In stark contrast to such hopelessness and fear, the Christians showed how their faith made this life, and even death, meaningful. Cyprian, for example, almost welcomed the great epidemic of his time, knowing that it was an opportunity for the church to give witness to the hope that was within them. He was so overwhelmed by a sense of confidence that the members of the Alexandrian church were accused of thinking of the plague as a time of festival.Instead of fear and despondency, then, the earliest Christians expended themselves in works of mercy that simply dumbfounded the pagans. For them, God loved humanity; in order to love God back, one was to love others. God did not demand ritual sacrifices; he wanted his love expressed on earth in deeds of compassion.
Our time is not unlike the twilight years of the Roman empire. The god of materialism provides no hope, the structures and institutions of society that are meant to address social needs are indifferent and cold, and the current adversarial atmosphere of mistrust, suspicion, and violence breed fear and loneliness.