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Is This the End?: Signs of God's Providence in a Disturbing New World
by David Jeremiah
Learn More | Meet David Jeremiah
CHAPTER 1THE AGE OF ANYTHING GOES
On May 8, 2011, Tony Bennett walked across the stage of the Jacob Javits Center to sing a couple of ballads and open the program for a famous New York City charity. The full crowd before him was a glittering cosmos of New York's brightest celebrities. Bennett's timeless voice thrilled the house, and everyone marveled at the eighty-five-year-old crooner's enduring ability to charm an audience.
But later in the evening, it was Bennett himself who was charmed as he listened to a singer exactly sixty years his junior. He was swept off his feet by the clarion voice of Lady Gaga. Bennett later confessed to getting goose bumps listening to the power and clarity of her songs, and he became an instant fan. Meeting her backstage, Bennett regaled her with stories of his favorite songwriter, Cole Porter, and impulsively asked her to collaborate with him on a recording project. The album, Cheek to Cheek, was released in 2014, and the opening song was Porter's "Anything Goes."
It was an apt choice. "Anything Goes" is a bouncy, toe-tapping number — you can't help but smile as you hum the melody — but its words, written in 1934, celebrated the moral free fall of the American twentieth century. The song boasts of how times have changed and claims the Puritans are in for a shock. The lyrics brag that profanity and nudity are in vogue. For all its toe-tapping trendiness, "Anything Goes" represents the moral relativism that has infected our culture, leaving the West on the brink of spiritual collapse.
Ironically, it is a philosophy that ruined Porter's own life. The famous composer grew up on an Indiana farm. His mother went to church, but her young son was not impressed. "I never felt religion was serious to her," he recalled. "It was of no importance. She went to show off her new hats."
Porter learned to play the violin at age six and the piano at age eight. With his mother's help, he published his first song at age ten. While attending Yale, he immersed himself in New York's glitzy nightlife and fell in love with the theater. He wrote his first Broadway show tune in 1915 and went on to provide crooners, such as Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra, with dozens of hits — "I've Got You Under My Skin," "Night and Day," "Just One of Those Things," "Don't Fence Me In," and "I Get a Kick out of You."
His fans did not realize that his love songs were written for his boyfriends, that his marriage was a sham, or that his earnings financed an endless series of "anything goes" parties. "His life was a kind of theatre," recalls actor Kevin Kline. "He had an enormous appetite for pleasure, gastronomical and sexual. He was endlessly curious."
Porter enjoyed popular acclaim, deep pockets, and four beautiful homes, each well-staffed and kept in perpetual readiness for his visits. His apartment in Paris was clad in platinum wallpaper with chairs upholstered in zebra skins. His nine-room suite at New York's Waldorf Towers was a virtual museum of his memorabilia and awards. He also kept an estate in Massachusetts and a home in California.
Porter lived as he sang — "anything goes." But after being injured in an equestrian accident, he never regained his health or happiness. He became reclusive and spent his last years depressed, diseased, drinking, and drugging. When his health declined to the point that he could no longer anesthetize himself with alcohol, he kept a cache of cigarettes nearby, saying, "It's all I have left."
In 1964, Porter was wheeled into a California hospital for the last time. The nurse studied the patient, perhaps wondering how anyone so famous could look so cheerless. Clicking off the items on the questionnaire, the nurse came to the issue of the patient's religion.
"Put down none," replied Porter.
The nurse said, "Protestant?"
"Put down — none."
"Why not list Protestant?" asked a friend who knew Porter's mother had attended Baptist churches. But at Porter's insistence, the answer was a definite none. Shortly after being wheeled to his room, he sent someone to destroy his pornographic photographs. With that done, he died.
"He was terribly alone at the end," said a friend. "He really didn't have anything or anyone he was close to."
His secretary lamented that her boss never found the strength that came from faith in God. "Without faith, one is like a stained glass window in the dark," she said. "How to reach his particular darkness," she added, "is an enigma."
A similar darkness has descended on our world, and American culture now resembles that stained glass window through which no light is shining. We are living in a world where anything goes, but nothing satisfies. No matter how America's moral relativism is celebrated by songwriters and social pundits, it leaves people terribly alone at the end. That is why I grieve as I survey today's popular culture and why it is vital for Christ-followers to resist the siren calls of our increasingly decadent age.
THE EXPRESSION OF OUR MORAL DECLINE
The Bible anticipated that decadent times like our present age would come. In speaking of His second coming, the Lord Jesus said, "But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be" (Matthew 24:37).
What were those "days of Noah" like? Genesis 6:5 tells us: "Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." This is a description of the society swept away by the Flood.
In his book about the days of Noah, Jeff Kinley wrote: If the Bible is correct in stating that earth's entire population was thinking only about evil 24/7, certainly those evil thoughts would have included sexual promiscuity, adultery, and perversion, as well as rape, prostitution, homosexuality and lesbianism, and pedophilia. Does that sound extreme or far-fetched? Considering that most of these aberrations and perversions have been prevalent among us since Noah's day, it's not a stretch to imagine how prominent they would have been in a world without any moral compass or restraint.
Perhaps America has not yet sunk to the lows of Noah's day. But as I say in my book I Never Thought I'd See the Day, "Our moral compass seems no longer to have a 'true north.' The needle spins crazily, looking for a direction on which to settle."
Second Timothy 3:1–5 says, But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power.
The description of Noah's generation and Paul's prediction of the generation that will introduce the last days summarize the depravity of man — yes, even the total depravity of man. I know that total depravity is a controversial term and certainly one that is often misunderstood.
Total depravity does not mean, as most people think, that human beings are as depraved as they could possibly be. This would, by necessity, mean that there is no good in humans at all. But we know this is not the case. Not all human beings are drunkards, felons, adulterers, or murderers. Many are noble, generous, self-sacrificing, highly moral, and loving. Total depravity defines the extent, not the degree, of our sinfulness. In other words, while our depravity does not make us as bad as we could be, it does affect us in every area of our being, corrupting every part of our humanness at varying degrees.
Charles Swindoll wrote: If depravity were blue, we'd be blue all over. Cut us anywhere and we'll bleed blue. Cut into our minds and you'll find blue thoughts. Cut into our vision and there are blue images full of greed and lust. Cut into our hearts and there are blue emotions of hatred, revenge, and blame. Cut into our wills and you'll find deep blue decisions and responses.
Further, J. Dwight Pentecost explained: The doctrine of depravity has to do, not with man's estimation of man, but rather with God's estimation of man. We are the heirs of generations of the teaching of evolution which sees man in an ever-ascending spiral, rising higher and higher from the depth from which he has sprung, until finally he will reach the stars. So widely accepted is that concept that we have come somehow to feel that there is so much good in the worst of us that man is not so bad off after all. When we measure men by man, we can always find someone who is lower that we are on the moral or ethical scale, and the comparison gives us a feeling of self-satisfaction. But the Scriptures do not measure men by man; they measure men by God who has created them. The creature is measured by the Creator and is found to be wanting.
Human depravity is a symptom of our isolation from God, which occurred at the fall when man and woman rejected God's Spirit and chose to follow their own desires. Without God at the wheel of the human heart, we are like a driverless car careening down the freeway. A crash is inevitable. This depravity, or godlessness, is the root cause of America's moral decline. We grasp for what feels good instead of what is good. Our depravity manifests itself in several ways. Let's look at a few examples.
Depravity in Our Minds
In January 2016, the Internet's largest online pornography site released its annual statistics. On just this one website in just one year — 2015 — consumers watched 4,392,486,580 hours of pornography. Convert those hours into years, and it means those people collectively spent more than 500,000 years watching porn. On this particular site in 2015 alone, people watched 87,849,731,608 X-rated videos. Over 87 billion! That's twelve videos for every man, woman, boy, and girl on the planet.
In reporting these statistics, Jonathon van Maren warns that much of this pornography was "rough-stuff" and "driven by the market." He says, "People wanted to watch women humiliated. Beaten. Violated. Millions and millions of them. ... We need to take this seriously, or our churches will drown in a sea of filth right along with the rest of the culture."
It gets even worse. It is estimated that over a quarter of Internet pornography is child-related. I was sickened when I read about the prevalence of child pornography in our nation. According to a CNN article, the United States is home to more commercial child porn websites than anywhere else on earth. Every day, 116,000 Internet queries are related to child pornography, and each year 300,000 or more children in the United States are forced into the commercial sex trade. Some 68 percent of children trafficked into the sex trade have been in the care of social services or foster care; and one out of every ten children will be the victim of sexual abuse in our country.
The emotional scars from such abuse last a lifetime. A recent Australian study found that "young people who had experienced child sexual abuse had a suicide rate that was 10.7 to 13.0 times the national Australian rate. ... Thirty-two percent of abused children had attempted suicide."
The other side of the child pornography issue has to do with innocent children inadvertently stumbling onto lurid material on their home or school computers. Many children grow up with constant exposure to porn, which blinds them to its dangers. A Barna study found that most teenagers are so acclimated to the culture that they believe not recycling is more immoral than pornography. Pornography and child abuse are not the only symptoms of our sex-laden society. There is sexting, the practice of sending explicit pictures of oneself over mobile phones. It has become a phenomenon among teenagers and young adults, with surveys showing 62 percent of teens and young adults have received a sexually explicit image, and 41 percent have sent one.
The young Jewish writer and political commentator Ben Shapiro wrote in his book Porn Generation, "I am a member of a lost generation. We have lost our values. In a world where all values are equal, where everything is simply a matter of choice, narcissism rules the day. ... The mainstream acceptance of pornography has become a social fact." I do not have space to describe the sex, violence, and addictive nature of some of today's video games and interactive digital entertainment. And look at what is on television — not just on the cable stations, but also on the major networks. On second thought, don't look! Every season gets worse. Sometimes I just shake my head in near despair and say, "What's next?"
In Noah's day, every thought and intent of the heart was evil continuously, and now we have the technology to take the most lurid fantasies of the human mind and project them onto a screen a child can hold in his or her hand. All this has led to the coarsening of Western culture. We have become a profane people, with fewer and fewer restraints on behavior and language and with a diminishing respect for human life.
Depravity in Our Marriages
In the 2015 case of Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court of the United States, in a 5-to-4 vote, took it upon itself to "redefine" marriage to include committed relationships between same-sex couples. I put "redefine" in quotation marks because the inherent definition of marriage cannot be altered by any human agency. God Himself defined the marriage covenant in Genesis 2, in the garden of Eden, long before human governments were established. He originated the ordinance of marriage before the Mosaic law was given, before the State of Israel existed, before the church was founded, and before any church council ever met. The Lord established the formula for marriage before any of these institutions came into existence, and it is every bit as inviolable as the law of gravity or the axioms of physics.
Jesus described marriage like this: "From the beginning of the creation, God 'made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh" (Mark 10:6-8). In other words, marriage is marriage only when it involves the merging of two beings with complementary attributes designed specifically for the purpose of oneness. God ordained marriage as a lifelong covenant between these two beings — one man and one woman — and this is the only proper, God-given arena for the exercise of sexual relations.
We cannot control what a secular society does, but as Christians we can demonstrate a better way and let the Word of God govern our own convictions and conduct. Nevertheless, the Court's ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges undeniably puts Bible believers in a tough spot. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., in his dissent to the majority opinion, predicted this decision would become a basis for aggressive legal discrimination against those who hold a biblical view of marriage: It will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy. In the course of its opinion, the majority compares traditional marriage laws to laws that denied equal treatment for African-Americans and women. The implications of this analogy will be exploited by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent. As you will see in the third chapter ofthis book, titled "The Increase of Intolerance," Justice Alito's warning was dead-on prophetic.
Depravity in Our Military
As I was writing this chapter, I read about a POW/MIA display at a Veteran's Administration clinic in Akron, Ohio. Among the displayed items was a Bible, which is historically appropriate, for I have read many testimonies telling how POWs endured their captivity only because the Word of God sustained them. Yet the VA removed the Bible because of protests from secularists. The space on the display table is now empty, a silent witness to the intolerance of those determined to rid American society of scriptural influence. Bible-believing members of our armed forces face new restrictions on expressing their religion, and our military chaplains are on the front lines of intense politically correct pressure. While there is no official policy banning voluntary prayer, religious services, or pastoral counseling at this point, there have been several instances where Christian chaplains have run into politically correct buzz saws for praying in Jesus' name, counseling from a Christian perspective, and expressing biblical standards for sexuality.
As John J. Murray, a minister with the Free Church of Scotland, wrote, "We are back to the situation as it was in the days of the early church. ... The Roman Empire, under which so many Christians were martyred, was pluralistic and supremely tolerant of religion. The only people they could not tolerate were the Christians."