When Things Look Really Hopeless
It’s a sin for a Christian to give up hope, because the no-hoper, in his mind, limits the power and goodness of God. But who hasn’t taken a fair number of steps down that road? If the Obama Age can’t move one to despair, what can?
Last week we considered an episode of history—the near-obliteration of the British people by waves of pagan foreigners invited to the island by the traitor king, Vortigern. You may remember that I set aside the story of how the Britons escaped annihilation, saying, “But that’s another story.”
Now is the time to tell that other story.
Bear in mind that the years following the fall of Vortigern—from, say, the mid-5th century and all through the 6th—have no professional historian. Just to stay alive in Britain, in those days, was a real achievement. So the history of that period gives us very little of who did what, and when, where, and how. It was a turbulent time, and has come down to use haunted by legends and uncertainty. But here is what we know for sure.
One. The Romanized, Christian population of Britain was on the point of being wiped out by pagan invasions—the Picts from the north, the Anglo-Saxons from continental Europe. Many fled overseas to what is now Brittany, in France: the people living there today are the descendants of those refugees. But in Britain itself, the Picts depopulated whole districts between Edinburgh and York, while the Anglo-Saxons swallowed up much of the country from the North Sea to the west, moving inexorably toward the Irish Sea. Wherever they went, the invaders burned down Christian churches.
Two. Sometime around 500 A.D., the pagans’ conquest of Britain was abruptly halted. Because of this, the native Britons survived in areas we now call Wales, Cornwall, and the northwest of the island, south of Scotland.
Three. By the early 7th century, the pagan nations had been mostly converted to Christianity and were building their own churches and producing their own Christian saints, bishops, and writers. In another hundred years, the Venerable Bede, an Anglo-Saxon saint, would compile a history of the Church in Britain that is still read and studied today. The new nation of England had become a Christian nation strong enough to survive a massive invasion by the Danes, defeat it after many decades, and convert the heathen Danes to Christianity.
This was a remarkable deliverance; we might even say “miraculous.” But the surviving records of the time are so fragmentary, so much was lost or never written down, that we still can’t say for sure how the deliverance was accomplished, or by whom.
Tradition ascribes it to King Arthur, and to no one else. We cannot judge its accuracy. But someone stopped the Saxons, somehow. And try to imagine the toil, and the physical danger, faced by an unrecorded number of nameless priests, monks, bishops, and martyrs as they converted the invaders.
The point is, the condition of the British Church and nation in the 5th and 6th centuries was as desperate, as perilous, and as close to be totally lost as it is anywhere in this fallen world today—indeed, much more so.
Did Sovereign God Almighty permit His Church to be wiped out? No: He gave it the power to conquer, and not by force or arms or violence. Out of swirling, bloody chaos He rescued a Christian nation whose descendants brought the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every corner of the world.
Fifteen centuries later, God is still at work, taking all this time because He respects our free will, endures our sin, and is patient with our folly. Because we are mortal, and our life-span is so short, and because we find it so terribly hard to walk by faith, and to see with the eyes of faith, we look at this evil age and see on ruin and culture rot. How many times have I come close to committing the sin of giving up—not out of wickedness, but out of blindness?
God will do as He has said, and He will do it patiently. He is not subject to our limitations in time and space. Christ shall reign on earth, because the Lord has spoken it. His enemies shall be made his footstool, the corrupt powers of a fallen world shall be put down, and the government shall be upon His shoulder, forever.
Our destiny is not Agenda 21, but the reign of Christ our King—
Whether we can see that far ahead or not.
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