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Standing against the tide, athanasius contra mundum


Several years ago in front of the world a man shared, “The problem basically is theological and involves…an improvement of human character that will synchronize with our almost matchless advances in science, art, literature…It must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh.” The author and orator was General Douglas MacArthur while aboard the Missouri, receiving the formal surrender of the Axis powers, ending World War II. MacArthur understood that man’s problem was above all spiritual, and ignoring this fact would be to the detriment of all people. “Exhibit A” for him was two world wars that together cost 120 million lives.

As prophetic as his words were, his warning has been to a large extent ignored, with the decades following his pronouncement giving birth to more wars, a questionable deterioration of cultural values in America, the “God is dead” movement of the ‘60s, the cynicism of the 70s, and the materialism of the 80s and 90s. Now well into the 21st Century skepticism about the future abounds.

Two thousand years ago Jesus asked, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). It is a question that each person must answer in the light of Jesus' call to become salt and light in the world.

When William Wilberforce led the abolitionist movement in the nineteenth century, his opposition was fierce. For some twenty years his bill to outlaw slavery in Britain was voted down in Parliament. Growing weary of the fight, he often turned to a letter he received from his spiritual father, John Wesley. Wesley had told Wilberforce that his call was to be athanasius contra mundum, Latin for “against the world.” Though exhausted, Wilberforce knew his calling in life was to make a difference in the world. In all he gave almost fifty years to seeing slavery eradicated, dying just three days after it was abolished in Britain due in great part to his own efforts. Wilberforce was truly salt and light in his day.

As we see challenges in our own lives and around us in culture, be they economic or political or personal, may we understand that they are first of all spiritual problems. May we understand that the answer is to be faithful to our calling as salt and light. And may we answer Jesus’ question about finding faith with a resounding “Yes!” demonstrating our convictions by our words and actions, and when necessary standing athanasius contra mundum.