Talk Three: The Scream of the Lost
We like to think that there are no limits to what we are capable of as humans. The Financial Times, for example, recently reported that Google had built the first 'quantum computer' that can carry out calculations beyond the ability of even today's most powerful supercomputers. A calculation that would take the present most advanced computer 10,000 years to perform took the Google computer 3 minutes 20 seconds! This sounds to me like the equivalent of the first-time scientists split the atom and the consequences will probably be as far-reaching.
Materially speaking, the generation growing up in the developed world at the moment has never had it so good. Not so long ago, many would have died in childbirth and many more who didn’t would not have lived much beyond childhood. And those who survived childhood could expect to die young from a whole range of diseases that can now be cured with a simple course of treatment available from the local pharmacy. We live longer than ever and machines and a whole raft of discoveries and inventions make that life easier.
But before we over-reach ourselves in self-congratulation as a species, it is also worth reminding ourselves that our discoveries and inventions have also set our species on the path of self-destruction, and I am not only thinking of the nuclear bomb. We have also seen this year protests around the globe over climate change with scientists warning that this same well-off generation growing up now could be the last unless something drastic is done soon.
And it is not just nuclear destruction and climate change that threaten today’s generation. A recent report has shown that rates of moderate to severe depression amongst American undergraduates have basically doubled in the past ten years or so. It is the same in most developed societies. Being better off materially has not, it seems, made us happier.
If you were to do a poll of people's favourite hymns, it is certain that 'Amazing Grace' would be one of the most popular - if not the most popular. It is known and loved by people inside the Church and out. It is frequently requested at both weddings and funerals and has been sung and recorded by many artists. All of which is all a bit of a mystery. For when you look at the words of the hymn, they completely go against how people want to think of and see their lives. This is the first verse, for example:
‘Amazing grace (how sweet the sound)
that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
was blind, but now I see.’
The last thing that people want to admit is that they are wretched, lost, and blind in need of someone else to save them, without them being able to do anything to help themselves. But the word LOST is the word that best describes the human condition. One of the most iconic pieces of modern art is Edvard Munch's the Scream. It depicts a figure with hands to its head screaming. Munch describes how he came to paint it:
‘I was walking down the road with two friends when the sun set; suddenly, the sky turned as red as blood. I stopped and leaned against the fence, feeling unspeakably tired. Tongues of fire and blood stretched over the bluish black fjord. My friends went on walking, while I lagged behind, shivering with fear. Then I heard the enormous, infinite scream of nature.’
The Scream symbolizes the scream of all those separated from their Creator through their wretchedness and spiritual blindness.
Sadly, while we don't mind singing about it, we don't want to admit it, and still less do anything about it. There is a challenge to the Christian Church here, especially as we approach Christmas. We really have as Christians got to stop worrying about making ourselves unpopular and start telling it as it is. Human beings are lost. And no scientific, political, social, or emotional response devised by humans is going to provide the answer except perhaps temporarily to dull the senses in the way a drug does for an addict. We need someone who cares, even though we don't deserve caring for; someone to find us, and give us sight.
The Gospel message this Christmas is that this is what God has done for us and is what he offers us in Christ.
And this is a message we urgently need to hear - and now especially here in Hong Kong.