Sunday, March 11, 2018

(5) Good and evil: Fall and redemption

So far we have perhaps sounded a little too upbeat.  That’s because we haven’t faced the sense of hopelessness we can feel in the face of gross injustice, we have not heard the cries of those who suffer poverty, illness or psychological brokenness, we have missed the cry of the lonely, the abandoned, the violated.  We have focused on the goodness of creation but all too often we see the pollution of creation.  The Bible speaks eloquently of the groans of creation in its bondage to decay.  Any Christian view of life and the world must wrestle with, while never fully understanding, the reality of evil and sin.

We must affirm the Biblical view that the goodness of creation is not done away with after sin enters the world. However, it does become more poignant.  We can only get close to the full tragedy of evil when we see that it perverts and destroys what was so wonderfully made.

This brings us to our first point: Sin is as wide, though not as deep, as creation.  To return to Genesis, we see that sin had its effect on all the relationships humans find themselves in: our relation with each other, with God’s creation and most fundamentally with God (Genesis 3).  At the heart of a Christian understanding of life we must place alongside the comprehensive nature of God’s good creation, the comprehensive nature of the fall into sin. This in turn leads us to acknowledge the comprehensive nature of the redemption brought through the life, death and resurrection of Christ.

The comprehensive nature of sin challenges any split between a sacred realm of life and a secular realm just as much as does the comprehensive nature of creation.  Sin can be just as present in a prayer meeting as in a board meeting; the church can be just as consumed with power as a government. Therefore, we must remind ourselves that Christ came to “reconcile all things to God, whether on heaven or earth, visible or invisible”.  The Gospel is not about God abandoning his creation; it is about turning it around from death to life, from ruin to renewal.  Those who are in Christ have died to their old life and their new life covers all human activities in the world, the promise is for a “fullness of life”, not a reduced life of narrowly defined spiritual activities.

A helpful way of setting these biblical truths to work in philosophy is by distinguishing structure and direction.  Structure refers to the original intention of God for all areas of life to bring glory to God and blessing to neighbours.  It is short-hand for the ordered goodness of creation.  Though this structure is certainly obscured and distorted by evil, it remains effective. God is faithful to creation and God’s word upholds its diverse integrity. So when considering how to understand or involve oneself in a cultural task as a Christian, the first guiding principle is to look for and affirm the goodness of God’s order for that activity.  We can be sure that the task God has set, when worked on in obedience, brings blessing. 

Direction refers to the way that humans choose to respond to God’s call for responsible stewardship and development of creation’s potential. This response can be either in a direction that follows God’s laws, which brings blessing, or a way that ignores God and sets out on a human path which brings curse (this theme of blessing and curse is very prominent in Deuteronomy; in Proverbs it is expressed in terms of wisdom and folly).  So a second guiding principle is to discern the ways in which specific cultural tasks have been bent to human desires away from God and thus distorted in ways which bring a curse on us and our neighbours, and to discern the ways in which people have engaged in that task so as to honour God and bring blessings to those nearby.  We can draw together the Biblical themes we have been exploring and think Christianly about any subject under the sun by asking these two questions: What is structural or in other words creational? And what is directional?

A constant temptation, especially in philosophy, is to make direction a matter of structure.  This happens when we take some aspect of creation as the source of evil or imperfection in the world.  As Christians we must reject such views as contradicting the clear teaching of Jesus that evil comes from the human heart. It is not about contamination from some part of created reality (Matthew 15:11).

Once we identify some aspect or area of creation as evil, the follow-up claim is that some other feature of creation is the source of goodness and human hope for salvation. This also is a denial of a fundamental Christian truth: that salvation comes from God.  However, as Christians we easily adapt this view through a sacred/secular distinction, which makes certain areas of life the privileged channels of God’s grace and other areas as more susceptible to evil and sin.

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