Carefully planned terrorist bombings of the church in Peshawar, Pakistan and in the Mall in Nairobi, Kenya this last week are another reminder of human alienation. Despite extraordinary advances in science and technology, we are still incapable of making a just and lasting peace for all peoples of all nations. Peace at the best of times is an uncertain affair. It seems the only way we can ensure it, is through more laws, greater security and the loss of more personal freedoms.
Commenting on why he wrote Lord of the Flies, William Golding commented:
“I believed then, that man was sick–not exceptional man, but average man. I believed that the condition of man was to be a morally diseased creation and that the best job I could do at the time was to trace the connection between his diseased nature and the international mess he gets himself into.”
‘Alienation’ is a good word to describe our plight. In his Letter to the Colossians, Paul the Apostle speaks of alienation not just as the breakdown of human relationships but the breakdown of our relationship with God. Despite the strident voices to the contrary, there is still within the vast majority of people an innate sense that God not only is there, but also that we live in a moral universe. Right and wrong exist. Yes, Paul Bloom of Yale does argue that these notions are the outcome of blind evolution and that this is an evolutionary faux pas. But, given the unique history surrounding the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Bloom’s thesis is a far greater step of faith than what Christianity asks.
If there is a God who is all-powerful and good, why the mess? God could have written off the universe as a failure and started again. But that would have been to admit defeat. The Bible tells us that God determined on a more costly strategy. Instead of abandoning this evil and ungrateful world, he came to its rescue himself. He needed to find a way to destroy the enmity without destroying the enemy. This was the only way to provide a just and lasting peace.
Colossians 1:21-23 tells us that God’s strategy was not political, military nor educational. Rather, he chose the path of sacrifice. From God’s standpoint, a just and lasting peace was only possible through Jesus’ death on the cross. We can think of it like this. Suppose a wife or husband or parent has profoundly hurt us. But one day we learn that they are in really serious trouble, and we have the resources to help them. We could tell them to go to hell. But what if there was still a love for them within us? We would need to find a way within ourselves to absorb all the pain, hurt and anger that boils up at the very thought of them, so that we can reach out and help them.
The good news is that through the death of Jesus Christ, who was fully God and fully man, God found a way to reconcile us to himself. When Jesus died, God in his love absorbed within himself the just pain and anger we have caused within him. When we bow our proud heads and truly ask Jesus Christ for his forgiveness, God can justly declare us to be at one, at peace, with him.
In her Christmas Day broadcast last year, Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II said:
“This is the time of year when we remember that God sent his only son ‘to serve, not to be served’…
The carol, In The Bleak Midwinter, ends by asking a question of all of us who know the Christmas story, of how God gave himself to us in humble service:
“What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; if I were a wise man, I would do my part”. The carol gives the answer “Yet what I can I give him – give my heart”.”