The Price of Restoration

Those who render me evil for good accuse me because I follow after good. Do not forsake me, O Lord! O my God, be not far from me! — Psalm 38:20–21

Evil is more than the sum of present circumstances. When we reduce the idea of evil down to its discrete occurrences we not only underestimate its profound power in our world, but risk missing the ultimate solution.

  • If evil is simply the events that fill our news apps each morning, then the solution is simply the return of stasis to an off-balance world.
  • If evil is a material problem, then it has a material solution. Each time there is a mass shooting in the U.S. science runs to explain the cause in terms of psychology and biology—the message is clear: solve the problem in our genome and tragedies go away.
  • If evil is just the fringes of humanity run amok, then we are able to deal with it on our own through governance and jurisprudence.

Christianity depicts evil in all its darkness. Evil is not an illusion; it’s deeper than circumstance—piercing our hearts and wounding our souls. Evil is spiritual before it is material—making each of us victim and perpetrator of its sting.

And so the intellectual exercise begins: if God is truly good, he must not be powerful enough to stop evil. And if he’s truly powerful, he must not be good enough to care.

The authors of Scripture depict God not only as good and powerful, but as sacrificial. Evil runs so deep in our world that the solution—the restorative power of the cross—tore the trinity apart.

Yet rather than holding the cross and resurrection as a miracle that ushers in global restoration and re-creation, recent misconceptions in Christian theology have reduced Christ’s sacrifice to a mechanism that establishes individual merit before God. This view essentially holds individual atonement as its own category—relegating “the problem of evil” to an intellectual exercise that is as complex as it is unsolvable.

We can turn our eyes to him who has paid a price we could not pay, and offered a solution we could not generate; or we can shake our fists and blame him for the evil we see. Though if we were to pronounce a sentence appropriate for a God that would create this kind of world we find he has already served it.

Today’s Reading
Ezekiel 2 (Listen – 1:38)
Psalm 38 (Listen – 2:14)

What Shall Be

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. — Psalm 37:5–6

Dedicate yourself to God and he will act. But what happens when he doesn’t? How are we to understand God in a world riddled with injustice and unanswered prayer?

“In our culture we imbibe an understanding of language that is positivistic,” Walter Brueggemann explains. “That is, we believe that the function of language is only to report and describe what already exists. The usefulness of such language is obvious. It lets us be precise and unambiguous. But it is one-dimensional language.”

As a collection, the Psalms represent a wonderfully textured worldview and theology. An individual Psalm looks at God with profound faith—“the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord!”—while another crumbles in utter despair—“O Lord, why do you cast my soul away?”

Ultimately the Psalms move away from the language of simplistic belief, developing a robust and buoyant understanding of God that embraces his majesty moving over time, and through his people, to restore the brokenness of our world. “Save us, we pray, O LORD! … The LORD is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us.”

We can choose to read the Psalms as representative of faith in an ancient culture—an ancient time when simple faith was possible—but there is a richer way of understanding them. In the Psalms we find the language of heaven. We glimpse, if for a moment, the glory of what God has already started and will be faithful to complete. Brueggemann concludes,

In using speech in this way we are in fact doing in a derivative way what God has done in the creation narratives of Genesis. We are calling into being that which does not yet exist.

The bold symbolic use of language in the psalms is restive with what is. It races on ahead to form something new that never was before. This language then with its speech of liberation is dangerous and revolutionary, for its very use constitutes a threat to the way things have been.

The language of the Psalms permits us to be boldly anticipatory about what may be, as well as discerning about what has been.

Today’s Reading
Ezekiel 1 (Listen – 4:47)
Psalm 37 (Listen – 4:21)

 

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