The Dichotomy of Brokenness

Last time we took a very small look at who God is, what God is, where God is…etc. We scratched the surface and then dug deeper in comments and passing conversations I’ve had over two weeks. Today, we’ll do the same, scratch the surface and open up discussion in the comments section. In the future, we’ll address the nuances of these conversations in greater depth. But for now, I’m just trying to spark the discussion.

We’ll talk evil, opposition, satan, and misunderstanding and crutches….among other things.

If you are truly an Atheist (you do not believe in god or gods), hang in there with us. I realize that most of you would refer to brokenness in the world when talking about these issues. There’s plenty here for you to chew on.

If we hold to the idea that there is a God and that God is with us and for us and among us and liberates and welcomes and loves, then what does the other side of that look like? Pain, suffering, exclusion, walls, rejection… What do you call it? Evil? Satan? Science? Bad luck? Karma? Happenstance? A series of actions and reactions?

So our understanding of the things that happen in the world in which we do not like is categorized as bad, evil, sin, dark, brokenness. So we place this dichotomy on the universe that things are either:

good or bad

holy or evil

black or white

right or wrong

yes or no

When we do this, we often leave no room for middle ground, gray area, or questions. And even worse, the problem lies in WHO gets to decide? Who says what’s good or bad, right or wrong, evil or holy?  As C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity, we can all agree that there is some underlying human moral law. My four year old knows that when another child at the playground pushes him away from something he is trying to play with, there’s something inherently wrong with that. He is then unhappy. Lewis goes on to make the argument that the moral law has an originator and so on. But as we begin to discuss more adult issues than playground woes, it becomes less easy to label these things. Eventually, someone has to decide what is right or wrong and often, there is  at least one person (usually lots of people) that disagree with that person. Rift. Who is actually “right”?

Political and religious discussions are often fueled by dichotomy and often turn into shouting, Twitter, Facebook, advertising throwdowns. Personally, I do not frequently adhere to a right or wrong, good and bad, black and white universe. Mysticism teaches us to be at peace with our feelings, emotions, and other’s feelings and emotions and simply say “it is what it is”. Yes, there are tons of implications for that.

So, if we do bring a dual look to the table, we see the need to define each of the sides and often the bad side is labeled as evil and there are various ways of understanding this. That may be understood as Anti-Theism or “against God” or perhaps the “opposite of God”. This characterizes our world problems as things that are outside of God’s will or design for the universe to operate. It means that we disobey or ignore what God would have us do, say, think, feel.

Another view says there is an absence of God.  That God would remain absent in a situation and allow it to happen. For theists, can we swallow the idea that God would be absent in anything? For many people I know, they hold the belief that in Jesus’ death on the cross, God became absent in that moment which is why Jesus cried out “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me”. At the same time, these people believe that Jesus himself was divine, or God in the flesh. How absurd is that whole thought process? But for our present situation, could God be truly absent in situations and that’s why bad things happen? God steps back and allows things to happen because of our own free will to do as we please.

Perhaps the other side of that coin would be a God that initiates or causes these things to happen. God, in all of God’s wisdom causes things to happen, “good” and “bad” to accomplish something. Perhaps we have a limited view of the universe and God and have misunderstood God. Often, at funerals especially, people will talk about god having a “plan” for it all, or that god works in mysterious ways, or that god needed one more piano player in heaven, or god did THIS to prevent THAT. Here, dichotomous people blur the lines because they begin to talk about a god that controls it all and that what we see as bad is really good. Of course, all of this being predicated on God being “good”.

Maybe we have misunderstood humans. I heard an argument recently that humans do everything out of some good intention and the perception of that action is what makes it good or bad, right or wrong, etc. Even in the murder of a human being, there was good intention on the part of  the murderer. Whether that be self preservation or a desire to balance the universe. For Islamic extremists, killing others is out of the good intention to preserve the kingdom of god. And by the way, Christians… did the same thing. Arguably, they still do.

For theists, the bottom line question becomes: If God is good (right, holy), what is bad (wrong, evil)?

This is the root of our personification of evil. As humans,  we feel the need to personify something so that we can control it and separate it from ourselves. Often this allows us to escape it and place blame elsewhere. This personification comes in two forms:

  1. We label a person or people group as evil. i.e. ISIS is evil, Trump is evil, that team is evil, my neighbor is evil. Personally, I believe we use this as a means to degrade a human being and elevate ourselves, most often due to a conscious or subconscious perception of ourselves that has been degraded. I believe that every human was created in the image of the divine and that we all stand on common ground. Yes, I still struggle with this but this journey has me taking the actions of a person or people group and separating them from the person. The person is not evil, I simply do not like what they have done or said.
  2. We have created the “Devil” or “Satan” to personify all of our stuff that we don’t like and often blame this “devil” for the stuff within ourselves that we don’t like (which is often the same things in other people that cause us to label them). Without traveling down a long road of the origins of Satan and the words used to describe such a thing, let’s move on to some of the possible implications.

If we ascribe to a super-natural, super-human, “god” of the underworld/hell/evil, we may be, in fact, removing ourselves from being monotheistic. We limit the power of our God to overcome. We confirm that the world is dualistic in nature. We agree that our actions are subject to two beings pulling at us and fighting for us and our attention. Most importantly, I feel that it makes us capable of separating ourselves from our actions and blaming those actions on the instruction to do so. This could be interesting. May I remind you again of the crusades? And, let’s see the judicial system file suit against the devil when someone claims to have been controlled by or instructed by this personified force. This personification of evil tends to act as a crutch for Christianity to keep conversations under wraps or justify a guilt driven form of control on society. To place blame for bad, evil, or sin on a personified Satan, allows us to not deal with our own self properly, which is uncomfortable to do. Mostly because we haven’t figured out how to. 

To keep me from getting quite so many emails, let me say that I do believe there is a presence in the world that is against the grain of human moral law but I also believe that personifying it to another is dangerous. And, I believe 

“The path to God, then, leads us on a journey of self-discovery. To know the self is to know God.”
– Teresa of Ávila

I realize for atheists and some theists, there is the belief that someone who has no notion of God or sees that God has any desires for us (a detached god just watching the universe at work) does things out of their own desires and wishes. The world keeps going as a series of actions and reactions. “Good” and “bad” things happen out of coincidence or happenstance. We are simply living in a free world and whatever happens…just happens. To these people I ask, if there is no God that has desires for us and is the source of morality, what then, drives us? What is the root of this moral law Lewis spoke of? What causes hate and  love? Some would say a modern, highly developed brain. Others would say evolution of humanity has developed this morality. I would love to hear from you…and everyone else.

Well that was a round of pinball and I’ve raised lots of questions and even laid out some contradictions. I’m sure you have lots of things to think about now and I hope that you would be gracious enough to join the conversation in the comments below.

Peace 

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5 thoughts on “The Dichotomy of Brokenness

  1. ..to me, human instigated “evil” is simply basic instinctive behavior (original sin?). instinct, being a “gift” from God to all creatures for self preservation, can always become “evil” in the absence of a rational moral contract. it can be said that Jesus was another “gift”, sent to teach us this.

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  2. I’ve had a couple conversations in the last week about labeling and dichotomy. I am much like you in that I prefer the gray area. I like to understand people and how they feel and think, as long as they’re willing to have a decent conversation without all the “shouting”. We can believe and feel different things and still be friends. Seriously.

    Also, I don’t claim to know all the answers, but I do know in my own experience that with all the “bad” that happens, there is always, always grace. There is grace in every single thing and God is always working for good for His people. I think many of us are not good at finding His grace. We have no idea how present He is with us and all the tiny ways He’s working in our lives. I also think we are really quick to judge what’s happening around us and then react too quickly. We need to be aware that we have the ability to decide how we perceive something and then how we will respond. If someone says something that offends us, then how will we respond? Will we take the opportunity to have an adult conversation or shout back? I could go on and on about that. We need to s l o w down and notice all the ways God is loving us and then give that love back to people, even when they’re shouting at us.

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    1. I like your point about reacting. When people live out of a reactionary lifestyle, they regret way too many things because they did not give themselves time to process what was going on first. Or they hurt a lot of people and live defensively because they don’t want to admit it. One of the greatest things counseling (SHOULD) do is give someone the tools to stop before reacting and process whatever has just been done or said. Sometimes that may take days.

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  3. ..there’s a very successful group counseling organization here in Austin, The Christi Center. they offer free grief counseling for anyone who’s experienced the death of a loved one. it’s members were originally those whose loved ones died as a result of murder, suicide, drunk drivers, terrible accidents, etc., but has now become a refuge for anyone who’s lost a loved one for any reason. the founders had a beautiful college age daughter who had always been a “high achiever”. everything about her suggested she had a wonderful and productive future ahead of her. then, one night when walking with a group of friends coming back from a music event downtown, she was killed by a drunk driver and dragged several blocks under his pickup. the founders’ reaction to this horrible act actually resulted in a blessing for what’s now probably a thousand or more people suffering the loss of a loved one. is there such a thing as a “Christian Humanist”? i think so. could the idea of Jesus be God’s gift to us, pointing out that, yes, bad things are gonna happen in this world, so take care of each other.

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    1. When my niece passed away, the man speaking at the funeral urged my brother and his wife to bring positive out of the situation. Grieve, hurt, express, but then turn it into something powerfully positive. It is one of the few times that I haven’t wanted to slap someone speaking at a funeral. It was fabulous. And he was a pastor. I believe Christianity should start with the human and that was a big piece of the person and work of Jesus. The Genesis story and throughout scripture we are told that humanity bears the image of the divine. So, to know the divine, we need to look deep in the heart of humanity. As Teresa of Avila said “The path to God, then, leads us on a journey of self-discovery. To know the self is to know God.”

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