Tag Archives: karl barth

tool set

The Fixer

In a recent post I asked the question, ‘How does it feel to know you are part of God’s plan to save the world?’

This could be meaningless for you, I suppose, if you haven’t yet responded to Christ. Or if you have, but don’t believe that He’s active in the world. Or, it could be taken as a jest.

But what does ‘saving the world’ mean, exactly? It sure seems to mean a lot of different things, depending on whom you ask. Some people think they are saving the world by not eating meat. Others by fighting human trafficking. Still others take up arms. Some are pacifists. What they all have in common is that they are willing to fight for what they believe in. Most of us have a hill we will die on, as the saying goes.

The ones who fight for things we believe in become our heroes: Martin Luther King on one hand, or Malcolm X on the other; the RAF in 1940; today’s culture warriors, either left or right; maybe a soul-winner like Aimee Semple McPherson or Reinhardt Bonnke; perhaps a fictional world-beater like Lara Croft or Frodo Baggins or Hari Seldon.

You undoubtedly have a list of your own.

But when we say ‘saving the world’, it doesn’t actually mean ‘saving the world.’ It means ‘fixing a problem’, a completely different matter. Even the most influential world beaters are limited to one time and one place. The world is changed in a limited way for a time, and then quickly reverts to what it was before: broken and in need of saving again. And again. And again.

When the world is broken it needs saving, not fixing. And that leads to the most important name missing from the list above: Jesus Christ. He is the one and only exception.

Maybe you think that Jesus’ life, death and supposed resurrection didn’t fix anything. The poor and weak are still exploited by the rich and powerful just as they were before Jesus’ time. Natural and economic resources still remain under threat. They are still a source of contention among nations and within societies.

Human beings, individually and collectively, are forever in trouble. This is because we tend to break things. We also love to try fixing things. Yet, no matter how hard we work at it, any victory in the face of trouble is limited and temporary. Does that mean we shouldn’t try? Of course not. But when we limit ourselves to fix ourselves by ourselves we get nowhere.

It’s not about fixing something, or solving a problem. It’s about salvation. Any fixing we do is temporary. But salvation is eternal. That leads me to the belief that the world isn’t broken. It’s desperately lost.

Before I had a relationship with Jesus Christ, I was in Fix-it Mode. I was Mr. Fixit McFixface. I’d dive right in and strive for that best outcome. And, I would usually fail miserably.

So, if the world is lost, not broken, it can be saved. It can be remade. We are needy and desperate beings. As philosopher Karl Barth understatedly put it, we are ‘in distress’, and God is eager to ‘grant…assistance.’ 1

So, for my part, I’ll dig into His handbook and when there’s an instruction I don’t understand, I’ll raise my hand and ask a question.

Meanwhile, I can happily stop trying to fix my friends and family. They aren’t broken. They aren’t projects. They are just needy people like me, who need a little love. And when I love them – I’m doing my part to save the world.

1. Quoted by Eugene Peterson in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980)

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Skeleton With Candy

Giving In

(A five minute read – part of a year-long series on the Ministry of Reconciliation

Reconciliation (noun) /ˌrek.ənˌsɪl.iˈeɪ.ʃən/: The process of making two opposite beliefs, ideas or situations agree.

Original Sin has been debated, discussed, dissected and derided as much as any Biblical concept. I find less difficulty wrestling with the problem than with the solution.

The Bible reports that original sin was the catalyst for God’s plan of redemption, for people and the world. This plan began its culmination in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It continues through the work of the Church in the present age and Christ’s eventual return to judge creation.

You can lose yourself down endless hermeneutical rabbit holes here. Or have some pretty spicy arguments around the holiday dinner table (Been there. Done both. Don’t recommend either.)

What if?

But what if creation didn’t get off track with Adam and Eve’s sin? What if the trouble came because they didn’t repent and reconcile themselves to God?

Hold it. Relax. Call off the Twitter mob. Put away the paintball guns and re-pack the label of heretic so many are quickly adorned with nowadays. This is merely a thought experiment. Rest assured that I believe sin was the problem, is the problem and will continue to be the problem until Christ’s return. But it’s not unsolvable.

Jesus’ work on earth is the answer to sin that Adam and Eve couldn’t quite grasp.

We all know the story, but to recap: Adam and Eve are created to be in relationship with God, tending the garden of Eden. The devil cons Eve into thinking God’s holding out on her and she’s missing something. She agrees to munch on the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam follows suit. In creation’s first face-palm moment, the two of them have their eyes opened to the reality that they’re in Really Big Trouble.

An ‘oh crap’ situation of cosmic proportions has developed. Decision time then. Come clean? Or live in shame?

You know the rest. They selected Door Number Two and decided to become tailors. They sewed garments of fig leaves to cover their nakedness. God dramatically asks a Very Large Rhetorical Question, as He often does: ‘Hey Adam – where you at?’

There is a second decision point and Adam does a bit better this time. He comes half-clean, admitting that he was afraid due to being caught out of his knickers. But he didn’t go far enough to admit outright all they had done.

So, God bears down: ‘Who told you you were naked? Did you eat the fruit?’

Is it Really All Downhill From Here?

Decision time again. The third time pays for all. Adam blows it completely. He blames his wife (husbands take note: this never works). Eve blames the devil (wives take note: not a good idea; better to blame the husband). I imagine Satan standing there with a ‘Who, Me?’ look on his face thinking ‘Curses, foiled again.’ Indeed then, curses are the order of the day.1

But wait a minute.

What if Adam and Eve had made a full confession at that first question and thrown themselves on the mercy of the court? What if they had repented?

There’s nothing in the Genesis story hinting that God would have forgiven them and let everything rewind and start over. But it’s not beyond my imagination to think that He would not have or could not have. Funny things happen in a universe that allows for free will.

We know how things turned out for the ancients. But thanks to Jesus Christ, they can turn out differently for you and me.

Much of Scripture is interpreted to shove sin down our throat: sin is the world’s only problem! Well yes, but let’s not condemn ourselves for sinning just yet. Because there’s a way out. There is forgiveness for sin, because there is grace – again, thanks to Christ. Even if you aren’t a Christian and want to relabel sin as ‘crappy behavior’ it’s all about the same. We screw up and need to make amends to one another and create reconciliation.

It’s just that we need to do that on the spiritual level first, if we are to get out from under the eternal burden of it. But God understands. The Psalmist reminds us that ‘He knows how we are formed. He remembers that we are dust.’ 2

We Are In Trouble, And Yet…

As theologian Karl Barth pointed out, this grace comes from God assuming we are ‘in distress and that God’s intention is to…grant (us) assistance in (our) extremity.’ 3

Isn’t that remarkable? What a relief. God knows we are in trouble. We are constantly and always in trouble. Even Christians who have turned away from a sin lifestyle suffer from thoughts, actions and lack of actions that miss the mark. We are always in some sort of trouble, even if we don’t talk about it.

As I wrote elsewhere, we must learn to breathe underwater because life is always over our heads. The smart Christian admits this, and asks always and constantly for Help.

So, sin dogs me, as it dogs us all, believer and unbeliever alike. That’s unavoidable with us being born into a spiritual war zone and all. But I’ll argue that my ultimate problem is not sin. It’s hard-heartedness, leading to a lack of repentance.

My solution must be a quick about-face to acknowledge the mistake and offer a meaningful apology. Otherwise I’ll fall into a pattern of sin, which will only increase. The better alternative is to step into a pattern of repentance, which will only increase.

That’s the key. Oswald Chambers said ‘the foundation of Christianity is repentance.’ 4 He’s right, because sin doesn’t make us bad. It makes us dead.

(based on an idea from Melanie Searle)

1. See Genesis 3:1-19
2. Psalm 103:14
3. Karl Barth, Unspoken Sermons, First Series
4. My Utmost For His Highest Devotional Journal, Oswald Chambers, (© 1992 Oswald Chambers Publications Association, Ltd. Used with permission). He was commenting on 2 Corinthians 7:10, which says: ‘Godly sorrow produces repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but the sorrow of the world produces death.’

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