A Parable of the Human Condition

Posted on 27 March 2008

Evangel 20:1 (Spring 2002)

A Parable of the Human Condition

Evangel 20:1 (Spring 2002)

THIS EDITORIAL is being written in the aftermath of the destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, the attack on the Pentagon and the horrifying loss of life to terrorist action that followed. Perhaps it is too soon to undertake a post-mortem. However, it does raise the question as to what, as Evangelical Christians, we are to learn from these events and it may not be premature to draw certain conclusions.

  I recall a visit to New York earlier this year during which, on two successive cold and damp evenings, I crossed the harbour on the Staten Island ferry in order to witness the spectacular sight of the Manhattan skyline by night. They were both memorable experiences. Central to the scene were, of course, the twin towers; doubtless witness to the power and gods of capitalism (and to that extent something like the tower of Babel) but witness, too, to the dignity of humanity, created in the image of God and capable of acts of such creative and aesthetic genius.
 
  Then, in a matter of moments, that same genius which had made the terrestrial-bound fly, used the same abilities to devise an act of such wanton destruction against itself.
 
  As such the event becomes a parable of the human condition. It reminds us, as the apostle Paul does in the latter part of Romans 1, that depravity is no more than sin with ‘the gloves off’. For all the good there is in humanity (as witnessed, for example, in the selfless actions of the fire-fighters) there remains a darker, destructive side which lurks in the recesses of every human heart and which, freed from restraint, overflows into the self-justifying twisted minds and in actions of wanton, merciless destruction. The events of September 11th 2001 set us, therefore, face to face with the cess-pit that is humanity when, in rebellion against God, the restraints are removed and humanity spits in the face of its Creator.

For Evangelicals, such actions should be no surprise. They remind us of the world-condition that prompted God to be ‘contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man’. They help make sense of our song when we say ‘Tis mystery all, the immortal dies.‘ Such was the corruption that lay, under condemnation, at the centre of every human heart, that only the infinite mercy and self-immolation of the second person of the Trinity was sufficient to meet the human need.

All of which prompts the question as to whether Manhattan is not a clarion call to the Evangelical church to wake up to the fact that the gospel is, above all, the declaration of the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16): the re-creating response of divine mercy to sinners.

I say this because as I watch and listen (not least my own actions and words) I am unsure this has remained our centre. Increasingly the focus of our worship (for example) is on God’s creative rather than his recreative work. Frequently we ape the world and (not least to our children) proclaim Jesus as the answer to human loneliness. Often we speak of a Jesus who helps meet our need for self-esteem or can supply a bigger and longer-lasting ‘fix’ than the best available ‘joint’.

Of course, none of these things are wrong. Jesus is a friend; but, above all, a friend of sinners. He is a ‘fixer’ but his greatest act is redemptive. He does give a sense of personal self-worth; but this is fundamentally because we experience his love as those who are unlovely. He brings joy, too; joy to those who know they have been plucked from the jaws of hell. If we have lost sight of this, the very tragedy of Manhattan may be seen as a wake-up call.

None of this is intended to minimise the enormous human tragedy of 11th of September and, surely, the grief we feel is a mere shadow of the divine outpouring of pain and pity. Few of us are personally unaware of people caught up in the tragedy. However, it may be that such loss can, in some way, be redeemed if we are recalled to the sure foundations of our faith and are challenged, by word and action, to model it more perfectly.

Resources