” (Luke 19:42). Their problem was not the absence of answers, rather, the suppression of them. Our predicament, I believe, is the same. There are some clues we already have—enough to bring correctives within our reach. But do we really want the truth?
There are issues in our society that we must have the courage to address, though they are not popular and never will be, for they stare at us in the face. Our societal indicators are important because they are pointers to the malady. At the root of our cultural rot is a wanton failure to admit our contradictions, and contradiction is to reason what evil is to life. When our reasoning is contradictory, the argument breaks down. When evil invades a life, life breaks down. When hope dies in a life, life is embodied loneliness awaiting escape. We have given our children contradictory assumptions about life and are then shocked at their evil behavior and the disintegration of their lives. This cultural breakdown did not happen overnight. When moralizing reaches the front page in a society that denounces moral moorings, the aberration occurs not when one lives in keeping with that theory but when one smuggles in values while denying that values exist. In a soul-less culture the real question is not why violence, but why do we weep at it?
In his cynical way, Malcolm Muggeridge reminded us that all new news is old news happening to new people. He was right. The parents of the first family in Eden questioned whether God had really spoken. Here autonomy squared off against the revelation of God. A value-free society was introduced. Second, the son in turn questioned whether the altar really had any worth. Secularism evicted the sacred and planted the void within. Denying the place of a moral law and thwarting the legitimacy of worship built the first cemetery at Eden. And so it is that we all agree with Muggeridge’s unhappy reminder that atrocities are not new, only the victims are. We would do well, however, to remember another piece of news, which is equally old. In C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters a senior devil is training a junior devil on how to destroy faith in God from the hearts of people: “Work on their horror of the same old thing. The horror of the same old thing is the greatest passion we have put into the human heart.” How appropriate that warning is. We ask why, while we have an aversion or horror for the same old solution. But the story of Newtown or Littleton or Virginia Tech, in an extraordinary way, brings to light the power of the same old thing.
The Bible only speaks of one remedy: the transformation of the heart by making Christ the center. He is the one who takes us from paradise lost to paradise regained, calling Miltons among us who will likewise walk where the hurting walk and embrace as the hurting tremble. The world has need of him; the world has need of them. Those who mock the simplicity of the remedy only make evil more complex and unexplainable. Every heart has the potential for murder. Every heart needs a redeemer. That is the message of Christmas. The world took that child and crucified him. But by his triumph over death he brings life to our dead souls and begins the transformation within. Unto us a child is born and he shall save us from our sins.
Ravi Zacharias is founder and chairman of the board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.