Living In Tension

One of the great hopes in our present world is that people will eventually choose to do good instead of evil. Given enough time, space, education, and opportunity humanity will always make the right choice–or so we hope. The vision is human flourishing. Apart from God, no true human flourishing will happen. Yet, we try anyway. We seek to see competing values expressed and lived out. However, these values remain ungrounded in anything but our societal constructs and philosophical ideologies emerging reactionarily from human experience.

The reality is that there will always be tension as we hope for improvement. In some ways, the achievement of the vision comes down to one’s definition of improvement. For many, improvement can be defined by the amount of unrestrained personal liberty one can achieve as an individual (or a small group). The right to define oneself and express the heart’s desire without hindrance is the ultimate. This desire manifests itself in the right to bear arms, sexuality, and speech For others, improvement can be defined as the moral advancement and goodness of society. As a culture, certain values and systems must always win out. This desire manifests itself through the calls for tolerance, desire to eliminate poverty and provide healthcare for all. At first, both of these definitions of improvement seem like achievable goals. Clearly, taking care of and valuing people are worthwhile goals.

However, inevitably personal liberties and societal’s “perfect” system will come into conflict. These always do. At some point, the individual will be limited if the success of the whole is to win out. Should the individual’s rights triumph some part of society will experience oppression. Liberty fully teased out assumes a common morality, which has been discarded readily. Ultimate liberty results in inequality. Perfect societal structure organized in such a way to promote fairness, equality, and universal goodness fully teased out is totalitarian. The individual is reduced to a cog in a machine. Their worth is reduced to their usefulness. Today, our culture is attempting to fight for both at the expense of the other (No kidding!). We are cannibalizing ourselves because of the lack of acknowledgment that we cannot have our cake and eat it too. We clamor for individual liberties at the expense of others. We clamor for societal betterment without personal sacrifice. We just assume that everything will get better apart from actually conversing with people about their worldviews.

“It seems that we are to evolve out of men the good that is already in them. You will not get much good if you attempt the process! I am afraid that in the process of evolution you will develop devils. I do not know much else that will come out of human nature, for humanity is as full of sin as an egg is full of potential meat. The evolution of sin must be everlasting evil.” – Charles Spurgeon

Most of us do not become aware of our worldviews until they clash with the one held by other people, usually in contexts of moral debate and cross-cultural exchange. Then we really notice them—or we might, at any rate, if we struggle to understand why intellectual foreigners seem to strange to us, so alien. We then either seek to understand and connect, or we react and use our fear to justify our abrasive actions.

Christians believe the Bible teaches men and women are made in God’s image but that men and women are also wicked. When those who claim to be Christians go wrong in their treatment of people, it is usually because they have not quite figured out how to hold these equally important truths in tension. Until Christians begin to effectively live in that tension and see how it affects both individuals and society, we will be seen as outdated, ineffective, and hypocritical.

Failure to realize other humans are made in God’s image results in judgmentalism, objectification, and hatred. Failure to realize humans are sinful results in self-reliance, ignorance, and apathy.

To further communicate the point: Every worldview deals with human evil in its own particular way. Every system (except for Christianity) suggest salvation, enlightenment, fulfillment, achievement through adherence to a certain set of behaviors, codes, or steps. Jared C. Wilson in his book Unparalleled responds to the point this way:

“Then Christianity comes along and says that not only do we fail to obey God’s rules perfectly but we can’t obey them perfectly. This sounds like a bummer, and in a way it certainly is. But it’s also, to my mind, surprisingly refreshing. Because the more I think about it, the more this pessimistic view of humanity actually seems to make the most sense of humanity.”

I agree with Wilson. In light of our current cultural setting, people are flabbergasted that such evil and hate still exist. Of course they do! No matter how many social experiments we try, we cannot socially engineer our way out of the pervasive problem of human evil.

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins 2in which you previously lived according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit now working in the disobedient. 3We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. 4But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, 5made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! 6He also raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus,7so that in the coming ages he might display the immeasurable riches of his grace through his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— 9not from works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do. – Ephesians 2:1-10

May Christians figure out how to effectively live in the tension that we are wicked, yet God has loved us so much. May Christians figure out how to champion the value every individual and work toward the betterment of all because we are willing to lay down our lives/rights like Christ laid down His. There are good works which have been prepared for us to do in order to display the heavenly riches of God in this broken world. We will only achieve human flourishing through the submitting to the Creator God of the Bible.

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