Imagine, if you would, that you are the most powerful person in the world. Now imagine that you are also the richest person in the world. Would your life be fundamentally different? Would everything that is now ordinary about your life become extraordinary? Not according to the wisest man in the world. King Solomon reigned in Israel at the peak of its power. Israel was at that time a world power, her borders swelling. Solomon likewise enjoyed the wealth of Croesus (the grossly rich Greek king). No one on the planet was as wealthy as Solomon. Better than all this, however, he was gifted by the God of heaven and earth with wisdom. In that wisdom, and in light of experiencing every pleasure, every distraction that the world had to offer, he spoke this heavy nugget: “There is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9).
The brave new world, under the flashing lights and tinkling bells, is the same world it has always been. Such does not mean, of course, that we ought not be on our guard amidst swirling cultural change. We are called, after all, to discern the times. That, however, is precisely the point. We can only grasp the winds of change when we are tied to the mast of the permanent things. To walk steady in the midst of shifting sands we do not seek to better understand the sand. Instead we long to have our feet set upon the Rock. Then, and only then, will we sing a new song.
That the brave new world is the timid old world does mean, therefore, that we must hold on to the old truths. No matter how swiftly technology may be changing, it will not change these realities — that we, in ourselves, are sinners at war with God Himself. No matter how slippery the culture’s conception of truth, the truth is He sent His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have eternal life. No matter how dizzying the world becomes, He still has the whole world in His hands. And no matter how overtly the culture rebels against its rightful king, we are to be of good cheer, remembering that He has already overcome the world.
His victory, however, is not merely the cause of our good cheer; it also rightly informs our strategy. If the wheels really were coming off the world, if these dazzling changes really were something new under the sun, then we could understand the temptation to change course, to adapt, to contextualize, to go with the flow. If, however, Jesus reigns now, if He sends His Spirit in power across the globe, if He wields His Word as a two-edged sword, then we can stay with the program. We can continue, for all authority has been given to Him in heaven and on earth. By this authority He has ordered us to go and make disciples of the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that He has commanded us. We can live in faith, remembering that He is with us even as we walk through Vanity Fair — even to the end of the age.
C.S. Lewis was not only a lay theologian but was also a scholar of English literature. During the height of the Second World War, he penned an essay in which he asked why, in the midst of such a titanic struggle between good and evil, anyone would “waste” time studying literature. He then explained that those who refused to think on matters of culture will not end up with no culture but with bad culture. Culture is inevitable, both in war and in peace. No one can set it aside for a time to deal with the important stuff. In like manner, if we believe that the broader culture is so much background noise, we will not steer clear of it but will buy into it. Those who ignore culture are doomed to repeat it.
If we don’t, for the sake of the gospel, adjust for the culture, and we don’t, for the sake of the gospel, ignore the culture, what do we do? We seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. We build a culture around and upon the lordship of Christ over all things. We live our lives, as much as is possible, in peace and quietness with all men, which is, at one and the same time, the very power of His assault on the gates of hell. As we refuse to get frantic and adopt the pace of the broader culture but instead live simple, gospel-infused lives; as we raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; as we hunger and thirst after righteousness; as we meditate day and night on His law and rejoice day and night over His grace; suddenly the world slows down. Our hearts are calmed. We are still, and we know that He is God.
There is nothing new under the sun. But every day, more and new things are being brought under the Son. The mustard seed is growing. The leaven is working through the lump. That Rock, unhewn by human hands, is expanding across the globe, and the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is covering the earth as water covers the sea.