June 11, 2016 Leave a comment
It’s a messed up world.
Not that that’s any big news. But it really is. And it’s only getting worse, according to many observers.
Why am I thinking about this? Because almost everything we see today is some sort of alteration, revision or perversion of how things ought to be. One group fights for their rights, while another group wrings its hands and brays on about how awful things are, and offers no real solution.
And it’s been this way for a long time. If you accept the Judeo-Christian scriptures, since not long after humanity came on the scene. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, the pride of life…and the Fall. Not just any fall but the Fall.
I am far from being a theologian. I am fascinated by it from an academic perspective, and I have tremendous respect for those who can engage in it objectively, non-dogmatically, and from a doctrinally neutral perspective.
But the Fall was perhaps the single most devastating event in human experience. From the idyllic setting of perfection, a paradise of fellowship between God and all his Creation, a single act, followed quickly by another effectively broke the Creation. Not just a little piece of it, but all of it. The perfect became imperfect. The complete became incomplete. And all of Creation groans for redemption from that brokenness.
I have thought long and hard about this story. Obviously, if God had intended for this never to happen, he could have denied mankind its free will. But he did not, which suggests that although he suspected it would happen, he was willing to give humanity a chance.
Over the succeeding few generations, things got progressively worse. By Noah’s time, evil had reached a peak and even God was sorry he had created such as mankind. But he wasn’t ready to give up. The slate was wiped (almost completely) clean and Creation started over.
Only to repeat the process of failure and loss and descent into imperfection.
And then, after generations of failure and partial restoration and deeper failure, he presented humankind with a new way of being: while the concept had been there from the beginning, the way of Love was cast in no uncertain terms as an alternative to the depravity of a broken, fallen system. The coming of Jesus into the world restored a sense of goodness and directed any and all who would accept it into a life beyond the self, into a life that would channel the perfection of the original perfect Creation into a corrupted world. And it was then as it is now based on Love and Service and Sacrifice.
So many who claim to follow that Way do little to show it. When we complain about everything and condemn all that we disagree with, we are not children of a loving God, but instruments of a vengeful one.
If God made the world as perfect, is it not logical to conclude that it would be his will that it be restored? The beautiful and moving passage in the Revelation of John declares, “Behold, I am making all things new.” I saw where someone once said that he didn’t say “I am making all new things,” but the emphasis was on the restoration of what had been from that elusive, singular point of origin, the Creation. In fact, the same could be said of how he handled the restoration of the Creation after the flood: the Earth had not been sterilized or cleansed of all evidence of a previous state. It was restored using pre-existing materials—i.e., living things, species including humans.
I cannot help but agree that the world is indeed broken. And I cannot help but think that so much of what we see today is more related to a disconnect from the perfection of Creation and the perfection of that Way that Jesus so eloquently lived. Of Jesus, Peter said in Acts that “he went about doing good.”
Consider a few examples. Because of generations of systematic oppression and suppression, when a young black man is killed at the hands of law enforcement, a movement arises that declares, “Black lives matter.” I fully concur: black lives matter, and so do white ones, and brown ones…. We all matter. But when white people, and people of faith at that, automatically take up the unconsidered position that the anger brought about by a questionable or at least questioned killing is completely unfounded and unjustified, they essentially telegraph the view that black lives don’t matter. This is an unloving expression of racism, and it is not consistent with a drive toward the restoration of a perfected Creation.
When a furor erupts over who can use a restroom assigned to be used by people of a specific karyotype, we are not displaying any understanding of how a broken world has affected a small minority of people who are not comfortable in their own “birth-bodies,” for lack of a better term. The transgender restroom debacle may one day be seen as a point where people who claim to follow the precepts of love failed, not because they were trying to maintain a perception of God’s intent in the distinction between males and females, but by failing to lovingly deal with those who have from a very early age experienced a manifestation of that imperfection that happened as a result of that fateful event so very long ago, that rippled and echoed throughout all of Creation, darkening what was once bathed in light to a shadow of its former perfect glory. To pledge violence and violation in response to a supposed danger from transgendered individuals is not in any way consistent with a restoration of a perfected Creation.
When people of faith support systems and measures that not only promote but ensure inequality, that allow wealth and power to be centralized in the hands of a few while the poor are oppressed, repressed and suppressed, this is inconsistent with a view that purports to herald and welcome a restored Creation. Those with wealth have responsibilities to help those who have less. It’s a principle from scripture, from the Old to the New Testaments. But the Neoliberal co-opting of the socially and politically conservative element of the population has been so insidious and so complete that its anti-Christian foundations have been recast as being Biblical, effectively reversing the moral polarity and calling evil “good.” (And no, Neoliberalism has nothing to do with what is commonly called Liberalism today. For an excellent and thoughtful primer on Neoliberalism, see the article from The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/15/neoliberalism-ideology-problem-george-monbiot?CMP=share_btn_fb .) The hopelessness of an unending cycle of poverty, the broadening gap in life span between the rich and the poor, the worship of wealth and its celebration through conspicuous consumption are all contrary to living by principles of love and goodness.
So what is a solution? Should we close down, wring our hands in dismay, mutter curses in between expressions of disbelief, dig our heels in and vow to fight no matter what? Should we acquiesce to any and every trend, allow our principles to be compromised, accept all social changes? Some see these diametrically opposed sides as the only possibilities. But like it is with so many things in life, the solutions are not cut and dried. And trust me, I don’t claim to have all the answers.
But I do know that for every action that is launched in spite and anger, the cause of love and peace is harmed. For every threat made to inflict harm on a person or group with whom we disagree, nearly irreparable damage is done to that cause. For every sin we angrily or arrogantly accuse another of, our own are hovering in the shadows, waiting to condemn us.
In the 20th Century, there were two great leaders of the non-violence movement whose thoughts fit well with this argument: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love.” Mahatma Gandhi revealed, “Anger is the enemy of non-violence and pride is a monster that swallows it up.” Love cannot be expressed in anger, nor can it be extended in pride and arrogance. For a refresher on the characteristics of love, I Corinthians 13 is the place. Indignation precludes understanding. Only by patient, rational consideration can we ever hope to understand that which opposes our values. If a quiet answer turns away wrath, shouting insults and threats will only engender it.
Here is the hardest part: we are conditioned to believe that since we are confident down to our very cores that we are in the right, we will always win when confronted with the social and moral dilemmas that accompany the moral entropy that is so evident around us. This is not always so. Even though we want to believe it, there is a good chance on many issues that the opposition is insurmountable and we will lose. How we respond to losing speaks volumes about not only our commitment but our character. If after losing on some point, we give up and refuse to face defeat again, we are not committed to our cause. If we meet failure with anger and violence, we display a deeply and tragically flawed character.
Fretting over social changes, politics, and cultural drift will do little to maintain the central mission of doing good and giving hope by restoring even a small portion of a fallen Creation. Contrary to what we may believe, today’s society has not sunk to the depths of 1st century Rome. We are not powerless in the face of change as long as we have faith and hope and love. And continuing to do good in whatever way we can brings a little more of Heaven’s light to fight back the darkness.
So, yes, it’s a messed up world. But we can make it better. Like Jesus says in the parable of the talents, doing nothing, hiding the resources entrusted to us in the ground, is unacceptable. The good we can do may be a little or it may be a lot. But no matter what, we are expected to do something.