We live in a culture that places the stress on “right now.” It’s called the “Pepsi Generation”; we are told to live life with “gusto” because we “only go around once.” Short-range goals, pragmatic methods of problem solving, a quiet hysteria to make it happen “now,” all point to modern man’s despair regarding the future. The unspoken assumption is that it’s “now or never” because there is no ultimate future for mankind.
Our Christian assertion is that there is more to our lives than “now.” If there is not, then even the “now” is meaningless. But we say now counts. Why? Now counts because we are creatures who have an origin and a destiny that is rooted and grounded in God.
Did I write “rooted?” Why is that word so important? Recently we’ve experienced a cultural phenomenon of epic proportions. The televised drama, Roots, has already had a shaking effect on our people. Can we explain the national reaction to Kunta Kinte and racial strife? I don’t think so. Neither does Alex Haley. Roots typifies a problem that transcends race. It is the problem of identity for all of modern man. Who am I?
The question of identity can never be answered merely in terms of the present. To know who I am involved a discovery of my past (my origin) and at least a glimpse of my future (my destiny). If I am a cosmic accident springing from the dust and destined for more dust, then I am nothing. I am a joke — a tale told by an idiot. But if my ultimate roots are grounded in eternity and my destiny is anchored in that same eternity, then I know something of who I am. I know I am a creature of eternal significance. If that’s so then my life counts. What I do today counts forever. Now, the “now” means something.
Roots stirred us deeply because it provoked the hope that if we go back far enough we might find continuity and stability. Roots had its messiah figure in Chicken George. The program went through an entire episode with Chicken George never visibly present. Yet his “invisible presence” permeated every scene. I have never seen a television production where a character was so obviously present while not appearing on the screen. When George did appear he led his family in a new exodus to a new land of promise. Roots looked backward and forward in such a way as to give the present meaning.
As T.V. treated us to Roots, so Hollywood has treated us to Rocky. This film has captured the public imagination in a fresh way. Perhaps it represents merely an exercise in nostalgia, a throw back to Frank Merriwell and the original happy ending. Or perhaps it represents a protest to the age of the anti-hero and the story line of chaos that characterizes modern filmdom. Whatever the motive, the movie reflects not in the Cinderella motif but the portrayal of human sensitivity displayed in Rocky’s mercy as a bill collector for the loan shark and his tenderness on the ice rink.
Applaudable warmth is seen in Rocky’s “Lennie-like” love for animals and wayward teenagers and his sentiment for his manager. The fruit of discipline, endurances, and devotion to dignity are actually cast in roles of virtue. Rocky worked and fought not for a momentary prize but for a stand of valor that lasts.
Maybe Rocky is a milestone. Maybe we are beginning to see there is more to life than Pepsi-cola. It’s not now or never, but now and forever. Right now counts — for eternity.
It has been thirty years since I penned my initial essay under the byline “Right Now Counts Forever.” It was in the decade of the ’70s, at a time when our culture was still reeling from the deleterious effects of the war in Vietnam, and even more significantly from the radical moral revolution that marked the decade of the 1960s. History has shown that that moral revolution of the ’60s has introduced far more change into life in the United States than the political revolution of the 1770s. Our culture was described in the ’70s as one that was strongly influenced by secularism. The principal motif of secularism is that life is cut off from eternity. All life must be lived in the here and the now, in this saeculum, for there is no eternal dimension. On the heels of secularism came the philosophy of relativism. Though relativism was embraced on many sides in the 1970s, it has since become so firmly entrenched in our culture that the estimated number of Americans embracing some form of philosophical or moral relativism reaches over 95 percent. In this regard, our culture has moved from what was then called neo-paganism to a culture now of neo-barbarianism. Though Roe v. Wade was already in place when I penned my first essay, the proliferation of abortion on demand, which reaches a million and a half a year, has so marked our culture as a culture of death that all vestigial remnants of our civilized culture die with the death of every unborn baby. Our nation is a nation at war with itself, where values, family, and morality so split asunder families and counties, states, and the nation, that the unified basis of our former civilization has been shattered.
One thing, however, has not changed in the past thirty years, and that is the fact that because God reigns, everything that happens today has consequences that last well into eternity. It is as true today as it was the first time I picked up the pen for my byline, that what happens right now counts forever. Let the culture be paganized, let the culture be barbarian, but let the church be the church and never negotiate the eternal dimension of life.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in the May 1977 issue of Tabletalk magazine.