I see a broken world

This week, I listened to a presentation that included as one of its main points the argument that the Western tradition has gone terribly wrong because it is too focused on fixing problems. The concern is that this puts an emphasis on seeing people as broken or fallen in need of saving rather than as whole and healthy in need of — well, not much really except encouragement.

As  I listened, I recalled the opening pages of GK Chesterton’s Orthodoxy.

The strongest saints and the strongest skeptics alike took positive evil as the starting-point of their argument. If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do. The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat.

In my presentation and in much of contemporary theology — so far as I can tell — the fact that human beings are radically out of alignment with God simply does not register. Awareness of this fact — which Chesterton memorably calls the only part of Christian theology that can be empirically proven — is described as a kind of morbid negativity about humanity.

I have a hard time reflecting over the arc of Scripture — Torah, the prophets, the writings, the gospels, the epistles, and revelation — and finding much foothold for the notion that we — when left to ourselves — are well-grounded and responsive to God’s will for our lives.

I have a hard time looking at the world — especially beyond the little bubble of security that we all try to hard to wrap around ourselves — and seeing that people are generally happy, joyful, peaceful, just, merciful, and righteous.

I have a hard time looking in my own heart and seeing the image of Christ stamped there without any blemish or blot.

I’ve been accused of being a gloomy Gus many times in my life, so I’m aware that there may be people with a much more positive theology running around. But I don’t see the world looking much like the Garden of Eden or the New Jerusalem.

The world looks like a place that needs God to me, not just for some encouragement on the way but for rescue, healing, and salvation. God, of course, is at work already. All good comes from God. But the work is not done. The world is broken in need of healing. It is fallen in need of lifting up. It is captive in need of liberation.

This is how it looks to me. If I am wrong, God help me to see rightly.

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12 thoughts on “I see a broken world

  1. I agree with you, John. IMO, it is the persistent chipping away of the doctrine of original sin and our total depravity that leads to this gospel where a savior is really unnecessary. The progressive/liberal religion of today needs depravity to disappear else they cannot argue “I/they was created this way,” and therefore I’m “good.”
    Salvation is supernatural, and Wesley would remind us we cannot know the height of our cure if we do not recognize the depth of our disease.

    1. Great observation, Chad! I would add that I also have a lot of conservative friends who blanch at the idea of total depravity. We all want to hold onto that one, small smidgen of hope that maybe we’re not quite as fallen as the Scriptures indicate. Psalm 51:5 can’t possibly mean what it says, so let’s just keep our eyes on John 3:16. 🙂

      1. I was praying Psalm 51 this morning with great earnestness and Jesus spoke to me a word of grace.

  2. It would be difficult (impossible?) to live in the world of humanity and not recognize that it is broken. I remain in active ministry well past ordinary retirement age only because Jesus has given me hope (and many evidences) that broken individuals can be made whole. How do we change the whole world? One life at a time. Some might call that irrational optimism, but I am still impressed that Jesus chose only 12 ordinary men to carry forward the message he brought. No massive “miracle campaigns”, no “city wide revivals”, just the simple message that individual lives matter to God. Sin and brokenness are real, but even more real are forgiveness and wholeness through the atonement.

  3. Rationalism had a still crippling effect on Christian theology. As soon as language about the potential of humanity began creeping its way into the church, the Old Adam’s ears were tickled and the work of Christ became of secondary importance to “my” potential. I like how Luther handled this. The key to Christian growth is not to mentally affirm who Jesus is and then get on with sanctification. Such an approach is far too subjective and we, as sinners, will define holiness on our own terms. Rather, the life of faith is a daily submission to the accusation of the law. We then go back to our baptisms to have the sin nature drowned so that the new man might be resurrected. There must be a daily death to sin in Jesus Christ, and in that death we will experience a daily resurrection; one in which our sinful inclinations lessen and God-defined holiness flourishes.

    The problem, as you rightly state John and Chad, is that people don’t even think they are totally depraved on matters of the Spirit. Original sin is at best a doctrine. People tend to think they are a bit off course and just need God to help them make some adjustments. The truth is far more dire, and people raised in the land of the free and the home of the brave have little stomach for such teaching.

  4. It’s just that expression “total depravity” is like, so totally total. I have no argument at all with the concept of original sin. In my past, even at my very worst, I cannot say I was totally depraved. As Solzhinitsyn writes, in even the worst of us there is a bit of good.
    Could it be that the term itself “total depravity” meant something slightly different at the time of its first expression than how we moderns understand it today?

    1. Steven, that’s a fair point. I think total depravity has been poorly taught for the most part. As I understand it (and as I recall from my seminary classes) it does not mean we are totally bad, as though there is nothing good at all, but that every faculty we have is tainted by sin. The totality of us (thoughts, will, desires, etc) are marred by sin. Does that make sense?

  5. ” It has granted me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good. In the intoxication of my youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer, and an oppressor. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. And it was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first strivings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and then all human hearts… And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains… an unuprooted small corner of evil.”
    -Alexander Solzhenitsyn

  6. Grumpy Gusses of the world unite! 🙂

    Way I see it, there are generally two kinds of people: those who think everything is great and good and wonderful and that everything is a positive opportunity, and those who fixate on the world’s problems and shortcomings. …thing is, if you constantly hold to the mindset that everything is great, you have neither the motivation to improve nor the knowledge of that necessity. We need to face our frailties head-on if there’s any hope for a better future.

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