The Man Who Saved the World is an apocalyptic Cold War drama that tells the story of a Russian officer, Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov, who did — literally — save the world. Released in 2015, the documentary tells the 1983 story of how Russian censors misinterpreted a satellite launch as a nuclear attack and Petrov was ordered to respond in kind. He waited, and in that waiting saved the planet.
It’s a bit harrowing, frankly, how close human beings have come on any number of occasions to being authors of our own apocalypse. What in the 1980s was restricted mainly to nuclear weapons now seems an almost endless list of opportunities. The list, I think, could be covered by keeping an eye on summer blockbusters. We live in apocalyptic times.
“It’s a bit harrowing, frankly, how close human beings have come on any number of occasions to being authors of our own apocalypse.”
Not everything in politics and history is a race between end of the world evil and the courage and integrity of one man standing in the breach — though Hollywood could probably convince us otherwise. In fact, most of politics is what my friend Mike Gerson calls the “banality of goodness.” It’s showing up at what feels like another soul-sucking committee meeting, checking whether the columns add up the way the auditors say they do, watching for mistakes, measuring agendas, often on a very small, sometimes narrow scale. It’s the rare moment where the “Great Man Theory,” as historians call it, really carries the day. Much of politics and history is a “long obedience” — a lot of habits and virtues, practiced over generations that produce what we see only retrospectively as cultural shifts.
In this work, we need the most serious students of history, the most sophisticated philosophers, the most penetrating political analysts, all with a deep and abiding passion for God’s mercy and justice. To use a biblical parable, we need Good Samaritans, people who will act in the moment when no one else will. But we also need city planners, neighbourhood watches and the police service to purge the robbers from the road to Jericho. Our society needs — to quote Abraham Kuyper, one of Redeemer’s patron saints — not only physicians, but the architect as well. We need not only works of mercy, but also of justice.
“Redeemer students will be a generation marked by steadfast love, patiently binding wounds, fixing systems and awaiting the coming of the King.”
Evangelical Christians are overrepresented in the gatekeeping spheres of power, business and politics especially, writes Michael Lindsay in Faith in the Halls of Power. We often hear, he continues, that we need “our people” in places of influence. But the truth is, “our people” are there, and have been for a long time. Instead, the issue is whether we’re who we need to be when we get there. Our cultural crisis is not capacity, skills training or job readiness — it’s integrity, ethics, worldview, love. We’re suffering in the work of slow, patient formation, the privilege of being young, of learning, of understanding how the current runs and where it pulls, of where to row fiercely and where to let the water guide us to the next spot. We are overwhelmed with knowledge, and desperately short of wisdom.
The encompassing challenge that students and young people face is not finding a job, paying off loans, marrying up, somehow getting into the housing market. I was born into the world the year Petrov saved it, and when I started college I was just as consumed with those details. I didn’t know if I would “make it” or if I would “get there.” The challenge is not whether we’ll find a position of influence, but whether we’ll get there with something to say. My hope is that in “getting there,” Redeemer University College students, fuelled by a rich tradition of Christian scholarship in every sphere — a collective project our world-class faculty works to advance — will be a generation of Petrovs, binding wounds, fixing systems and awaiting the coming of the King who will finish their work.