Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Between Reality, Depression, and Hope: some thoughts on the election and low anthropology…


Because of all the talk about hope as of late, I've been feeling kind of conflicted. Part of me wants to believe that a "new day has dawned," but the other part that is more realistic and sometimes prone to bouts of depression sighs with the knowledge that nothing has really changed and nothing ever will.
What we witnessed last week as a nation was something truly awesome. I'm not trying to downplay that. It's just when I hear all this talk about hope and change and then see all the people's faces who think that one man is going to bring this all about, I grow uncertain. Don't get me wrong I like the politics of hope more than the politics of fear; something is just empty when it comes to this kind of talk. It's not just Obama who does this, but also McCain, Palin, Bush, Clintons etc... Just read this Bush quote, "The ideal of America is the hope of all mankind… That hope still lights our way. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (George W. Bush, Ellis Island, 2002. For fun read John 1:1-5 and compare the two).
So why I am I rambling on here? During this election I found myself conflicted between my understanding of anthropology (i.e. the human condition) and the candidates' ultimate hope in government and human potential (particularly American human potential). I believe this hope is ultimately borderline delusional. I say this because my experience and faith teach me that humanity has little capacity for good and an endless capacity for bad. Isaiah 64:6 reads, "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away." Cluster quoting the Old Testament the apostle Paul writes:
"There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." "Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit." "The poison of vipers is on their lips." "Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness." "Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know." "There is no fear of God before their eyes. (Romans 3:10-18)
The key words in these passages are "all of us" and "no one." No one is exempt from this description. More than this, John Calvin writes that, "The perversity never ceases in us, but continually bears new fruit… the whole man is overwhelmed… from head to foot, so that no part is immune from sin and all that proceeds from him is to be imputed to sin." These words may seem harsh, but look at the theater of human history or read the news paper. Sure there are bright moments in history, but look at them with any honesty and it's obvious that even they're still infested with corruption.
This is how the Scripture sees our situation without Christ. It is a closed repetitious theater/cul-de-sac of human despair and evil in which the only exit is either suicide or salvific rescue (Zahl "Short Systematic Theology 9, 68).
It has been said that original sin and total depravity are the only scientifically provable aspects of the Christian faith. Why? Because it's all around us! Even literature from outside the Christian faith is willing to admit this. So how do I reconcile this understanding of humanity with the high anthropology of the candidates and president elect? With his Christian roots Obama is able to say, "My faith reminds me that we all are sinners (World AIDS Day Speech 12/1/06)…" but I still think he has a little too much faith in human potential. So how to I reconcile this? The truth is I don't think they can be reconciled. For me, the dereliction of human existence screams out against putting my hope in humanity. For ultimately that hope will burn out and turn into hopelessness, nihilism, and disillusion.
You see, I'm convicted that our hope needs to lie elsewhere. Speaking in this way may seem depressing, but in the end it points us to the true remedy. In his Heidelberg Disputation Martin Luther writes, "Nor does speaking in this manner give cause for despair, but for arousing the desire to humble oneself and seek the grace of Christ." In other words, when we understand just how dire our situation is, we will reach out for a savior.
Ultimately, I believe the hope that is professed from the candidates leads us astray and into denial of the way things really are. I think the church has also fallen prey to this. If you got involved in any political discussion with other church goers you know what I'm talking about. Whether it's McCain's prolife stance, Palin's evangelical Christian roots, or Obama's social justice prerogatives; the church has hoped in something that will ultimately fail.
This being the case what do we as the church do? I think an accurate understanding of anthropology leaves the church with two options. One is to withdraw from society and gather in the mountains of West Virginia to await the second coming. The other more preferable option is to be thrown into a radical dependence upon God. When we comprehend just how dire our situation is, we in the church will realize that we cannot put our hope in anything other than Christ. This radical dependence will lead to transformation as the Holy Spirit works in our hearts through our continual returning to Christ. This transformation will lead to us in the church becoming more like Christ and consequently we will proclaim and bring this hope to others. We will point others to a real hope that transcends the never ending cycle of human tragedy.
This is where I'm at on this subject. I'd be interested in what you think about it.

 

3 comments:

JDK said...

Shawn,
Great to "see" you on here!. . .

you wrote: Whether it's McCain's prolife stance, Palin's evangelical Christian roots, or Obama's social justice prerogatives; the church has hoped in something that will ultimately fail

W√úNDERBAR!! Simply wonderful, well said, concise and right on the money. .

God bless. .

Jady

Shawn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shawn said...

thanks jady!