The Cartography of Good and Evil

old-world-map-625The following represents a column I’ve written that will be published in the upcoming issue of our student newspaper.  But before that, a word about the humility of which I write.  It is no secret that I’ve been severely questioned in the past week for my support (here and here) for some kind of intervention in Syria.  To both my political right and left there have been numerous concerns raised about the legitimacy, necessity, and morality of my position.  I’m glad for those who’ve questioned me.  I’ve tried to clarify what I mean, and I think it has been sufficiently nuanced.  But at the end of the day, I’m still endorsing violence.  I’m taking a moral position with regard to a situation I know comparatively little about.  While I’m convinced that it is a necessary course of action, I don’t for a second want to say it is a good, simple, or uncomplicated one.  It is a messy and dangerous one that involves real people, and where I’ve implied otherwise I repent.  And I want to admit, in fear and trembling, that I might be wrong.  Please know that I take a position here because I think it is needed, but at the same time I am basing my thoughts on a “map” of which I’ve seen comparatively little. I know enough to know that the world is complicated with few easy answers, but I’ve not experienced the fulness of that complication in my own life.  I am, in some sense, naive.  Even so, for the United States and the world there is a decision point here, and I have made my choice known even while I wish, hope, and pray there is another way.  I do not retract my previous thoughts, but I do…hesitate.  To do otherwise would be sheer hypocrisy.  And now to the words upon which I ought to reflect a bit more:

817zSlJXNZL._SL1500_This past summer I’ve indulged one of my hobbies: reading science fiction.  For the haters out there, I won’t try to defend myself, except to say that I am quite really and honestly an irredeemable nerd.  Yet know this: the best science fiction isn’t about explosions or alien wars or transporter beams.  It is about ideas.

So it was that I’ve been reading the Ender’s Game series by Orson Scott Card.  The first book, soon to be a major motion picture, deals with questions of war, peace, innocence, and betrayal by focusing on a young boy called upon to save the human race.  I wholeheartedly endorse getting a copy and reading it today.

The sequels to that first volume are a bit more philosophical in orientation, and in one of them I read a statement that rather blew me away.  In the middle of the book, an older and rather bitter character says the following to her younger conversation partner:

“Don’t ever try to teach me about good and evil. I’ve been there; you’ve seen nothing but the map.”

Good and evil.  Powerful concepts.  We Christians think about them a lot.  As a former pastor and now ministry professor, it is my job to reflect on them, preach about them, and teach them with some regularity.  In so doing, I run the risk of treating them like intellectual topics rather than the realities they are in the lives of so many.  Perhaps that’s why this short statement struck home for me.

As you might expect, I’ve done a lot a reading in my day.  And, like many of you, I’ve sat in a lot of classes.  So believe me when I tell 2-pathsyou it would be easy for me to talk about the reality of evil in our world, the need to stand against it, and the way that Christ comes to redeem us.  Tie things up in a nice little bow and leave them at that.  Utterly pious yet overly simplistic statements that would satisfy the “Christian checklist” but do little more.  It would be easy, in other words, for me to provide students with simple uncomplicated answers to questions about the hurt, pain, and suffering in our world.

But I can’t do that.  I can’t do that because there is so much of that “map” that I haven’t journeyed through.  That I haven’t lived.  While I hope I never have to, I do know enough to realize that in any case there are some things that are too deep for me.

We make a mistake as Christians when we think we’ve got it all figured out.  But if we think that we ourselves have all the answers to people’s questions just because Christ is the Answer, we run the risk of running roughshod over others when we have no idea what they’ve been though.

Being a Christian means many things, but one of them is being humble.  Humbling ourselves before God first and foremost. Humbling ourselves before others and being servants. passion_icon It also means humbling ourselves in our own eyes and realizing that despite our vaunted theories and ideas and “answers,” this fallen world is much more complicated than we comprehend.

So the next time a friend comes to you with hurts and honest questions, be careful not to answer them too quickly or tell them that you understand, when quite honestly you have no way to feel the pain they are going through.  When classroom debate turns to issues of politics, suffering, or good and evil, make sure you understand that what you speak about is not just another topic to play around with, but involves real people.  Remember, first and foremost, that all of our knowledge and ideas are but a drop in the ocean compared to the God who holds all things and has suffered all things for us.  Because, at the end of the day, the only one that fully comprehends the entirety of human good and evil is Christ Himself.

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