Friday, 22 February 2008

The World We All Want and what is wrong

Last week at TWWAW, which we are running at Hope Community Church, we had some really interesting discussion of Genesis 1-3 and the Bible’s aetiology of what is wrong [shorthand, ‘sin’]. It’s always rewarding to look at these foundational passages – and doing it with people who aren't Christians added a freshness and insight to our discussion.

One thing that a friend returned to several times was that people may do lots of bad things but they don’t always do them in order to do bad. In fact they often act for the 'right' reasons, or at least in the absence of conscious malice.

I was reminded of this again a couple of days ago when I looked at David Bosch’s Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in the Theology of Mission (New York: Orbis, 1991) and read his verdict on the Medieval Catholic paradigm. In similar manner the missionary wars, direct or indirect, and the entire project of Western colonization of the rest of the world were – in spite of all the horrors that went with them and even if we, today, find them totally incomprehensible and indefensible – expressions of a genuine concern for others, as Christians understood their responsibility in those years. (p.230) That is a little generous, I suspect – didn’t greed have rather a lot to do with it at, especially for the agents even if not for all the authorizers? However, the important insight is there, too – as we sin, we do not always have full consciousness of the evil of our actions, and often our plans and activities are carried out with ‘good’ intentions.

On the one hand this reveals the power of sin to delude and darken our minds. Calling it good in our heads, even doing so 'innocently', doesn't make it good in the final analysis. On the other hand, what place is there for conscious rebellion, such as Paul speaks of in Romans 1? Even if it doesn’t manifest itself in the ‘visible’ noetic scaffolding of our every activity, it must be there at the heart of who we are. Psychologically it may not be frequently experienced at a conscious level (though the struggles with our consciences that we frequently go through are surely part of this attempt at suppression) but does it not nevertheless lie beneath all our projects? Those projects are as filthy rags in God's sight, after all…