The challenges of our time wear people down like waves eroding shoreline. Surely, the same is true for all people at all points in history. The specifics of the difficulties change, but their existence and tenacity doesn’t.
It is likely that all generations perceive they are bound up in a uniquely challenging age. No other time has faced such trials, we think!
And yet, we are not alone.
That we will “face trials of many kinds” was foretold. In a world fallen under the spell of death, it was always going to be the case.
So the people grow worn. With rare exceptions, they witness the injustice of the age with silence. Whirlpools of corruption and gales of violence beat relentlessly in the wind tunnel of time.
As we have seen in recent years, those who do rise up are often tossed down. Protests begin massively and forcefully. The people unite. But as the deeds of death persist, the resistance slowly fades.
We develop our own means of survival. We become adept at hedging, staying cagey to avoid having to face the machinations of the fall head-on. Hiding our realest thoughts becomes a mode of survival. Toeing the zeitgeist-approved line of political correctness—saying just enough to satisfy, but little enough to keep our feelings and understandings of truth closed in the vault of genuine caution—we are survivors.
But merely survivors.
We grow accustomed to pretense and suspicion. Too often, our skepticism breeds cynicism, which leads to mocking as an evasion strategy.
Are we still of any use?
That is the question Bonhoeffer asked in his time—a more desperate moment than our own. His answer would do our own age well.
Are we still of any use? What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, straightforward men.
The higher need of the age—and it seems of all ages—is not to outsmart the enemy. Nor is it to seek isolation, as though a secluded border fortress might be safe ground to critique death—or at least avoid it. Not only is such isolation not safe—not really—it is also not effective.
The need of the age is regular people believing and speaking regular truths to power. This is living out the spiritual in the ordinary. This is being a radical of plain rightness. Such people must endure their conscience and better natures inwardly if they are ever to endure oppression outwardly. The “plain, honest, straightforward” man must be honest with himself first.