The modern world has its own wonders. But they are very different from the wonders of the ancient world. The modern world has created wonders of invention, of efficiency, of communication, and of discovery. But, unlike the ancients, we have no wonders of beauty. Even an ancient wonder like the pyramid -- some in our cynical age might call it a monument to the ego of a tyrant -- even it has a beauty and symmetry that stands the test of time. I once read a description of the ancient pyramids in the days before centuries of looters; they were covered with white stone and capped with gold. They were beautiful. The hanging gardens of Babylon, again one of the wonders of the ancient world, was not only a marvel of engineering in its day, it was also an earthly paradise.
The ancient wonders highlight some things that our world has lost, things that our age does not value. There is little intent to create beauty, little respect even for the thought of it. And one distinguishing mark of the wonders of the ancient world was exactly a sense of wonder -- that is, these things were created to be marveled at, to bring delight or awe or even a sense of the holy and transcendent into this world. Our "wonders" are entirely secular wonders, or to be more exact, wonders produced by a world that only recognizes the secular as valid. When was the last time our world's cultures produced a work of true beauty, a wonder in the ancient sense?
As the vision of paradise fades from the minds of men, the intentional beauty fades from the things we create. One of the most obvious marks of secularism is a kind of desert in the culture.
Some people speak of a zeitgeist, a spirit of the age. Just as it is possible for a person to have a personality that is not well-rounded, I think the zeitgeist of secularism -- the spirit of our age -- has a very one-sided personality, one that is efficient but has forgotten warmth, beauty, and kindness. For anyone interested in psychology, I wonder: is the zeitgeist, that spirit of our times, effectively the same thing as our superego, the voice of our conscience? If so, then a distorted spirit of the age leads directly to the same thing being echoed on down through each personality in the age, and being transmitted as the new normal to the next generation.
It remains for us, then, who find our times to be shallow and cynical to do something about that. It remains for us, who are uncomfortably squeezed by the narrow and bitter spirit of our times, to stake a claim in our age for kindness and decency, for beauty, for holiness, for paradise, and for wonder. These are the echoes of Eden, these are the things that have been systematically chased out of our age, and these are the things of the kingdom of heaven on earth. People find it very easy to scoff at religion in an age where all the people -- even Christians -- go along with the cesspool of cynicism that is modern news and politics, the routine fraud and injustice in government and economics, the institutionalized mediocrity that is education. The job falls to us to create lasting families and deep friendships that are the stuff our world is starved for, to re-create the concept of fellowship in our age, and to re-introduce the holy and the beautiful into this world.
"Prepare the way for the Lord" -- it is our job to make every valley exalted, and every mountain bowed down, to make straight in this desert a highway for our God. John the Baptist did not build literal roads; he built a spirit of readiness for God.