good and evil
by Linda Rex
Recently I was loaned a DVD set which contains the TV series “Firefly”. From what I have seen so far, this space western contains all the necessary attributes of a western drama—knockdown drag out fights, shootouts, ambushes, a train robbery and much more.
It tells the human story in a post-modern way, so there is much to be gathered from the human interactions. But it is a much more graphic style of storytelling than I prefer, and I think some may even find it offensive. (It’s definitely not kid-friendly, so I’m not recommending it.)
The creepiest and most horrific part, I thought, is the role that was given to the Reavers. These are humans who are so twisted and depraved that they torture, abuse and cannibalize any humans they come near. They haunt the outer reaches of the galaxy where people are settling new planets and there is very little law and order.
In the piece “Bushwhacked”, the crew of the spaceship “Serenity” come upon a spaceship whose travelers have been ambushed and savagely brutalized and killed by the Reavers. As they try to decide what to do in the situation, they begin to argue over whether or not the Reavers were even human. Could people who did the things they did to other humans even be considered human beings?
Indeed, I wondered as I watched this, at what point do human beings cease to be human beings? And what would it take for a person to cease being the human being he or she was meant to be? Is there a description that we can go by to decide who is and who isn’t truly human?
If we were to be honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that we all have times and places where we are less than what we were meant to be. We are inhumane to one another, and sometimes even to ourselves.
The early church wrestled with the question of who God is, and who Jesus and the Holy Spirit are in relationship with God. Why were these important questions?
These were important questions because who God is, and Christ and the Holy Spirit are, determines who we are. Because we are created in God’s image. God, who is three Persons in one Being and who lives in an eternal relationship of mutual love and respect, defines our personhood. He is the God we were created to reflect.
This is why the doctrine of the Trinity is so essential to our humanity. God, who is Father, Son and Spirit, is one Being, but with three distinctive ways of being. We cannot separate the Father from the Son or from the Spirit, yet they are inseparable. The Son is not the Father, is not the Spirit, and yet they are one. Unity, uniqueness, and equality—this describes the Trinity. This transcendent mystery is the basis for our humanity.
When we fail to acknowledge or submit to the reality that God defines us and our humanity, and how we are to live in relationship with others—in equality, oneness, mutual love and respect–that is when we cease to be truly human. When we try to live out of sync with who we were created to be, then we begin being inhumane—not human—not who or what we were meant to be. And so we end up creating misery for ourselves and others.
The problem is—this is the human condition. We’re just that way. Somehow, from the beginning, we have chosen to define ourselves by our own rules, deciding for ourselves what is good and what is bad, and eliminating as much as is possible any memory of there being a God who defines us. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is a tree we eat of on an almost daily basis—we, in our arrogance, have sought to redefine what it means to be a human being.
What we need is some genuine humility in the presence of the One who made us and gives us each day all we need for life and godliness. It is in acknowledging our inhumanity, our pride and arrogance, that we will begin to truly find ourselves.
God has already resolved the issue with our broken humanity—he came into our human existence, took on our human flesh and in Jesus Christ, lived out a truly human existence—one that he has given to each of us through the Holy Spirit if we will welcome him.
Will there always be those who refuse to live out the new, transformed humanity given us in Jesus Christ? For now, at least until the day God draws a line and affirms their choice to refuse and to live apart from the grace God has offered them in his Son, and allows them to live in the darkness of their consequences forever.
Meanwhile, it would be worth our while to begin practicing some humility and grace in our relationships with God and one another. It would be a good thing for us to express some genuine love and respect toward each and every person in our life, even though they may behaving in some very not human ways. We would find our lives would be much different if we began living out of the divine definition of who we are, rather than the one we have picked out for ourselves.
Holy God, forgive us our arrogance in trying to define you and ourselves according to our limited and often misguided human reason and wisdom. Forgive us for the inhumane ways with which we treat one another and you. Thank you, that ultimately, you are the One who defines us, and who has restored our true humanity in Jesus Christ. Thank you for warmly welcoming us into a personal relationship with you in Jesus Christ through the Spirit. In his name we pray, amen.
“Then David the king went in and sat before the LORD, and he said, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that You have brought me this far?” 2 Sa 7:18 NASB
by Linda Rex
What do you do when everything that matters to you in your life shatters and falls into pieces at your feet?
Sometimes I think that until we have this experience in our lives, we are only playing at living. Because it is in these situations that we find out who we really are in the core of our beings and what it is we really believe about ourselves, God and each other. Marshall Shelley in his book writes:
“It’s doubtful that God can use any man greatly until he’s hurt him deeply,” said A. W. Tozer. In weakness, God’s strength can be revealed. Joseph was jailed, David driven into hiding, Paul imprisoned, and Christ crucified, but even in defeat, God’s servants are not destroyed. Part of the miracle of grace is that broken vessels can be made whole, with even more capacity than before.
In my life I went through a personal experience where someone I believed in and trusted completely betrayed me and rejected me. It was shattering. Here is a poem I wrote that expresses the reality of how I felt as a result of this experience:
The bloody aftermath of choices–
Broken hearts and broken dreams,
Cascading through the pages of our lives
You wander on,
Oblivious to the bodies of the crushed
How can you be so cold,
Oh, for the light!
Spit in the face
Of the grace that was given!
Ravage the hearts
Of those left behind!
One day you will pay
The cost of the pain.
Grace or no grace,
Truth will descend
And justice, justice will stand!
© Linda A. Rex, 2002
Published in “The Best Poems & Poets of 2002”, Watermark Press
Is it possible that God’s grace and justice are one and the same? When we are wounded in this way, we want God to make things right. We want justice. We want the one who has hurt us to pay in some way. We want everything to be fixed and put back together again. Or at least have the pain taken away and be able to live a normal life. It’s not fair, we think, that we have to go through this—whether or not we deserve it.
I have come to see that our perception of our loss and suffering can drive how we respond to it. Since the beginning of time, we as humans have focused on trying to resolve the problem of discerning between what is good and what is evil rather than simply eating the fruit of God’s life. We did and still do this by creating rules and laws, and by punishing misbehavior and exacting penance for sin. But the one thing we’ve never been able to swallow it seems is the bitter pill of God’s sovereignty.
We don’t seem to realize that what we really need in every circumstance is what God has offered us from the beginning—his grace. God’s love is the basis for all of his dealings with us. If we are honest with ourselves, we’ll have to admit that God has dished out a whole lot more grace or undeserved pardon, generosity and goodness than any of us deserve.
And we as humans handed God in Jesus everything but grace—we poured out on him every consequence, deserved or undeserved, in his crucifixion. We exacted full “justice” on Jesus. Yet God took it on the chin and responded by using or shall we say, intended from the beginning to use, Jesus’ life, suffering, crucifixion, death, resurrection and ascension as the means of our salvation and transformation. And through Jesus God connected all of humanity with himself forever.
In reflection, I can now say that as painful and devastating as my experience was, and in spite of the years and effort—blood, sweat and tears—it took to recover, I am deeply grateful for the experience. For God used it to transform me and to change my life. He began to do something incredible and new in my life—some things I never could have ever imagined even happening. But only because I did not run away from him, but rather ran towards him in the midst of my pain and struggle.
Even though at the time, my desire may have been that justice be done, now I see that God’s way of handling it was much better. His grace was exactly what was needed in the situation. In Jesus, justice is and will be done—God’s going to make everything right in the end. In the meantime, though, it is his grace that has carried me through and used these circumstances, the pain and suffering, to accomplish something beautiful and life-giving. And my efforts to express and participate in God’s grace in the midst of it all have been rewarded as well.
So, strange as it may seem, justice and grace are odd companions, but they are well suited for one another when they meet in the person and work of God in Jesus Christ. And via the Holy Spirit, they can and do meet together in us as we surrender to the sovereignty of God in the midst of difficult and painful circumstances. And they produce beautiful, life-giving fruit—spiritual fruit that will last for all eternity. And that’s what really matters in the end.
Holy God, it is in difficult and painful times that we have a hard time understanding why things are so unjust. We don’t understand why you allow what you allow and why you do the things you do. Thank you for your grace and love—grant that we may have the grace to trust you and to surrender to your sovereign will in everything. We can only do this through Jesus our Lord and by your Holy Spirit. Amen.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.” 2 Co 4:7–11