I was listening to a talk by a Christian scientist yesterday (that is, a scientist who loves Jesus, not a member of the cult started by Mary Baker Eddy in the 19th century), and he brought up a good point. He said that we as Christians need to stop pretending as if the world is great. Critics of Christianity have accepted the cruel reality that the world is a dark, diseased place for centuries (the criticism is called “the problem of evil”), but it seems that some Christians still tend to try to embrace a notion that the world is “not really that bad.”
Let’s put all our cards on the table. It is.
The first problem with saying that the world isn’t that bad is that it walks in tandem with naivety. As someone who has been to first world, second world, third world, (and virtual world) countries, I can tell you that pain and betrayal and sickness and idolatry exist in all of them. You can’t escape it. It’s a broken world.
The other, and main, problem is that holding the notion of a beautiful world doesn’t make much room for– or sense of– suffering. If God simply made this world good and that’s the end of the story then why did my parents birth a still-born baby who would have called herself my big sister? As followers of Christ, we sometimes stand back and scratch our heads when people get angry at God in the midst of dark seasons, but we don’t realize that maybe it’s because they have only been given half the story.
The Other Half
In the beginning, God made everything and he said it was good! But that’s not the end of the story. The other part of the saga plays itself out as a tragedy with a hopeful ending…and we are in the middle! After God made everything, man sinned–that is– he did what God had told him not to do and did not do what God had told him to do. Because of this, sin entered and fractured the harmony in creation. God, the ultimate judge, cursed the earth. Why? Romans 8:20-21 says, “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”
God subjected creation to futility in hope. There is a future thrust here. God could have simply said “to hell with it all” and damned our ancestors and all of creation. But there was a bigger plan. A plan that involved redemption and restoration on an individual AND global level.
Christ is the ultimate apex of that restoration. The good new of Christianity is the Jesus lived a sinless life, the life we should have lived, and died an unjust death, the death that we deserved, so that we could once again walk in fellowship with God. As Martin Luther has put it well, this is the “great exchange”.
That all sounds great, but were does it leave us?
Jesus has ascended back to heaven, but he has promised that he is coming back. Most of the book of Revelation is about the second coming of Christ. He will come back to judge his enemies (unless you have joined his team, you are one of them). He will come back to make things right. Until then, though, we continue to live in a world that is groaning in agony. That is the context in which we suffer.
The good news, the reason it’s okay for me to embrace that reality of the harshness of the world, is that I am confident of this triumphant return. (You may think I’m delusional, but when another man walks out of the grave, I’ll listen to him.) This allows for me a framework of suffering, knowing that the world is full of it, but that one day–soon– it will all be over. As rapper Andy Mineo has poetically put it:
One day my God gon’ crack the sky
He gon’ bottle up every tear that we ever cried
Bring truth to every lie, justice for ever crime
All our shame will be gone and we’ll never have to hide
No more broken hearts, no more broken homes
No more lockin’ doors, no more cops patrollin’
No abusive words, or abusive touches
No more cancerous cells that’ll take our loved ones
No more hungry kids, no more natual disaster
No child will ever have to ask where his dad is
No funerals where we wear all black
And death will be dead and we’ll lock the casket