"I have never before seen it this way," said a close friend of mine in a recent hour-long conversation discussing current global turmoil.
"Do you realize what you just said?" I replied. "We are both in our 70s, and have lived through a lot of history, and yet we agree that there are things happening now more intense and wide-sweeping than anything we have seen before."
Allow me to give you my perspective when I say "it" is different before I tell you what I think is happening.
Certainly crises have been with us always. As children we had viewed black-and-white newsreels at Saturday matinees showing the Second World War's devastation of Europe, observed grieving parents and spouses whose loved ones had died in the battles, and then ridden in parades celebrating the end of the global conflict.
We had watched in 1950 as newscasters on grainy 10-inch TV screens pointed nervously at Korea's 38th parallel, warning that if our soldiers and allies could not push and hold the Communists north of that line World War Three would be in the making.
We went home to slightly larger TV screens on an October night in 1962, and watched President John F. Kennedy tell us that if the missile-bearing Soviet ships steaming to Cuba crossed a certain quarantine-line nuclear war was almost a certainty. A year later we could also remember where we were and what we were doing when the young president was assassinated.
During the early Cold War we learned the tones of air-raid drills reminding us that the America we thought fortressed by the Atlantic and Pacific was now a fat vulnerable target. We watched Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev bang his shoe on a UN desk, and listened to him threatening to bury us, and saw Sputnik zooming over our cities signaling that he just might be able to do it. We trembled as National Guard troops were mobilized for a standoff with Russian armies in Berlin, and quaked at headlines reporting crises everywhere.
We gaped at the swift war of 1967 between Israel and Arab nations. In 1973, as Yom Kippur neared, we listened to the strained words of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, and wondered if Israel was about to be pushed into the Great Sea.
In 1975, on still larger television screens, and now in color, we viewed the desperate scramble up the back ramp of a lumbering jet plane of people fleeing Saigon, as the Vietcong closed in on that city of slaughter.
My friend, a history major, had gone on to become a key national leader in his profession, steering the institutions whose helms he captained through the roughest (we thought) of socio-cultural typhoons. I had wound up in the Nixon White House, in the vortex of the storms that we thought were going to destroy the fragile order of our nation and world.
We knew about historical movements whose assaults threatened, not just a region or country, but entire civilizations: Genghis Kahn's terrorizing onslaughts, the forces of Alexander the Great sweeping down on societies, Hannibal's raiders avalanching down the Alps, Roman legions crushing much of the known world, the Ottoman Turks storming the Eastern Roman Empire, and European barbarians smashing the Western Empire, the Vikings scourging the British Isles, and the Nazi blitzkriegs, to name a few.
Yet both my friend and I believe we are now living through something far more powerful and ominous. That says a lot about the nature of our times.
This is more than just a gut feeling. An August 14 story in the British newspaper, The Independent, was bannered by a headline noting "only 11 countries in the world are actually free from conflict." "Worse still," wrote reporter Adam Withnall, "the world as a whole has been getting less peaceful every year since 2007 – sharply bucking a trend that had seen a global move away from conflict since the end of the Second World War."
So if my friend and I concur that we have never seen "it" like this before, what is the it to which we refer?
"It" is a tsunami of antinomianism washing over every continent. Antinomianism is often called "lawlessness," as translations of Paul's Second Letter to the Thessalonians put it. But that word does not do the idea justice. The Apostle Paul does not have in mind mere violation of human codes and rules.
"It" is the violation of the most sacred of boundaries, the "ancient" ones that should not be moved. (Proverbs 22:28; 23:10) The authentic Church is the conservator of these values – such as life, love and care for others – which make every land a sanctuary state. When society embraces this kind of lawlessness, the collapse strikes at all the structures surrounding it – Family, Education, Governance, and Business.
When these boundaries are crossed, it is willful breaking of the ultimate doctrines, centered in the character of God. Antinomianism is direct opposition to these doctrines – evil for evil's sake.
"It" ranges from "the knock-out game" on a darkened urban street, to the "moral" philosophy at Syracuse University (reputed as America's top 2014 party school) frat house, to a raging young man joining a terrorist movement because it's a "cool" thing to do.
The Nuremberg Laws of 1935 were codified legal statutes in Hitler's Germany, but they legitimized the Holocaust. They may have been the law in Hitler's Germany, but, as the Nuremberg Trials' prosecutors argued, they were antinomian, crimes against humanity, violating the highest law, that of God and His holy character.
The late Christopher Hitchens, though a militant atheist, was nevertheless sometimes a delightful and insightful writer on social and cultural issues. Winston Churchill, wrote Hitchens, did not speak of Nazism as merely a "threat," or "depraved." Rather Churchill "excoriated it as a wicked and nihilistic thing."
In the original Greek of 2 Thessalonians 2, Paul speaks of the "mystery" of tes anomias – "the antinomianism" – that is behind the world's miseries. Someday, he says, a person – "the man of (antinomian) lawlessness" – and movement will emerge that will be the summation of such evil.
Are we seeing in our times the very foreshadowing of that?
There is hope among some for progress against the current Middle Eastern movement. Yet the reality is that even if there is total destruction of this blitzkrieging force, it will not bring an end to antinomianism.
As the Apostle says, it is a "mystery" deepening in the world, and moving to a decisive point of culmination. What are the forms the antinomianism takes? What's ahead for the world? Is there hope even in the midst of the terror and tumult?
These are questions we explore in parts two and three of this series.