So last week I did my whole thing on sin. Yep- that dirty little word. Unfortunately it’s a misunderstood word in our culture and quite often seen as an archaic and dehumanising word that we ought to get rid of. However last week I discussed what the word actually meant. And what do we find? That the word does actually apply to our real world reality of what’s wrong with the world. And okay sure, people might want to use different words such as evil, selfishness, injustice to describe what’s wrong with the world- but the word sin brings out a different spin on the ways of the world that we might of missed: that if there is a God who is the author, the engineer, the maker of all of reality, then don’t you think the designer of life would know what’s best? Sin then is going against our God-given design as a human being. Of course if there is no God then we run into all sorts of problems: Who’s to say what’s harm or evil or unjust? Purpose is the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists, and unless an overarching purpose exists for the universe and humanity then no matter how much you attempt to justify the outworking of a foundation for moral reasoning, in a Godless universe you will always find your foundation crumbling. But that was last week. The question of “what’s wrong with the world” then ties into the follow on question: what’s the remedy?
Some people think the remedy is a technological one: that only through reason and technological advancement can we march on into a ‘brave new world’ where the problems of aging, disease, poverty are all solved and transformed. Now I love technology. It makes things so much easier and does lead to longer physical life (Who isn’t thankful for such things!) but have you seen the movies of a dystopian future? In some of those movies the world is worse, and in others the world is ‘better’ but one thing still remains: selfishness, wanting to get the world our own way, control, corrupt power- they are still the plotlines. As good as technology is we must admit that Western progress means is that we can send unarmed drones into Pakistan to kill people instead of people with swords. That as good as medical progress is, it also allows us to have sex with more people with less risk. Progress means we can now gamble more people’s money electronically. We might have progressed only in the sense that the quickness, durability and accessibility of tasks of life have grown (Which in of itself isn’t a bad thing) but we haven’t been saved from the real things that suck life dry: our pride, our selfishness, our need to consistently want, our need to have more power. The conditions change but the hearts do not- and as such people are hurt. Though the calendars tick over every year we still have more deaths, more injustice, and we are still as self-absorbed as ever; and we think we have progressed but we just find new ways to be selfish. Suppose one could extend their life to live for a thousand years then what? It’s an extra 920 years of living how you have already lived with the heart that’s bent towards a particular way. Underneath the technological salvation storyline is the assumption is that aging, disease, poverty are the core issues of what’s wrong with the world: but they are only the symptoms. And we might deal with the symptoms but not with the deeper disease; as such (like we see in the ‘utopian’ movies) the issues will bring back up in newer ways. This isn’t to say that technological advancement has no value, after all there is the Christian belief that God will one day fix aging, disease, and death. As such a Christian’s might rightly fight against such things in the present by using their technological advancement tools of the trade. But it’s the one wielding such things that have the technological power to save or destroy, and the direction of such use of these tools comes down to the only progress that has eternal significance: the progress of the users heart.
Some people think the remedy to fix the mess of the world is through being able to express oneself. Now in Christian scripture we are told that we are all made uniquely (Psalm 139) as such our personalities, gifting’s, our gender, our race are examples of things that are God-given and make us us and shouldn’t be diminished. There are many things I like about the movie Frozen, and it has that classic song “Let it Go”. In the song she sings that she is determined to no longer be what her family and society want her to be, there’s “No right, no wrong, no rules” for her. But if the movie ended after that song (and it would be a shame if it did!) what would had been the message? Just be yourself! And this is what culture is telling us will fix the world. But what if- whilst there is a core personality and inherent traits to who you are- not everything that’s inside of you is good? Doesn’t it make sense that a God would know what parts of you are who you are and what parts are distortions? And wouldn’t this loving God who created us have our best intensions at heart? There is many times that if I acted the way I felt I would of killed people! So who defines the limits of self-expression? If it’s you then what’s stopping you from having undefined limits? Back to the movie Frozen- the princess who is “true to herself” wreaks havoc on the world and leaves shattered relationships in her wake. How is that good? But that’s not how the movie ends: realizing love is the key to controlling her powers, Elsa reforms by thawing the kingdom. It’s only after the sacrificial love of her sister that saves her from the effects of the curse that the princess is free to redirect her passion and power – not in “turning away” and “slamming the door” and expressing herself – but in channelling her powers for the good of her people. Don’t you see? Self-expression can be both good and damaging depending if you are being yourself or actually letting those parts of yourself in you reign that shouldn’t reign and cause havoc. But unless we have a grid of understanding what’s inherently you and God-made and what’s part of you are actually distortions then we are left with either radical restraint or radical freedom rather than radical love. It’s not if you be yourself or supress yourself- but whether in who you are you love others the way God defines what it means to love others.
Some people think the remedy to fix the mess of the world is through education- that if you educate people away from what’s wrong then the world will be okay. The assumption behind the belief that “education can save the world” is that “the problem of the world is a lack of education”. There is some truth here which is so pure that it cannot be ignored- education indeed does enlighten and awake us up to what’s wrong with the world and teaches us remedies; education is incredibly powerful. But it’s a means of change. Education in of itself does nothing unless you’re teaching the right things- for you can educate a person how to save their marriage or educate a person on tips on how to cheat on their spouse. It’s all about the content. One could say then that to save the world you use the means of education to teach the right things- but that begs the question: what are the ‘right’ things? We might tackle each evil in the world topically but unless we ask ourselves the prior question of what’s the ultimate definer of what it looks like to have good in xyz area then we are left guessing. The human race can discern and observe and come up with some answers (and some answers have been very good!) but we still left wondering whether they are, in the ultimate sense, right. Unless there is a God who is the definer of right and wrong can we have an ultimate means of knowing. The educational environment that is conditioning us to act a particular way (whether good content or bad content) is taking a heavy toll; but a better question to ask is “what human hearts are conditioning that educational content?”
There is a deeper problem behind these things: behind “a lack of education” as the problem or “lack of technological progress” as the problem or “lack of self-expression” as the problem is a deeper problem. Nature abhors vacuums; if you create a vacuum it will find a way to fill itself. It’s very much the same with God- you push him away then naturally something else will fill that vacuum. “It’s all about power” said Nitschke; “It’s all about money” says Marx; “It’s all about sex” says Freud. And it doesn’t take a long time observing society that we are indeed driven by these forces on both social and personal levels. We might think we are free to choose but when the vacuum is filled we are driven to live by some type of power. Postmodern author David Foster Wallace (himself not a Christian) put it like this: “In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already — it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on”. And that’s the problem: we all worship but we have pushed the only God who alone can satisfy us and conform us to who we are made to be (That is actually what Christian freedom is: being who God has designed you to be). In a Godless universe we will use what we worship to exploit others in order to get the gods who won’t satisfy- in the end the cycle of selfishness, sin, exploitation all continue as we look out for number one. Idolatry is the problem, our humanity is the problem, as such things like technology, education, self-expression are just means of either doing right or wrong- but it’s the heart that directs the rightness or the wrongness of such things, and it’s God who defines what “direction” and “rightness and wrongness” are.
As a Christian, I believe all people are made in God’s image which means that deep down there is a sense of what we must do to fix this world, but all of this is clouded by the fact that we as a human race have rebelled against God and so can twist even our instincts to our own end. We are a people left guessing- as if reaching up into a foggy sky trying to grasp for an ultimate validation of not only what is right, but (maybe more importantly?) what will make that rightness a reality. In Jesus we have a God who comes down in person and makes known to us our true identity as a human being (You don’t have that in other faiths- they would say “I am a prophet showing you a way to God” but Jesus says “I am God coming to find you”). Only in the Christian faith is the fog removed and God come down to our level; in the Christian faith we can have a deeper clarity than ever before, for we are not left guessing when God Himself is in our midst.
And what does Jesus do? He teaches us the right things that conform to who we are as a person made by God, and through Himself brings the ultimate progress of humanity that isn’t defined by test tubes and text books but by the cross and a change of hearts. Through Jesus we are taught about what it means to be a human made in God’s image. And through Jesus He makes such a re-conforming to that image possible by destroying the things that hold back such a reality…But I’ll discuss that next week!