The people of this generation are living through a sea change but as is often the case, those on the sea are liable not to notice it until it is too late. The term “sea change” has had two primary meanings. Shakespeare coined it in The Tempest to refer to a change wrought by the sea itself on the body of a shipwreck victim. Think of T. S. Eliot’s bone-picking undersea current in The Waste Land, and you will have the idea.
Today, the term has lost Shakespeare’s literalness. Instead of a change effected by the sea, it is used as a metaphor for a large scale transformation in culture or industry. The sea change occurring in the Western World – now spreading through the Majority World as well – is both. It is a large scale cultural transformation that is being propagated by culture itself – a culture that has been alienated from God.
Jesus predicted such a sea change in the week leading up to his execution. His words are both prophetic and ominous. He warned that a day was coming when “the love of most will grow cold.” Is this not occurring in our generation?
We are currently living in a culture of rejection. The traditional circles of belonging – family, religion, social clubs, friend groups – are breaking down. There are complex reasons behind this reality, rooted in a materialistic worldview that has emerged with the West’s rejection of religion generally and Jesus in particular. The trend has been further exacerbated by the digital revolution and by the pandemic.
The result is a spreading coldness that is hard to ignore. Respect for others, once considered a mainstay of civilized culture, has come to be seen as a weakness. Leaders are now expected, even required, to show contempt toward their enemies—and are celebrated when they do.
Family, which is the fundamental circle of belonging, has lost its cohesion. In 1950, 11 out of every 100 children born would become part of a broken family. By 2004, that number had risen to 60. In a study published by the National Library of Medicine, 89 percent of preadolescent children admitted to a hospital mental health unit “had some kind of disruption in their family structure.”
Vice-Admiral Murthy, who served as surgeon general of the United States under presidents Obama, Trump, and Biden, reported: “During my tenure as … surgeon general … the most common pathology I saw was not heart disease or diabetes; it was loneliness.” That loneliness is a result of the social fracturing that continues to occur in our nation.
Dallas Willard rightly asked, “Could the epidemic of addictions and dysfunctions from which the masses suffer possibly be related to the fact that we are constantly in the presence of people who are withdrawn from us, who don’t want to acknowledge we are there and frankly would feel more at ease if we weren’t—people who in many cases explicitly reject us and feel it only right to do so?”
The loss of social cohesion seems to be accelerating. The idea that a person might enter a public building, even a school, and begin killing as many people as possible, including children, would have been unthinkable in 1950. Even America’s most infamous mobsters would have been morally outraged at the idea. But now it happens with mind-numbing regularity.
Is there any hope? Yes, but it will not be found in the bankrupt coffers of modern and postmodern philosophies. It will not be found in philosophies at all, whether irreligious or religious, for philosophies can at best explain the coldness of love; they cannot “warm it up.”
That happens in relationships, beginning in a relationship with the Creator, which alone can set us right. It then extends to relationships with family, friends, and society at large. A good place for this to happen is in the church where, allegedly at least, people have been connected to the life and love-giving God.
But churches must be more than entertainment venues or centers of religious instruction. Being the home of theological distinctives is not enough. Churches must become communities of love and belonging, centered around Jesus and apprenticeship to him.