This issue's publication date is my 49th birthday, and I'm feeling dumber and dumber in relation to, and thus more and more in awe of, the wisdom of God and the way He works in human lives.
Maybe I can wander into this topic by being the last columnist on earth to write something about the Columbine High School killings. I saw no need to write anything last month because the brilliant Peggy Noonan immediately offered the essentials far better than I could in her Wall Street Journal column that we quoted from in World. You may remember her comparison of a gun and a Bible: "Both are small, black, have an immediate heft and are dangerous-the first to life, the second to the culture of death."
You'd think that would be obvious, but the very next day the Wall Street Journal printed a letter in response: "I profoundly wish Peggy Noonan were right, [but] have we forgotten Jim Jones of Jonestown, who convinced parents that it was God's will to put cyanide into their children's Kool-Aid?" Then came more letters with the usual suspect themes: Some atheists are nice guys. Some Bible carriers thump on the first encounter.
So it always goes. Mention something positive done in the name of the God of the Bible and someone will always mention a negative.
For other evidence of how American culture is divided now, drop in sometime on Austin, Texas, my liberal-radical hometown for the past 16 years. Every other week I write a column for our local daily, the American-Statesman. Often the column is similar to a WORLD column received with kind interest by our faithful readers. In Austin, however, "tolerance" is the highest virtue except when it comes to tolerating Christian ideas, so I see no shortage of attacks.
Here's an example: After I noted that parts of our culture are falling apart but that in Christ all things hold together, one rant-to-the-editor proclaimed, "The naive anthropocentric credulity of Marvin Olasky never fails to amuse. The sour-tempered prophet of Nazareth 'is the fulcrum of history' indeed. The known universe is simply too large, too old, and too empty to support such provincial fantasies."
Maybe a writer that angry is closer to a radical conversion, by God's grace, than the sweet reader who can accept Christianity as true because he accepts everything as true. Maybe-but maybe not. When contemplating the mystery of conversion, I more and more discern less and less of a pattern. Some people "get it," others do not, and only God knows why.
In America we are two nations, novelist John dos Passos wrote in the 1920s, referring to the class struggle in which he then believed. We are two nations today, divided spiritually, and only God knows why He gives some new hearts and leaves others on the natural path to destruction, even when they have been prayed for over many years. I know that God acts in surprising ways because 26 years ago I was the one who brought up the negative in response to anything positive said about God. Only God's sovereign grace turned me around.
The post-Littleton prescriptions of secular educationists were sadly funny. "Through dozens of programs in thousands of schools," the Christian Science Monitor reported after the shootings, "students are learning the anger-management tools of modern psychology." Those education czars were confident that their particular silver bullet would stop all the other bullets. All I know is that even a cross won't stop vampires apart from God's sovereign will.
The Bible tells us that God eventually brings down the arrogant, but we often demand the evidence right away. I cherish a colonial newspaper report about a man who blasphemed and that day choked to death. I recently received a much-passed-around e-mail tale about a man who told his pastor that he did not need or care about God, and that very evening died in a car crash. That may have happened, of course, yet the Psalms also tell us about atheists who wax fat and happy, in this life.
Yet I am thankful for his patience and mercy. I benefited from it, and maybe my letter-writing adversaries will also.
If I were king of the universe, I might bring immediate judgment on wrongdoers and desire to end all suffering in the blink of an eye, although I'm sure my blundering would make things worse. But our ways are not His ways, and I've learned to wait as God the master dramatist unfolds new and surprising scenes. I'd love to see God glorified through an end to school shootings and ethnic cleansings. But blessed are those who do not see yet still believe.