“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him”. 2 Corinthians 5:21
“Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us”. Galatians 3.13
Having been as if I had been in a fit of depression; and I now having come out of it am able to see where I have been for a very long time now and previously: i.e. I have been struggling with what is called in Bible terms ‘The Problem of Evil’.
Until today I had not formulated this understand explicitly to my consciousness; and today having taken up a book I read from time to time called ‘Daily Light’; being readings from the Bible grouped thematically for morning and again evening daily throughout the year.
It was first complied a long few years ago; and ancient copies of it can be found in junk shops dating back to at least early 20th century. So it’s no newcomer; and it is not news in any way; its content is nearly 2000 years old; but it has power, as I saw again today, to bring, like those beautiful feet on the hills, some very Good News from time to time.
The two citations of St Paul’s which head up this article here were embedded in the Bible readings grouped thematically in Daily Light for today 6 March (2017); under a theme of what? – of substitution? – Isaiah 53 in parts was prominent; and so were St Peter and St Paul.
For some reason whilst I was reading this theme today it was borne in upon me much more strongly than ever before that here was a rationale, if not the solution behind The Problem of Evil, and one which is able to say something of great importance about how God is dealing with us and with our Collective Evil Deeds.
For perhaps the first time ever I felt in my heart the emphatic truth of this substiutionary role of Jesus the Christ; and it just, as it were, slotted into place and seemed to solve a little of the jigsaw of existence for me. It had taken a long time. I have been overtly and actively a Christian for over 20 years now (and yes, very much so, more is being revealed to me inch by inch even yet – and this adventure is one of the great things I love in my life – that I should be privileged every now and then to be able to travel just that little few more steps down that infinitely long road towards Jerusalem).
With this realisation being borne in on me – I will speak more specifically about it in a few minutes – came a sense of a firmer footing being made available to me, and a stronger will to do for God, to do what I can for God, and so to abandon my self-regard and my defensiveness just that little bit more, because I felt able to trust in Him just a little bit more.
Thus one of my very favourite books expresses my journey so far so very adequately: it is John Bunyan’s perennial and wonderful The Pilgrim’s Progress. Anyone who has never opened it; especially Christians who have yet to open it; will I am absolutely certain be as well-instructed as wholly enthralled by this marvellous literary and biblical classic as countless others have been.
Now to the thoughts which I had about these two (and other) Bible citations in that grouping today.
The chief thing that hit me is that we are ‘under a curse’. Leave aside for now the question of how we became to be under this curse; let us say, and it’s all we need to know for now, that the results and consequences of this curse we are under is apparent all over the world in every one of us and in our behaviours and in our mistakes of behaviour. No-one is able to deny to herself/himself that as a race we humankind are very far from perfect and are ever greatly involved in fighting and hurtfulness, theft, deceit ………..and the list goes on and on. Let’s call all this The Problem of Evil.
Let us also set aside for now that evil which comes to us from the natural world – earthquakes; storms; landslides; fires and such – and let us merely stick with that massive quantity of bad stuff which we as a race do to one another.
For many years it has been a heavy thing for me to bear, to understand, to rationalise, to explain, to cope with the knowledge that all this goes on in the world and that I am a part of the problem too. As I am getting older, more and more of events in my past life are coming again into my thoughts; and in particular those events which I have no reason to be proud of trouble and which me most. Of course there’s no going back and setting things right; but there is prayer and a petition to God to ask Him for forgiveness, even though I am unable to ask the persons who were affected for their forgiveness.
A few months ago I had made a resolution to stop making a point of tuning into and listening to the news bulletins. This resolution was not made out of a sense of feeling depressed. I have come to an understanding that from my secluded position in life so far away from the scenes and the events which these news bulletins were informing me of; I was in fact unable to make sound and creditable assesments of what might be going on in the world; and I reasoned that I could be sure always, almost a priori, that many many evil deeds were and are being done all the time and that I myself am amongst the evil doers.
Now this admission of mine of sin is not about self-flagellation or mea cupla; nor even is it after St Paul that I am claiming for my self the prominence of being ’the chief of sinners’: I am averse to all that indulgent inverse egotism.
But hearing news bulletins had steadily become more and more disturbing to me; arousing in me anger, mistrust; and sometimes almost despair; so I stopped seeking out news and so now I just hear news if I happen to be around when a news bulletin arises on TV or radio or when a newspaper is left nearby me I might take a peek.
My equanimity improved greatly from the time I put into action that resolve not to seek out news. I was now satisfied with the great John Donne’s words on this kind of almost salacious curiosity to hear news which we as a people have inculcated:
“Send not to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee’
I found that my not listening out for news enabled me to consider and to judge everyday situations rather better than I had been able to do previously. Thinking was more clear and in general my mind was not in such turmoil or distress; I guess I had come to a decision to just ‘let go’ and allow The Lord to do the job of looking after the world without my able assistance!
Of course, I had not ‘gone into retirement’ as a Christian; merely I had levelled my sights on issues locally and within my range to dwell upon and attempt to help mend – one might be more bold and say – lowered them to within that remit any Christian is granted to operate in by his/her Maker.
In medieval times certain kinds of curiosity were to some religious minds a manifestation of a kind of sin; what I call, much to my children’s chagrin ‘idle curiosity’; because even though they are grown I chide them when they are curious to know what is strictly none of their business; when that itch, that restless worm, which bores and tickles at one to just know, know, know, the name of the anonymous person in the paper who was arrested for drunkenness and who is haling from your locale etc.
I tend to agree with these medieval ascetics in this regard. And I am coming to believe more and more that a hankering after news and listening out for news; for the reasons I have given above why I gave up doing so; is a form of ‘idle curiosity’ in us; we love to know, even though it is information which is not substantiable by us; not the whole picture; coloured by self-interests; relayed from places we have no knowledge of nor have been to or are likely to go to; sometimes translated; sometimes angled for a purpose; sometimes said in anger or just plain mistakenly worded or conceived; there are too, too, many intervening variables for any basis to believe the news as the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth – far from it.
As I have said, one knows, whether or not one is full up with news, that we as a race do many awfuly bad things to one another; and to the planet and to other life forms and almost everywhere we have a presence, evil follows in our wakes. This proposition may be accepted I believe a priori about us as a species, or as a creature. It has been impossible for us of our own accords to work out just why we are like this; let alone how we might learn to stop being like this; we just seem to be that way full stop. (Period).
Let’s suppose that God accepts us – as Oliver Cromwell said to his portrait painter – ‘warts and all’; like we accept one another ‘for better or for worse’, ‘in sickness and in health’ ‘as long as ye both shall live’ when we vow our marriage vows to our beloveds. So God is a pragmatist. He sees there is no dealing with us; he accepts we are a bad lot; and nothing is going to alter that ‘not even were one sent back to them from the dead would they believe’.
This is our curse which we are under; not necessarily placed under it by God; we have our freewills, we choose what we do; if anything this curse is self inflicted by us on us. But this curse is played out daily, minute by minute, every day of every year; as the bad news rolls in from down our street, from our living rooms and kitchens, from Iran and from Mexico and from the good old US of A ad infinitum:
There she weaves by night and day A magic web with colours gay. She has heard a whisper say, A curse is on her if she stay To look down to Camelot. She knows not what the curse may be, And so she weaveth steadily, And little other care hath she, The Lady of Shalott.
Nonetheless God loves us ‘warts and all’ and sees our plight and feels our (largely self inflicted as a race as a whole) pain, our sufferings, and He has longed to do something about our self-engendered mess.
This outlook of God’s upon our abject situation is of course what demands the necessity of Jesus and the reason of His Incarnation. It is the only resolution to the whole jamboree of disaster we have dug out for ourselves.
And is not this a beautiful solution; not merely ‘elegant’ in the scientific sense; or fit for purpose in the triage sense; but aestheticaly and ethically is it not a wondrous and precious, dear and formidable thing indeed? That, as says St Paul, who is paraphrasing the words of Jesus himself in saying:
..he (God) hath made him (Jesus) to be sin for us, who (Jesus) knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him (Jesus)
For had not Jesus met with his followers and:
“He took the cup, gave thanks and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until the day when I drink it anew with you in My Father’s kingdom.”…
Here Jesus states explicitly that it is the act of His blood being poured out (on the cross) which is the effective agency by which He is able to forgive the sins of many.
And so, we remain doing the bad things we do; because for God to have prevented us from doing bad things would have meant a loss of our freewill to choose between doing good and doing evil; which loss of freewill in its turn would mean there could be no justification to hold men and women accountable in any way for the decisions they take and act upon, for good or for ill. We become automata.
But because of God’s merciful care for us, by means of the sacrifice of Jesus by way of His crucifixion, we have a route to forgiveness for the evils we do and which we condone, approve, or allow to happen.
“Christ hath redeemed us from the curse”
The world of course goes on being the world just as much as it ever has done; and men and women go on being men and women as they always have done; the mess continues; the seas pollute; the lands are devastated; victims killed and dispossessed in droves; and in our own local ambits we are cruel to our spouse; we spurn a friend in a fit of pique; we laugh at something which hurts another; the whole is a disastrous mountain of folly and self-conceit; but yet out of this horrible chaos of pushy wills and whims, driving lusts and acquisitiveness, is a way; The Way; The Way of The Cross.
Try to think of it like this; it may be incorrect but possibly not? Jesus forgives you when you sincerely admit your wrongdoing and ask Him to forgive you. Jesus wipes your slate clean (but do not mistake and believe wrongly that because your slate is now clean you will face no accounting and be asked to make no reparation for your freewill choices).
Do not mistake either and so think that forgiveness is a sort of scratching off of a tally which is a foregone conclusion – you only have to pray and ask each time and Jesus will oblige you – because this is not the case; whenever your heart is not in your confession to Him there is no point in you asking Him for forgiveness. It will not happen
But maybe, just maybe, for evey person who truly asks for and who duly receives forgiveness; perhaps Jesus is also wiping away at least some of the effects of the accumulated evils in the world also? Nice to think so. I hope so.
The very certain fact remains that The Problem of Evil is contained by the sacrifice made by Jesus in His death; even though evil continues to be done and to occur on vast scales. But the accumulated weight of these acts of evil in total, of all acts of evil, at least potentially are already borne and accepted by Jesus, carried by Him in his death.
The route is open to all; and the forgiveness is there for all-comers to have; only a person has to be willing to avail herself/himself of the route and of the forgiveness. Thus John the Baptist precedes Jesus’ coming, paving the way for Him, saying:
“Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near”
The Pre-Raphaelite painter Holman Hunt painted a picture which became known as ‘The Light of the World’. In it Jesus is stood on the far side of a closed door; unseen and bearing in one hand at chest height a lamp glowing which lights up His face bearing a Crown of Thorns. The door has but just one handle; on the side of the ‘mortal world’, the world in which we men and women live; while the other side, on which Jesus stands, there is no handle; and so the door cannot be opened by Jesus . I believe the gospel scripture ‘Knock, and the door shall be opened’ refers here, in that it is the lot of a man or a woman to initiate; who is to knock; or else to use the door handle provided to him/her; and so s/he must be willing to begin, to initiate, to take that daring first step, – in “A condition of complete simplicity (Costing not less than everything)” upon an arduous but very happy and fulfilling journey which proceeds bit by bit over a course of long years of getting to know a little more about his/her Redeemer, day upon day.
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