My favorite episode of the classic tv show, Twilight Zone, is “The Obsolete Man.” Burgess Meredith plays Romney Wordsworth, a lifelong librarian, reader, and believer in God. The totalitarian state under which Mr. Wordsworth lives has eliminated books and claims to have proof that God doesn’t exist. Thus, he is declared “obsolete” by the state and sentenced to “liquidation.”
In light of the cultural conversation (onslaught?) today, I’ve found myself feeling more than a bit like Mr. Wordsworth. Maybe you can relate. As beliefs in God and His decrees in Scripture are increasingly marginalized, even ridiculed, in the public square, I’ve found myself more than a little discouraged and angsty in the face of opposition. Is liquidation coming for me? As a pastor, I’m a marked man just as Wordsworth was as a librarian. When words no longer mean anything, can men and women who live by the Word long endure?
He led me to reconsider the first letter of Peter. The apostle aptly calls his audience “elect exiles” (1 Pet. 1:1). This is a theological distinction, not a social one. As spiritual “sojourners” and resident “aliens,” they are called to no longer practice the self-indulgent lifestyle of the surrounding culture but, instead, to actively seek personal holiness and the welfare of the society in which they live (1 Pet. 2:11).
Indeed, we have testament in the Bible and other literature of the period that, even as Christians received growing hostility from government and culture, they took part in everything as citizens in order to bless their society through service and love.
The Epistle to Diognetus, a letter from that time, speaks of Christians as benefactors of the city:
They reside in their respective countries, but only as aliens they take part in everything as citizens and put up with everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their home and every home a foreign land. They find themselves in the flesh, but do not live according to the flesh.
Our first-century brothers and sisters were also perplexed by a culture increasingly hostile to a Christian worldview:
Beloved, do not be surprised by the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. (1 Peter 4:12-14)
This call is now ours to accept and live out.
Serving a culture that increasingly opposes our worldview only works when the people of God “abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Pet. 2:11). We are to wage war, not against culture, but against personal sin. Only then will we have our separatist tendencies to withdraw from culture confronted and be strengthened to display to all what Francis Schaeffer called “the mark of the Christian,” which is “love and the unity it attests to.”
So, the place we find ourselves is not new. Christians are obsolete all over again. As stated by the narrator of that aged episode of Twilight Zone, “This is not a new world. It is simply an extension of what began in the old one.” The Fall of Genesis 3 continues to bring suffering and ridicule to all, whether they acknowledge the crumbling of their souls or not. This is where Peter encourages us to “make a [response] to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”
It is in the dead of night that stars shine white hot, piercing the darkness with dazzling light so that all may see.
Fellow sojourners, let us keep loving and finding fullness in the joy of our salvation in Christ. Let the love and unity among us elicit questions and opportunity to respond with the hope of Christ who, despite commentators to the contrary, will never be “the obsolete Man.”