I think that if you asked most Christians to envision a world where people have forgotten God, they would envision lawlessness.
You know the kind I mean. Sodom and Gomorrah. Noah’s surroundings pre-Flood. Wanton living, self-indulgence, hedonism, sin, every kind of moral decay. Badness and wrongness and sin everywhere, and no one repentant for any one bit of it.
Frankly, though, I think that’s the easiest possible thing to imagine. God is holy; God can’t tolerate sin; of course a world that has forgotten God will be overrun with it. And sin is what humans are best at. It’s not really a stretch to imagine what a world without God’s presence might permit or do. We see enough and commit enough sin in our daily lives to imagine what it would look like writ large.
But lately I have been dwelling a lot on 1 John 4:7-12, and it has been making me think more deeply:
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us
A world that has forgotten God is not just a world rife with material sin. A world that has forgotten God is also a world that has forgotten love. And what does that look like?
We can come up with some descriptions, I think. Rampant self-interest. People with no genuine concern or sense of attention or commitment to anyone else. Selfishness. Meanness. Impatience. Unyielding judgment. Cruelty. Malice. Envy. Resentment. Hatred. The opposite of 1 Corinthians 13.
But to me that still all sounds abstract.
So let me ask you to envision, instead, a world run by Pharisees. A world run by legalism and harsh justice, but with no grace, love, mercy, forgiveness, or compassion to leaven it. Imagine a world without Jesus.
Imagine a world where they went to stone a woman for her adultery, and no one intervened: where she died unforgiven, with no second changes, surrounded by leering and self-righteous judges.
Imagine a world in which the blind, the deaf, the disadvantaged and the oppressed are left to fend for themselves, told that they earned their condition with their sin, and – beyond perhaps being tossed a few coins – ignored and left to die.
Imagine a world in which a sinful woman coming to the Savior with an expensive gift to show her love is shunned and whisked away from his presence so that no one who feels superior to her has to deal with the embarrassment.
Imagine Zacchaeus sitting in the tree alone and unnoticed, then climbing down and returning to a livelihood dependent on stealing from others.
Imagine Peter being turned away at the campfire after his denial because there are no second chances for sinners.
Imagine Ruth telling Naomi, “Tough luck,” or Boaz telling Ruth and Naomi, “I have enough to deal with. Go figure it out yourselves.”
Imagine a thief on the cross thinking, if only someone could save me before he died with no such hope.
You can take it from there. Try to rewrite the New Testament in your mind minus Christ: see the broken staying broken, the ill going unhealed, the lost remaining lost, the lonely and forgotten vanishing into history. Imagine a world without love.
It’s sickening, isn’t it?
Yes, in a world that has forgotten God, sin will reign. And in a world that has forgotten God, love will be dead, too – along with mercy, and compassion, and forgiveness. If that leaves you feeling uneasy, or if you the world around you is starting to resemble a world that has forgotten God, let me encourage you today to do two things:
Commit to, within yourself, seeking to be the righteousness in the world with the help of Christ. Work, as much as you can every day, on not contributing with your own body or spirit to the sin already in the world. (We are good at telling others – believers and nonbelievers alike – not to sin. We are far less good at dealing with our own, which is by far the bigger issue, and perhaps the one we ought to primarily focus on.)
And commit to putting the love, the grace, the compassion, and the servanthood back into the world around you.
It really does depend on us. And if you ever feel hopeless, then do remember the passage above: because God loved us, we can love. And although no one has ever seen God, in the love we share and give, the world will witness Him.
God cannot be forgotten in a world where there are those who love and serve in His name.