Thursday, August 4, 2011

Our Place in The Problem

       What I’ve been trying to show in the last several articles is that Genesis 1-11 sets forth The Problem, which is the violence that humans do to each other, the effects of which infect all creation.  I’ve asserted that the primary feature of Original Sin is not so much that it was the first sin, introducing imperfection into a perfect world, but that it is archetypal or foundational—it is the root sin from which everything else grows.  I’ve also asserted that Original Sin is not something that an original pair of ancestors committed, of which we now reap the whirlwind, but that it is something that we all do, in our own way, and we do it not because it’s in our DNA and we really have no choice but to do it, but because we actually do choose to do it.  So we can’t blame anyone or anything, not Adam and Eve, not heredity, not upbringing, not “it’s just the way I am”, not fate or predestination, not Satan or God.  We do it, and we do it knowingly and willingly.  So we are all without excuse.
Now, if you haven’t realized it yet, I’ve just admitted to being a violent person, and I’ve just accused you of being a violent person.  If the Original Sin is the violence that humans do to one another, and if we all commit the Original Sin, then we are all perpetrators of violence in some fashion.
Not buying it?  I understand.  You’re not a violent person, are you?  You don’t hit people, shoot people, stab people, or rape people.  You’re not a murderer, child abuser, rapist, torturer, psychopath or sociopath.  And you don't hang around with people who are, at least not knowingly.  OK, fair enough.  As the world defines a violent person—as the law defines a violent person—few of us are violent.
But we are followers of Jesus, and so it doesn’t really matter if the world and the world’s laws define us as violent.  All that matters is if Jesus defines us as violent.
OK, so you’ve never murdered someone; neither have I.  But have you ever gotten really, really angry at someone?  Sure you have.  I’ve gotten angry at Pam on a number of occasions.  I mean spit-flying, eye-bulging, foot-stomping angry.  At my wife, my life-mate, best-love, mother-of-my-children, until-death-do-us-part companion in life.  So have you.  Well, maybe not angry at Pam, but angry with your spouse, sibling, best friend, parent, child.  But at least you didn’t get violent, right?  But what does Jesus say?  "You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, 'You shall not murder'; and 'whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.'  But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment.”   And when you got angry, did you yell?  Maybe not every time, but I bet at least sometimes you yelled, maybe threw out some insults.  So Jesus goes on: “And if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, 'You fool,' you will be liable to the hell of fire.”
Now, nobody really buys the idea that being angry and/or yelling insults is the same as murder.  We don’t.  I remember as a kid being taught that in Sunday School and on the outside nodding agreement but on the inside thinking, “”  And most everybody is with me on this, which means that we tend to dismiss Jesus’s statement as hyperbole or exaggeration to make a point, that getting angry is bad and can lead to murder.  But Jesus isn’t really equating getting angry or yelling or insulting a person with murder.  He is, however, expanding the notion of what it means to be violent.  He’s saying, “You think you aren’t a violent person because you haven’t murdered anyone?  But yelling is an act of violence also, as is insulting another person, as is getting spit-flying, eye-bulging, foot-stomping angry.  These and many other things are acts of violence that can and do damage another person.” 
This is what we do.  We power-up on each other, and not just on our enemies, but on our loved ones.  In fact, it tends to be our loved ones that we do this to the most.  We tend to interact with our enemies as little as possible, but we interact with our loved ones all the time, and we tend to seek to be in control of our relationships, and that means that sometimes we’ll resort to different forms of manipulation in order to get or maintain the upper hand.  And manipulation is almost without exception a violation of the personhood and free will of another. 
So insulting a person is not the same as murdering them, but it’s part of the same problem that is plaguing the world.  This is what Jesus came to address.  He addressed it in his teaching, he addressed it in the way he lived, and he addressed it in the way he died.
And if you want to know what the Kingdom of God is like, you can start with the idea that it is the place and the time in which this problem has been addressed and solved.  Which makes clearer what it means to pursue the Kingdom of God and its righteousness (Matt. 6:33).

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