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Who dealt this mess anyway?

(Editor’s note: In an editorial on Monday, March 30, the Enterprise invited local religious leaders to share sermons with the community through the newspaper’s Opinion page, since they are not allowed to hold services in person. This is one of the responses.)

Isaiah 53:6 (ESV): “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned — every one — to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

When this pandemic began, a friend observed that people were generally being kind and respectful. But as time has gone on, it seems blame and ridicule have become more prevalent. Even though the virus seems to affect almost every nation, and many different political systems, everyone wants to know who is to blame. Surely if this person were in charge or this type of medical system were in place, everything would be different.

This seems to be the human condition; we have a long-standing pattern of looking for someone to blame. Early in the book of Genesis we see it begin. Adam pointed the finger at “this woman that you gave me!” I would submit that often the need to find blame is generally used to avoid our own personal failings. I do understand that in systems and institutions there is a need for accountability and responsibility. But the big issues that we face as a culture and society cannot be brought back to a simplistic, “Whose fault is this?” approach. Many blame political systems, greed, bad social development, lack of education. Yes, some even blame religion as the root of all evil. Evil and suffering are real issues that have plagued mankind, and most religions struggle to explain and deal with this issue.

Alexander Solzhenitzsyn, a poet and author who suffered persecution in communist Russia, made this statement: “Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts.” (“The Gulag Archipelago”)

The problem of evil runs through EVERY human heart. The prophet Isaiah said it this way: (Is. 53:6) “All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own” (From The Message Bible.) This is hard for many of us to accept. It is always easier to look at others or a system and blame our problems on someone or something else. The problem of original sin and the human condition is repeated throughout scripture. Though some would disagree with this teaching, I think that most would agree that something is amiss!

Cornelius Plantinga Jr. wrote a book titled “Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin.” He begins the book by describing a scene from the 1991 film “Grand Canyon.” In the scene, an immigration attorney with a fancy sports car breaks down on a dark and deserted city street.

“He manages to call for a tow truck, but before it arrives, five local toughs surround his car and threaten him. Just in time, the tow truck shows up and its driver — an earnest, genial man — begins to hook up to the sports car. The toughs protest: The driver is interrupting their meal. So the driver takes the group leader aside and gives him a five-sentence introduction to sin:

“‘Man, the world ain’t s’pposed to work like this. Maybe you don’t know that, but this ain’t the way it’s s’pposed to be. I’m s’pposed to be able to do my job without askin’ you if I can. And that dude is s’pposed to be able to wait with his car without you rippin’ him off. Everything’s s’pposed to be different than what it is here.’

“The driver’s summary of the human predicament is just about perfect. He understands the way things are supposed to be. They are supposed to include friendly streets that are safe for strangers. They are supposed to include justice that fosters peace, mutual respect and goodwill, deliberate and widespread attention to the public good. Of course, things are not that way at all.”

Most everyone can agree that things are “not the way they are s’pposed to be,” but there is definitely disagreement on how to set things straight.

The Christian worldview recognizes the fallen nature of man and the earth. Though we live in a beautiful and glorious world, there is evil and suffering. There is no easy answer to suffering, but there is a hope that can guide us through it.

The gospel is good news, because it is a proclamation of God’s rescue plan. God himself took on flesh and experienced our humanity, lived a sinless life and died as an atonement for our sins. He rose again as a confirmation of God’s rescue mission. John the Baptist proclaimed, when Jesus came to be baptized, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

The hope of the gospel is in understanding that all of mankind has a spiritual deficiency, that things are “not the way they are s’pposed to be” but that God himself is the remedy!

This frees us from performance-based redemption. (If I do enough good, will it outweigh the bad?) It frees us from needing to blame others, from needing to blame systems. It most importantly frees us from self-righteousness, since in view of the cross, no one can boast in their own righteousness.

N.T. Wright describes the work of the cross:

“The real enemy, after all, was not Rome but the powers of evil that stood behind human arrogance and violence. … (On the cross) the kingdom of God triumphed over the kingdoms of this world by refusing to join in their spiral of violence. (On the cross, Jesus) would love his enemies, turn the other cheek, go the second mile.”

This radical approach to redemption and wholeness does not allow us to blame. “Who dealt this?” becomes irrelevant because we are all equally needy of God’s grace. And grace (God’s favor) encourages us to look at our own spiritual need, and to find our forgiveness and redemption through faith in Christ.

“Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift.”

Bruce McCulley is pastor of High Peaks Church in Saranac Lake.

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