Who Do We Blame for the Mess We're In
Dec 26, 2011 by Craig Blomberg | 0 Comments
“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst” (1 Tim. 1;15).
A frequent humanist or naturalist ploy when debating God’s existence is to make a comment to the effect of, “Well, if there is a God he’s sure made a mess of this world!!” What they never go on to consider is who to blame if there is no God. The only possible option is humans.
Marx and his ideological descendants, of course, agreed, but blamed one small group of humans—the bourgeoisie. When the proletariat took over, everything would be different. But it never was. Lots of other people have assumed that if society could just be changed in other ways, people would be better, but no such scheme has ever panned out either. Society, after all, is made up of the same people who need to be changed, so how will it change if they don’t?
Still others put their hope in technology. Technology is amoral, so perhaps people with more noble goals can help it better the lives of those with less noble goals, so that they will not be so frustrated with their lives, and then they will perpetrate less evil. But there seems to be no correlation between standard of living and criminal behavior. Access to state-of-the-art technology does not satisfy dictators’ megalomaniac designs; it just gets them more excited about using it to further their evil plans. Meanwhile, many poor societies exhibit overall a much higher level of care for one another and hospitality to others than we in the so-called developed world.
No, if there is no God, there truly is no hope for making the world a better place.
But that is no argument for God’s existence. Rather it is merely expressing agreement with the postmodernists of a half-century ago (when they were called existentialists instead), like Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, when they announced that the only serious question for philosophical discussion remaining is whether or not to commit suicide.
But there is good in the world. There are amazing lives characterized by humanitarianism, altruism, self-sacrifice and commitment to others. Tellingly, these are almost never the people who spend significant portions of their lives trying to convince others why there can be no God. Most of them are religious people, and a disproportionately large number of them are Christians (see Jonathan Hill’s What Has Christianity Ever Done For Us: How It Shaped the Modern World for documentation). Christianity also contains within it the explanation for why others besides Christians may undertake great actions of selfless good: every human being is created in the image of God. Christianity, moreover, gives the most compelling explanation of the presence of evil despite all the attempts to eradicate it: every human being is born with a deeply flawed (theologians use the word “sinful”) nature that manifest itself in varying ways throughout life no matter how many external forces attempt to rein it in.
So is the answer to the world’s problems convincing everyone to become Christian? If only it were that simple. The New Testament is equally clear that while Christ’s Spirit indwelling and empowering his people can help them take great strides in transforming their attitudes and behavior, they will never attain to anything remotely close to God’s perfectly holy standards in this world, only in the coming new heavens and new earth (Rev. 21-22). The apostle Paul, arguably the most influential Christian ever (assuming we don’t anachronistically call Jesus a Christian!), uses the present tense to describe his sinful nature more than thirty years after his remarkable encounter with the Risen Lord and transformed life on the Damascus Road. Writing to Timothy in Ephesus in the mid-60s of the first century, he declares that he is the worst of sinners! (Among other reasons, here is a key one why I am convinced that Romans 7:14-25 reflect Paul’s present autobiographical reflections and not just his generic comments about how non-Christians are trapped in sin.). Even allowing for a fair amount of rhetorical hyperbole, this is still a stunning declaration.
Neither the Christian nor the non-Christian world should therefore be all that surprised when some prominent Christian leader falls into some horrible moral malaise. What people really should be a whole lot more surprised about than they usually are is to observe the countless number of unsung heroes of the faith around the world and throughout time who have become selfless servants for others and even faith-filled martyrs, without any horrific moral collapses or contradictions in their lives. In many ways, Paul actually qualifies for both of these labels. His highly sensitized conscience, once he became a Christian, could make him aware of how far short of perfection he fell, but compared to most people in his day (and in other days), his Christian life was phenomenally exemplary.
This is precisely the result of what Paul refers to in the first part of 1Timothy 1:15. Salvation is first of all about forgiveness, not about remaking a person. But it is second of all about such remaking, about lifelong transformation, in fits and starts, with many lapses along the way, looking different for each person. Still, the Spirit will inevitably transform every person into whose life he comes, in discernible ways for good. Will that be your experience this Christmas season? There’s no legitimate reason it can’t be if you let him. But he never coerces anyone; he has to be invited, both initially and throughout life!