Christianity also infuses life with a powerful and exhilarating sense of purpose. While atheism in most of its current forms posits a universe without meaning, Christianity makes of life a moral drama in which we play a starring role and in which the most ordinary events take on a grand significance. Modern life is typically characterized by gray disillusionment. Christianity gives us a world that is enchanted once again. This is not a return to the past or a denial of modern reality; rather, it is a reinterpretation of modern reality that makes it more vivid and more meaningful. We now see in color what we previously saw in black and white.
What produces this change of orientation? Christians live sub specie aeternitatis, “in the shadow of eternity.” Life can be terribly unfair, and this is for many people a natural sourceof cynicism and frustration. In the Gorgias and in other Platonic dialogues, Socrates strives to prove that “it is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong.” The proof is a failure because there are bad people in the world who prosper and there are good people who undeservedly come to grief. But Christianity produces an enlargement of perspective that prevents us from being jaded by this realization. Christianity teaches that this life is not the only life, and there is a final judgment in which all earthly accounts are settled. The Christian knows that sub specie aeternitatis it is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong.
The business tycoon or law partner who cheats people and runs out on his wife may be viewed as a successful man of the world, but the Christian perceives him, sub specie aeternitatis, as a truly lamentable figure. By contrast, the poor peasant who crawls to the altar on his knees—a failure by all the world’s standards—is one who is preparing to receive his heavenly reward. Sub specie aeternitatis, he is the truly fortunate one. Here we have the meaning of the phrase “the last shall be first.” It simply means that the standards of worldly success and divine reward are quite different. Without the perspective of eternity, this necessary inversion of values would be lost to us. Seeing things in a new light, the Christian can face life and whatever it brings with a sense of peace and hopefulness that are rare in today’s world.