God believes in training, and He especially believes in difficult training. The reason He believes in difficult training is that you are going out to serve Him in a difficult world.
Christian discipleship is a matter of cultivating a willingness to die, preparing to die, and then dying. All of these things are difficult, and it does no good to wish it were otherwise.
“I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.”
1 Corinthians 15:31 (NKJV)
“Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”
Matthew 16:24 (NKJV)
But dying to what? In one sense, the answer to this question is perennial, and it is the same for every Christian, in every age. We must die to the world, the flesh and the devil, and we are called to do this in three different ways.
However, there is an additional variation on this theme because between the three of them, the world, the flesh, and the devil have more than one trick.
And in this sense, the difficulties vary because generations vary, and they bring different temptations, sins, and challenges with them. For example, in some generations, the prevailing sin is nominal Christianity, and so the difficulty in education and training is getting the student to distinguish between white and off white. In other generations, as when the fascist frenzy swept Europe in the days of your great-grandparents, the difficulty was found in the clash between good and evil. These are not the difficulties that you are going to encounter.
No, it now appears that your battle will be the collision of normal on the one hand, and a nightmare of nonsense on the other.
It seems scarcely possible to us now, but one of the entertainments of the 18th century was for normal people to take tours of the insane asylum at Bedlam in order to make fun of the inmates there. Scarcely less credible is what awaits you—you are being graduated into a world where the inmates are all going to make fun of you.
We live in a time when God is not honored as the only one who can give the world coherence, and so after we spent all the accumulated moral capital from previous eras, we find that we are now living in an incoherent world. Nothing hangs together anymore. Nothing follows. The center does not hold, as the poet once said. Life is just one random thing after another, history just one damn thing after another, and everything around you is assumed to be infinitely plastic and malleable. If there is no point, if there is no telos, if there is no design, then anything can be anything else. Whatever you want, or, more terrifyingly, whatever somebody else wants.
This is why a boy can be a girl, up can be down, debt can be wealth, and we really ought to be more mindful of what the prophet Isaiah said centuries ago.
“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”
Isaiah 5:20 (NKJV)
This declared woe means that the wrath of God is destined for the sons of disobedience. This desire to bring about a complete creational and moral inversion is teetering on the very edge of the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Remember that Christ warned about that when the Pharisees had said that the Lord’s work of casting out devils was actually through the power of Beelzebub (Matt. 12:31).
The problem is that the devil is the father of liars, and it turns out that he keeps none of his promises in the ways the recipients of his vouchers thought he would. He promised our first mother that they would be as gods. He promised Nietzsche a superman. He promised Hitler a master race. But what he actually delivers is gibbering lunacy.
What he actually gives the world, acting as though he were a great prince delivering greater treasures, is a pit with no bottom, a spiraling void, a choking place with nothing but dust and broken bottles, an abyss beyond reckoning, and an outer darkness. That outer darkness is one that grows naturally out of a carefully curated inner darkness—because the soil in which hell grows is narcissism. That is where all of this is going, and some parts of our sorry world are already there.
But let me take my remaining time to explain what we have done for you, and, in some respects, to you. You have been educated in a time capsule. You have been trained by teachers who were born in different centuries, and who left us their wisdom. And to apply the words of the apostle Paul in a different sense, your living instructors were born out of due time. C.S. Lewis once described himself as a dinosaur, as an “old Western man.” Not that we are there, or have it in the palm of our hand, but this is what we aspire to.
You were taught in a world where triangles have three sides. You were taught in a world where girls grow up to be women, and boys grow to be men, and that fact is received as a grace, a gift, and not as an authoritarian insult. You were taught in a world where yellow is yellow, and diamonds are hard.
You were taught that you can’t become anything you want to be. You were taught that you aren’t supposed to follow your heart. You were taught that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, and that the fear of man is the devil’s great engine of despair.
God has prepared good works in advance for you to walk in (Eph. 2:10), and He has been preparing you for those good works for a long time. In fact, not only has He prepared those good works for you, but He has also been preparing you—through difficult training, through a rigorous education, through teachers who are normal people, to strive with everything you have to love God with all your might, to love your neighbor as yourself, and to become what God has planned for you. And that is for His great glory, and for your great good.