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Doubled-Edged Sword: The Power of the Word

Genesis 17:3

“When Abraham prostrated himself, God continued to speak to him: 'My covenant with you is this: you are to become the father of a host of nations.'” Gen. 17:3

Within decades of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, the good news had spread from Jerusalem through the Hellenistic culture of the eastern Mediterranean to Rome, and to ends-of-earth places such as India and the British Isles. In the following centuries, holy men and women protected the heritage of Western civilization in monasteries and convents, and then re-evangelized the barbarian-conquered West, thereby helping to create a new entity known as Europe. Over the next two millennia, Christianity built much of what we take for granted in civilization today: universities, economics, a belief in human rights and the dignity of all persons.

Certainly, the house of modern civilization was built on the foundations of Christianity. But is a strong civilization all the Gospel offers? The Gospel is indeed a civilizing force, but certainly it promised more than simply to make us all civil. After all, to what end civilization?

Civilization is important, but Western civilization especially so, for it contains within it a reminder of the point of civilization: the pursuit of God in Christ. When God promised Abraham he would be the father of many nations, it is safe to say he did not have in mind traditions of learning and culture, great works of architecture, or international economic systems. Rather, this covenant was based on the communion of all people with their Creator. And yet, civilization and “divinization” move in the same direction—toward the proper ordering and development of the human person. A true and solid civilization in this world will encourage, assist, and allow persons to pursue their proper ends, which ultimately are not of this world. It is in this sense that philosopher Jacques Maritain can say that “to civilize is to spiritualize.”

And so the nation that would spring from the faith of Abraham would also serve as a springboard for the salvation of all nations. Christ's salvific work, from one nation and for all nations, means that all nations might become more fully themselves, just as it means all persons might become more fully themselves. And in the end, “a great multitude … of every nation, race, people, and tongue” will cry out in a loud voice “Salvation comes from our God” (Rev. 7:9—10).