Last night I preached from Romans 2:1-16 on the coming day of judgement. Whilst preparing to preach I was struck by the words of C. S. Lewis spoken to a group of students at Oxford University in the opening months of World War II. He asked them how they could take an interest in their studies whilst the lives of their friends and the liberties of Europe were in the balance:
Is it not like fiddling while Rome burns?...But to a Christian the true tragedy of Nero must not be that he fiddled while the city was on fire but that he fiddled on the brink of hell.(Quoted by Robert Peterson in Hell Under Fire, p. 223-4)
The great issues of life that cast the ease of academic study in a poor light were not the threats of war but the realities of eternity, not the intrusion of the miseries of this life but the looming prospect of eternal sorrows.
To read of, and to contemplate, such matters ought to fill us with what J. I. Packer onced called a "traumatic awe." It is one aspect of the dual eternal perspective that we must hold to if we are to live aright in the present. The other aspect is that expressed in the words of J. Gresham Machen (thanks to my friend Jeremy Walker for drawing my attention to this):
The responsibility of the church in the new age is the same as its responsibility in every age. It is to testify that this world is lost in sin; that the span of human life – no, all the length of human history – is an infinitesimal island in the awful depths of eternity; that there is a mysterious, holy, living God, Creator of all, Upholder of all, infinitely beyond all; that he has revealed himself to us in his Word and offered us communion with himself through Jesus Christ the Lord; that there is no other salvation, for individuals or for nations, save this, but that this salvation is full and free, and that whoever possesses it has for himself and for all others to whom he may be the instrument of bringing it a treasure compared with which all the kingdoms of the earth – no, all the wonders of the starry heavens – are as the dust of the street.(HT: The Wanderer)