Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Understanding, Resistance, and Lament: Three Christian Themes for Encountering Evil

[This is the abstract to a paper I didn't have time to write (yet). I have been ruminating on these ideas for years, and wanted to lay them out in simple, thematic form.]

Horrendous evils, such as the events of September 11, 2001, require theological depth on the part of Christians. The Christian worldview affords three essential and profound modes for encountering this manner of evil: understanding, resistance, and lament.

Understanding. The biblical model of creation, fall, and redemption puts evils—even the most horrendous of evils—into a larger understanding of reality not afforded by other worldviews. This is a good world, one that is created by a good God, and one that has gone radically wrong because of the incursion of sin. Yet Christians need not despair, since we have good reason to believe that God is at once all-good, all-powerful, and lovingly engaged with the world. This is argued on the basis of natural theology and the achievements of Jesus Christ. Mysteries—dark mysteries—remain, but in the context of our knowledge of God.

Resistance. The Christian can resist and respond to all manner of evil without thereby fighting against God himself. This is because the fall has disordered the world, causing it to become abnormal with respect to its original design. God’s action of redemption in Christ reveals his own participation in the restoration of the world, a project with which we should engage with all our might.

Lament. Despite the understanding that the Christian vision gives of the reality of horrendous evils, and despite the motivation that the Bible gives Christian to resist and respond to evil, we must also lament the sad facts of a fallen world. To lament means to grieve over the horrible effects of heinous realities in a world east of Eden and to call out to God for restoration. Much of the Bible is dedicated to lament (including entire Psalms—such as 22 and 88—and The Book of Lamentations), although contemporary Christians often fail to understand the profundity of this activity and the theology on which it rests.


Ben said...

Great piece on encountering evil. I especially think the Lament portion is missing from Evangelicals. When was the last time you saw real weeping at a Christian funeral? Of course, death has lost its sting, but physical death is still a result of the fall, and the pain of missing a beloved one should hurt and be expressed.

Yossman said...

Lamenting, I believe, starts with oneself, remorse over one's sin and hardness of heart. If judgment starts with the house of the Lord we'll have to become broken-hearted with respect our own sins and resistence to God's Spirit (Blessed are the poor in Spirit).

In that respect lamenting has also everything to with fasting, i.e. denying the body some of its daily needs so as to focus on God while withdrawing from things that pertain to life in this world.

From this introspective as well as God-directed mindset we may - infused by a God-given compassion - cry out to the Lord for a world that is lost and in great need of redemption.

Who will stand in the gap? The lamenting will! And their prayers will yet be answered.

Paul D. Adams said...

Agree, Yossman. Well said...1 Pt. 4:17

I wonder, where's the call to the renewal from redemption; all that the cross has achieved regarding evil? Seems to me that we begin with the cross and it's effects before our response to encountering evil can stand. See Blocher's excellent Evil and the Cross: An Analytical Look at the Problem of Pain.

Ben said...

So, if Yossman is correct, Jesus did not lament over the pain and suffering around Him, since to lament means to start with one's own sin. It's funny to me how some followers of Jesus have a hard time embracing compassion and grief without a harmartiological preface.

Yossman said...

Ben: you conclusion doesn not obtain. From the statement 'sinners should begin lamenting about their own sins' does not automatically follow 'the sinless cannot lament'.

Indeed I do believe that a 'harmatiological preface' is imperative. Before the brokeness of this world can be understood, resisted and lamented personal brokeness needs to be addressed, acknowledged and mended.

As for Jesus and lamenting: Ps.22, Is.53.