It is deeply paradoxical—though some live comfortably with the contradiction—to be a committed Christian while also being committed to preserving the status quo. Christian ideals stand for no less than the recreation and reintegration of all things, none of which can happen without change. Where is this sweeping change is supposed to begin? Well, as Will Durant put it, Jesus sought the ‘profoundest of all revolutions,’ a revolution so profound that all others are mere causes in cosmetic modifications by contrast: Jesus sought to completely purify the human heart of all evil.
This is where the the sweeping change of the Christian movement is supposed to begin: as a revolution within the hearts and minds of individuals. As internal change spreads and expands outward, the very structures and systems of our societies are to be changed too. But it is a mistake to imagine that the profound change that Jesus sought starts with the structures and systems. The kingdom that Jesus proclaimed is established from within.
I do not think I could trust a distant god who is immune to the pain of the world. I do not think I could love a blood-thirsty god that stands over and against us. In a world filled with real suffering and evil, I cannot conceive of how a distant and detached god could be said to ‘love’ us in any meaningful sense, either.
The incarnation of god in the man, Jesus of Nazareth, changes all of this for me. The god revealed in Jesus has moved me deeply and earned my trust because he is the uncommon-incarnational-god who is ‘aquatinted with grief’; a close, present, down-in-the-dirt-and-involved incarnational-god who can ’empathize with our weaknesses’; a god who has surprisingly come alongside us in our suffering, misery, and division to overcome the terrible vortex of evil that we have perpetuated and fallen victim to, all for the purpose of graciously healing, forgiving, and reconciling us to him and one another. The simple yet truly amazing news—that this emmanuel-god is with us and for us—is the kind of amazing news that can ease the deepest pains of our souls; it’s the kind of amazing news that can help us overcome our inner alienation, angst, weakness, hopelessness, and pain from facing our forlorn existence and lonely doom.
I cannot conceive of a more radical and relentless love than that revealed in the incarnational action of the divine in Jesus, the Christ. I cannot conceive of a more loving and gracious god than the one revealed in the god-man, Jesus of Nazareth.
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
For the record, the bible is not a flat moral manual that we can flip open to any random page for quick-and-dirty ethical cues. It is a library packed with poetry, history, philosophy, letters, biographies, and more, that cumulatively chronicle a dynamic story. Its story is filled with profound tensions between love and hate, promise and betrayal, justice and grace, revenge and forgiveness, despair and hope, war and peace, and good and evil. Even more, its unfolding narrative tells of the dark powers of death and disintegration clashing with the life-giving, reconciling power of pure love. Hardly light reading, its narrative brims with brutal honesty and disturbing tragedies, plenty of deeply flawed leading characters, and an uncommon God’s relentless pursuit of his beloved screw-ups that climaxes in a scandalous plot-twist of unexpected triumph. It’s enough to get caught up in!
Inasmuch as you read, also reflect.
‘Man must bow down to something.’ —Fyodor Dostoevsky
Dostoevsky’s blunt claim illuminates a crucial and inescapable reality that pertains to the way we conceive of freedom: no one lives in a state of pure freedom from; we have each bowed down to something. If we are to be free, the question we must ask ourselves is: have I freely chosen to bow down before what I am presently submitted to? And if we think we are entirely free from, that we have not bowed down before anyone or anything—well, then we are shackled and enslaved in the worst degree.
Evil is a popular obsession these days. Much of the reporting done by major news sources focuses on conflicts and social strife, on injustices and political exploitation. Much of our entertainment focuses their stories on deranged killers and the detectives who chase them, on disturbing events and criminal investigations. We are all apparently aware of evil’s existence. Our popular media seems to confirm that it has our attention, and for good reasons.
I must admit that evil has my attention. I am drawn to the writings of authors like Dostoevsky and Camus, to television shows like Breaking Bad and The Fall, partly because I am convinced that evil is real and that evil matters. I think most people would agree that evil is real and that evil matters, at least if pressed. In fact, I don’t think I have ever talked with a single person who honestly believes that evil does not exist. As much as we may pay lip service to ideas that relativize its reality, nearly everyone, either from personal experience or in view of past or present events, has been confronted by evil’s painful presence.
So why do we so often avoid discussing it openly? Is it because, if we unequivocally acknowledge that evil exists, then we will be compelled to consider the source of its existence? Is it because, if compelled to consider the source of evil’s existence, then we will be faced with the unsettling fact that evil is not merely something out there, but something that originates from within?
Feeling pulled in opposite directions, evil often stirs up ambivalence. It strikes us to our core, yet we so often avoid engaging with it deeply for fear of facing its origins. It grabs our attention, yet it quickly becomes a mirror that is too hard to hold.