So you don’t have to look at many of my posts to figure out that I’m long-winded. I was an English minor–I like to write. With that in mind, I decided to turn my thoughts on the VT shooting into two posts instead of making it one drearily long post (this one being significantly shorter than the last, so breathe a sigh of relief…) So here’s part 2…
In my last post I discussed the way in which the VT shootings can open our eyes to the suffering that is in the rest of the world. Our broken hearts give us a window into understanding others who suffer in the world, and once we form that connection, we will be more able to love them. In the same way that God connected to us by coming down and suffering alongside of us in this fallen world, we are called to do the same.
But there is a second reason I believe the VT shootings can give Christians insight into the world around them: It enables us to take Sin more seriously. Many times we are apathetic to the suffering of others because we only think about sin when it affects us–whether we struggle with a temptation, or have been hurt by someone else’s selfishness, in general we only think about sin when it impacts us, and that is the extent of it.
Let me give you 2 reasons why this me-centered understanding of Sin is inherently problematic:
1. It Leads to Inaction–Like I said, most of us don’t think about the ugliness of sin until it affects us in some inconvenient or painful way. Only then do we take it serisouly, though probably only for a moment. And while these eye-opening hardships can be helpful in that they force us to confront the reality of sin in the world, they don’t happen very often, which means the times in which we truly reflect on the cost of sin are few and far between. For most of us living in America, our lives are easy enough that we are not confronted with the harsh realities of sin on a regular basis. For this reason, we have gotten used to ignoring the power of sin, so it’s not something we perceive as being an active threat to our faith. In fact, we probably benefit from sin at times, so we don’t often perceive it to be the “crouching lion” that Scripture describes. And because we don’t think about sin that often, or realize just how destructive it truly is, sin goes out of sight and out of mind, which leads us to underestimate its power in the world. We don’t give it much credit for being the source of so much pain and evil in the world, since it’s not often the source of *our* pain, so we feel little need to fight it or resist it, at least not in the ways it affects other people. Why resist something that’s not really a problem for us? So as long as Sin is not affecting us, it’s not really our problem, and we can just keep on letting the rest of the world suffer. Sin runs rampant, corrupting governments, enslaving children as prostitutes, and causing wars, while we sit idly by in our comfortable homes because none of that has anything to do with us, forgetting that when sin is left unchecked in the world, chaos ensues and the power of sin will eventually touch us…much like it did Monday. Let us therefore not forget that sin is very much a real force in this world, and as long as the world is affected by it, we will be affected by it sooner or later, even if we don’t bear the consequences right away. Hopefully, however, we will not wait to act until the oppressive power of sin affects us. If we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, then we should respond to their pain as quickly as we would respond to our own. And that is what’s at stake here–when we ignore the sin in the world, and how it affects others, we also tend to ignore God’s second greatest commandment.
2. We Forget That This World Is Not Our Home–By ignoring the extent of sin’s presence in the world, we forget that this world is not, in fact, our home. Hopefully the VT shootings have jolted us out of that self-deception. The more we grieve for the sin in this world, the more we will yearn for the New Creation in which there is no more pain and suffering. We are strangers in a strange land, and weeks like this should remind us of that truth. Not only will it prevent us from becoming so comfortable here that we compromise our identity as disciples in favor of the easier path of the American dream, but it will compel us to spread the hope that we have in a future life. Most people in this world don’t have the luxury of being comfortable on this earth. What’s more, most people don’t have the hope that there is redemption after this earth. We have both, so we often forget those other people and their hopelessness. But on the occasion when we are hurt by the fallen world in which we live, it will hopefully wake us up to the fact that others are suffering because of it too. Such knowledge should compel us to go out and share the hope we have. Salvation is not a personal luxury that privately reassures us of our secure future–it is Good News to be shared with everyone. Suffering reminds us why.
So as we continue to mourn the loss that our country has experienced, let us not forget that this kind of tragedy happens every day all over the world. We live in a world that is plagued by sin, and this week’s events remind us of just how devastating that sin truly is. Hopefully such knowledge will move us to action, action being the only reasonable response when we possess the one true hope in a hopeless world.
I really liked this post, along with Part I on the VT tragedy. However, I have one minor quibble. You say, “For most of us living in America, our lives are easy enough that we are not confronted with the harsh realities of sin on a regular basis.” While I agree in part, I think there’s something deeper at work here. I live in part of America where life is not easy, and where the people ARE confronted with the harsh realities of sin on a regular basis. Every day, I see the effects of alcoholism, abuse, crime, drugs, unfair governmental policies, teen pregnancy, etc, etc, etc. This is certainly the reality of sin, and it is touching the lives of all those around me. However, the people here still do not think about sin – even though this is a highly “religious” locale! Even when sin touches us, we choose to ignore its realities. We are blinded by Satan and our own natures to the harsh reality of what we are doing with our lives. Our circumstances are not the reason why we do not take sin seriously – our fleshly nature is the problem. Sadly, we become “comfortable” in our state of sin, content to wallow in the vomit we have returned to. As you state, we can be comfortable when we are far from the realities of sin. But we can also be comfortable when we simply turn a blind eye to the sin that is all around us.
very interesting! and a very great point. there is a tendency within certain strands of Christianity to romanticize the poor, focusing on their victimhood alone because they have been so oppressed by the world. but just because you are oppressed does not mean you are not a sinner. no matter who you are, you are still in need of grace.
I’m curious, however, if you would make any kind of distinction at all regarding how one’s circumstances affect one’s faith. Over and over again Jesus warns the rich concerning the perilous situation in which they place themselves because it is so tempting to cling to one’s possessions. Jesus actually singles out this sin quite clearly, so I think he is trying to send a message. while we all have the same sin nature and are in equal need of grace, are we perhaps faced with a greater temptation to love the world than those who are not? do we take a spiritual risk in remaining comfortable on earth?
Before I reply to your questions, let me give some background to myself for those who don’t know me:
After growing up in an affluent family and graduating from UNC, I moved to Opelousas, Louisiana (which Forbes magazine recently rated as the poorest community in America) to teach high school. My high school is about 95% black, with 85% of the students living on government welfare and in government housing.
OK, with that out of the way, let me get back to the question: are those who live a comfortable, affluent life on earth putting themselves in spiritual peril?
Before moving to Opelousas, I thought that the answer to that question was a resounding, “YES!” However, after living down here for almost 10 months, I’m not so sure. The kids that I teach have absolutely nothing, yet they are just as materialistic as anyone else. My students may not have all the latest gasgets or fashion trends, but they openly crave them. They constantly drool over cars, shoes, iPods, pretty much anything you can think of. They may not own these things, but their hearts are just as tied to them as my heart is tied to my possessions. Their hearts are full of greed and envy, just as my heart is full of greed and envy. Furthermore, their lust for these materialistic goods drives them into greater sin – plenty of my students steal, deal drugs, refuse to pay child support (yes, my 16 year-old students have to pay child support!), etc. simply in order to satiate their materialistic possessions. In fact, I will often see my students wearing $300 shoes and messing around on their PSPs…as they walk into the cafeteria to eat their government-subsidized free lunch because they “can’t afford” to sustain themselves. To be quite honest, I don’t really see any difference between these poor and materialistic people and the rich materialistic people with whom I normally interact. From these examples, it seems to be very clear that it is “the love of money” that inspires evil, not money itself.
That being said, Sharon is absolutely correct about Jesus’ teaching – he very clearly warned the rich of the peril that they were in. I have been struggling to understand this in light of my experience in Opelousas for many months, and I haven’t reached a satisfactory conclusion. Perhaps I simply understand the mindset of the poor better than I do the mindset of the rich, so it is not really fair for me to compare the two. After all, although I grew up in an affluent setting, I was really just a child with no money of my own. Now that I am maturing and starting to understand with greater wisdom the power that money has on people, I do not really have examples of how money affects the rich. Perhaps my point of view is just slanted by the extreme condition in which I live. Alternatively, perhaps we should regard Jesus’ teaching in light of the overall wealth of our country. America is fantastically wealthy by any and all standards, and the entire country is basically founded on the idea that we should all be wealthy (the good old “American Dream”). Even our poorest inhabitants are taught that they can be rich, that they should be rich. Is this different than the poor in Jesus’ time? I don’t know. I don’t really have any kind of definitive answer or statement. I just have a bunch of general ponderings and musings. I do know that by coming to Opelousas, a place where I thought I would be overwhelmed by the differences in people’s lives, I have instead been overwhelmed by the knowledge of how all people, in all situations, share the same sin nature. Sin can manifest itself in a variety of different ways, but it is always there, seething beneath the surface of every life.
I think you’re onto something regarding the fact that we live in a country where even the poor are taught that they can be wealthy, and should be wealthy. We have seen this mentality seep into the Church in the form of the Prosperity Gospel. So I guess I wonder if contrasting poor Americans with rich Americans in this case is a false dichotomy…maybe we’ve all sold out to the same lie, regardless of social standing, because of the culture in which we live. But perhaps that isn’t true of all cultures? I’m not sure either, but it’s something to think about…