Peace Amid Chaos
Picture this: “And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But [Jesus] was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And [his disciples] woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’” (Mark 4:37-38).
If this scene has the ring of familiarity to true Christians in the West, it may not be just because we happen to know this story from Mark’s Gospel. Perhaps it is also because it is now we who are the disciples in the boat. The storm rages around us – the wind blowing and the waves crashing – and the boat most certainly seems to be filling. The cultural chaos in the midst of which we live has gathered hurricane force and, row as we may, the storm seems ready to overwhelm us. Why does the Master not rescue us?
It was nearly a half century ago that Alexander Solzhenitsyn gave his prescient and too-little-appreciated commencement address at Harvard, in which he decried the decline in courage that he said was the most striking feature of the growing “spiritual exhaustion” of the West. He asserted that the “forces of evil have begun their decisive offensive, you can feel their pressure, and yet your screens and publications are full of prescribed smiles and raised glasses.” He asked, “What is the joy about?” It seemed an ill-timed criticism a little over a decade later when the Berlin Wall fell, and soon thereafter the Soviet Union too. Those events duped many in the West into believing that Solzhenitsyn was wrong and that self-congratulation was justified. Now we know it was not. The “spiritual exhaustion” that Solzhenitsyn discerned in 1978 was then only in its adolescent phase. It would take decades more to fully mature.
Mary Eberstadt* does as good a job as anyone in describing what our grown-up spiritual exhaustion looks like: Family chaos, six decades in the making, brought on by “radical social experiments” that have frayed our “elemental human bonds.” Psychic chaos, with mental illness of all sorts proliferating – especially anxiety and depression – the result of endemic disconnection and loneliness, particularly among the young. Political chaos – an inevitable by-product of social forces that make people unattached and dispossessed. Anthropological chaos that manifests itself in the sort of identity crisis that grips the West, with “magical thinking about gender [that] has escaped from the academy and now transforms society and law – magical thinking so preposterous that little children could call it out.” Intellectual chaos, with people who do not believe in truth running the “institutions charged with discerning it” – demonstrated in the need for phrases like “atheist chaplain,” “former man” and “birthing people.”
We are in the midst of spiritual storm. How should we think and behave? First, don’t lose our heads in panic. Remember that our Master is in the boat with us, just as he was with those first disciples. He did not panic then and he is not panicking now. Draw strength and calm and peace from his peace. Second, remember that he is not just our Master, but is also Master of the storm. At the moment of his choosing he rebuked the wind and waves as one would speak to a disobedient dog. And they were stilled. Nothing happening now is outside his control. We must entrust ourselves to the Lord, and to him alone. But third – and drawing on these first two – we must be Christians and not yield to the growing chaos. Listen to Jesus as he says to these disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”
The manifestation of chaos in our time has its own unique qualities, no doubt, but in principle it is nothing new. Our battle now is in full continuity with those fought by Christians in ages past, when God used faithful, courageous men and women – and yes, children – to preserve true faith and godliness in the world. Now it’s our turn. Let us discern the times and stand in the calm strength of our Master and King. Sear this image on your mind: the raging sea, a storm-tossed boat, the perfect tranquility of the One who is Lord of it all, and disciples receiving powerful, graphic instruction in how to think and act like true Christians in the midst of the storm.
*Mary Eberstadt is a Senior Research Fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute. The summary in this paragraph is taken from her speech given to social scientists at the Catholic University of America on September 15, 2021.