“…evil is not an essential part of creation, but is the result of a distortion within a basically good created order. As a result of this distortion, humans have lost the glory of the creator, that is, the wise stewardship of the creation…. any attempt to state a monotheistic doctrine of whatever sort carries certain implications about the analysis of evil in the world.”N.T, Wright, The New Testament and the People of God. (Fortress Press. Minneapolis: 1992), pp. 258-9.
In the statements above, “Tom” Wright, an Anglican Bishop and eminent scholar of the New Testament, sums up the foundational perspective of both Judaism and Christianity concerning the presence of evil in the creation. The work in which he wrote these statements is the first volume of his monumental study of the foundations of Christianity, Christian Origins and the Question of God.
Of all the great religious books, the New Testament has provoked more controversy, venom, and sublime exaltation than any other. Despite the numerous hammer blows it has taken over the last 100 years from its detractors and denigrators, both from within its main historical base in the West, and from its outside opponents, Christianity still remains the largest faith in the world,.
The major source of its cultural and ideological fall from grace has been its own adherents’ cataclysmic failures and lapses through engaging in actions and proclamations of truth contradictory to their faith’s declared ideals and the character of Yeshua/Jesus, its founder. Those abysmal events and distortions have given all the ground needed by its enemies to lambaste it and claim its irrelevance as a spent force which should now be relegated to the trash heap of history. Forgotten in the recriminations are all the positive contributions that the fundamental message of Jesus and his best followers have bestowed on both the ungrateful West and the larger world.
Those immense positive gifts begin with the idea of rebirth, or new birth – being “born again from above” so that a vision of the Kingdom of God takes hold in the heart, soul, mind, and spirit, supplanting the destructive obsession with “me, myself, and I”. The beginning of understanding the necessity of this new birth from above is monotheism, which makes a declaration that there is a Creator who designed and made the universe from nothing other than His/Her will and “word”. (“Word” here is not a passive idea, but a personal active power.) The Creator designed and made all that is according to His/Her own nature. That nature is one of goodness, love, and compassion – along with other attributes such as perfect wisdom, perfect justice, and perfect mercy. All of these characteristics, or personality traits (attributes in theological and philosophical language), are perfectly balanced. The Person and Nature of the Creator is far beyond a creature’s ability to understand, and what the Creator makes must of necessity reflect Who the Creator is. It cannot be other. It is supreme arrogance and hubris of the creature to presume to judge the Creator for not behaving as the creature conceives “godhead” – an arrogance really based on making ourselves god, and therefore God’s judges.
The bedrock of the Western view of humanity for the better part of two millennia was that humans are “made in the image of God” but that, by rejecting the Creator and seeking to replace Him/Her with the god of self we have created – a distorted, contorted, corrupted image of what we ourselves are intended to be. Out of this broken image flows all the twisted, broken, destructive results one would expect – all the abuses and pain and suffering we humans inflict upon one another. At this point we no longer know, or even really wish to know, who we are. Even within the wider “Church”, effective denial of this truth has intruded.
Instead, we find the general proposition, apparently based on psychological “science”, that there is nothing basically awry in the human heart, soul, or mind. Evolution’s perspective tells us that we are simply what we have been made to be by ineluctable evolutionary development. We are called on to “progress” in our individual and collective development, and part of that is to affirm that pretty much anything that makes us feel better about ourselves, even in a delusional sense, is to be encouraged. We can verbally, and by a sort of Nietzschean decision based on willpower, declare the changes we want to embed – for example changes in the meaning of identity as humans, changes to biological gender realities, changes to morality and ethics that prove personally inconvenient. We appropriate and promote social constructs of which some are manifestly much more destructive and productive of terror and horror for multitudes than others – all in the name of “progress” towards the “higher good” of the new, utopian society where personal liberty and choice is all, regardless of how it will really play out in our families and communities. Everything is a heroic struggle because nothing is a duty or the plain old “right thing to do”.
Yeshua speaking to Nakdimon about “spiritual rebirth from above” was talking about true radical change, because more of the same – using the power of the state, of religion, of fear and manipulation and control to compel outer conformity, whether by actual law or social pressure, cannot produce true readiness and willingness, let alone ability, to enter the Kingdom of the Creator.
The New Testament uses a word for the heart of this birth from above, a word which is repeated over and over in the writings of Yochanan and Saul-Paul, in imitation of what Jesus/Yeshua taught and lived out with his disciples. That word is agape. It is translated as “love”, but has a different denotation and connotation from other Greek words also translated as “love”- philia – the love between friends and siblings, for example. Eros applies to sexual love and passion, and storge applies to parental and protective love. Some modern psychologists have added two more, but the ancient Greeks distinguished among these four.
The three besides agape are “normal”, human forms of love that we all know and experience to some degree. But these three are incomplete in themselves and imply a dimension of personal benefit and good. In the case of eros the mutuality is quite evident – the reward of sexual fulfillment and intense pleasure and a mutually supportive intimate relationship makes it very desirable. In the case of philia, the same can be said minus the sexual passion. In the case of storge, there is perhaps more of an element of self-sacrifice, at least in the short term. Dependents grow up and, hopefully, can be positive supports and affirmers of their parents, guardians, and mentors as they age.
But agape is used as the “love from above” – a love that is given freely regardless of the merit and reciprocation of its recipient. It is characteristic of the Creator’s love for His/Her creatures and creation, and most especially of those who bear His/Her image. It is also the love that His/Her image-bearers were made and called to lavish upon one another and on the creation which they were originally made to steward, to care for, to bring into its best and fullest manifestation of what the Creator intended it to be and become.
But, in our self-directed usurpation and rejection of what the Creator designed and made us and that creation to be, we brought in all the elements of destruction, death, and futility that we find now all around us in ourselves and in the Cosmos. The Cosmos too knows the futility and expresses it by letting us undergo the aberrations of its brokenness – natural distortions and disorders we call “acts of God” or the terror of nature’s sheer power-out-of-control.
There is no cure or healing possible of any of this without a reordering, a rebirth from above by turning back to the Creator and receiving once again the infilling of His/Her agape so that we may once more know who we are and what we and all that was made truly were made to be and become. The coming of the Kingdom of the Creator is the return of agape to each of us, individually first, then as a community, and finally in making it real in the human and natural Cosmos within we “live and move and have our being”.
TO BE CONTINUED