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The World We Live In Now

Often, when there is a major disaster or tragedy, Christian people ask why God has done this, what can be his reason? They answer sadly, trustingly, that we cannot understand it, only God himself sees the big picture; he surely has his reasons, but we won’t know about them in this life … And many people who don’t otherwise think about God very much at all are quick to see his hand in such events (but not when things go really well).

The implication is that things which happen (or don’t happen) are all caused by God, he orders everything: it’s his world, he made it, and, we also know, he made it good; and therefore he must have good purposes for us.

The only problem with all this is that it’s not true. We do not live in the world which God created, and we are not the people whom God created. God created a somewhat different world (which was indeed very good), and the people he created were also very different; they were good, but they had free choice to remain as God created them – or become otherwise.

This last is the choice that man made (we call it the “Fall” of humanity), and its consequences have been very great, affecting not just people, but the whole created order – the earth, the universe, other life forms, nature as a whole.

It’s not hard to see the reality of this. From original order came disorder, and it is everywhere around us, and particularly within us. There is a well-known story about an article in the London Times which, a long time ago, asked what the basic problem was with the world and humanity, and G. K. Chesterton replied with the simple words “I am”: we are all of us part of the problem – but humanity is not the whole of it.

We see it clearly in the way animal life-forms only live by rapacious killing and death; this is not the natural world seen at the beginning, in Genesis 1, 20-22. Likewise, the natural world seen in that chapter is not that of earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and volcanoes. People, when first made (in the image of God) did not murder, steal, covet and lust.

We are not as we were intended to be; the things we do, the terrible things that happen, are not God’s fault. Choices have consequences, and freely-taken actions have to be lived out, accepted. Many disorders and difficulties flow from that early error. The (often-disordered) physical nature which we inhabit is clearly inappropriate for the kinds of being we are. Problems of physicality (and the fraught question of sexual identity) flow, I believe, from this; sex, of any kind, we cannot handle.

But things won’t always be this way. God may not rule everything today, and cause all happenings (our freedom, nature’s freedom, are very real), but God is still in ultimate control, it’s still his world, and eventually he will return it to how it was meant to be.

Humankind still bears his image, but only partially and incompletely, as eventually it will be fully, and, once again, humanity will be whole. Likewise God’s actions in the world: now, they are very real and true, but partial (his very identity is hidden), but finally he will be the inescapable centre of all.

The natural realm will be restored (Isaiah gives us a wonderful picture of life as it should be, and will be: “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together … They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord …”; Isa. 11, 6-9 (RSV)). And for all, the great product of human disobedience – death – will be no more.

This view, given above, has many consequences. It means that the age-old problem of theodicy (showing God to be in the right, a righteous ruler) is now resolved (it’s not God’s fault if mountains crumble upon villages, or terrorists kill hundreds).

Also, we must now be very wary of seeing human righteousness in individual fortune (it’s not the gift and sign of God, to a good man, if he is prosperous, nor are the poor and the sick getting their just deserts). It means, also, that we must be wary when using the word “natural”, no longer assuming that everything which is “natural”, or of nature, to be “original” or good, for nature, human nature as it now is, was/is the source of all the problems; and the argument which I paraphrase as: “This is my nature, God made me this way, God is good, God saw his creations as good, therefore it is right and proper that I do XYZ” – must disappear.

Only by understanding ourselves and our world as things that came about after the Fall (“postlapsarian”) can we see them as they really are, and only thereby can we turn to the Saviour, and salvation of all.