Now or Never
My wife and I are currently spending some time living abroad in Penang, Malaysia, where she teaches in the art department at an international school. After volunteering to chaperone a group of thirty high school seniors on their annual trip, she and I found ourselves desperately trying to get some sleep on the overnight bus ride that would take us across the entire Malaysian peninsula to where we would connect with a boat to the island of Redang. We were not quite prepared for the nature of that struggle, as many of the students were engaged in an impromptu karaoke session to some of the latest pop songs, singing at the top of their lungs. They began to sing a song by John Bon Jovi, which, as we began to decipher the lyrics, we joked must have been the postmodern ‘theme song.’ The chorus sings, ‘Oh baby it’s now or never. I’m not gonna live forever. I just wanna live while I’m alive.’ Needless to say, we had a little fun with the triteness of this sentiment. After all, what exactly does the singer mean by living while he is alive? As we listened, the philosophical conflict which we had assumed would go unrecognized was completely expressed when I heard a student sitting behind me say under his breath, ‘I am gonna live forever.’ He had bypassed much of what our culture struggles with epistemologically by asserting the most absolute and finite truth he knew- the redemption and resurrection through the saving grace of Christ- and thereby revealing the clash of worldviews happening right there on the bus.It is not necessary to dwell much on the explanation of the epistemological climate in which we currently live. The influence of relativism is strongly felt in almost every conceivable level; it skews the trajectory of social thinking and programs, establishes a historical myopia, and subjects almost all philosophical and theological conclusions to the utmost intellectual scrutiny while excluding itself from that same scrutiny. When truth in essence is unreachable, as we are told today, then we must settle for truths in plurality, which in itself is not wrong, but as an end, provides few answers. Yet many are content with truths, not necessarily because of what they individually may provide, but I suggest for the gaps between them, which allow ideas to go unchallenged no matter what they may advocate. Taken to the next level, which I believe we see today, truth as an objective reality has been rejected, leaving the individual no more latitude than the limits of himself in his search. Ravi Zacharias has said that no matter what the abuse, some professor from somewhere could be flown in to validate it. Thus the gaps are filled with even more particular and derivative ‘truths’ prescribed by intellectual authority.
Going back to the Bon Jovi song, which expresses the fatalism so typical of our relativistic society: If there is no epistemological base, then there is no means of certainty for the future. For if truth is limited to us, in all of our non-eternal finiteness, we have no point of reference for a transcendent future. If there is no certainty for the future, then living for the now becomes very attractive, if not necessary. But the Christian worldview is determined by both a present understanding of God-given morality and an eschatological scenario based on the promise of salvation in Christ specifically because of its grounding in a transcendent source of truth. If we can trust the future, then there is no reason left to live for the now at all costs. If we know that our souls are secure in Christ, then we don’t have to subscribe to the ‘now or never’ mentality. If it is ‘now or never,’ then at what cost? At what cost to others or to even ourselves? Carl F. H. Henry wrote what I think is an astute refutation to the ‘now or never’ thinker:
“Biblical truth, tran-scultural as it is, has an indispensable message for contemporary culture. It addresses modern learning, modern ethics, modern political and economic concerns and all the idolatries of our polytheistic society. It proclaims the Gospel to a generation that is intellectually uncapped, morally un-zippered and volitionally uncurbed. Those who consider the latest fads permanently in will of course dismiss the Christian message as the last hurrah of an antiquated outlook. They reveal their sickness of soul by derogating terms like morality, piety, family, work, patriotism, born-again, evangelical, theology; Christianity they dismiss as a kind of middle-class hedonism, declaring it intellectually inadmissible they meanwhile espouse a life that neither reason nor conscience nor spirit can support or condone. Repression of sensuality and of self-gratification they call psychotically abnormal. Subordination of the flesh they leave to Medieval monks or consign to the future resurrection. Affirming sexual pleasure to be the supreme good of a life of unending revelry, they waste away into ethical ghosts and skeletons.”