Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The Problem

The first chapter of Don Miller's Blue Like Jazz was really just an intro to some of his thoughts on our 'sin nature'. The idea that there is 'something wrong with human nature', as Billy Graham (or was it Gary Clail?) used to say, is not exactly a fashionable thing to talk about so it was interesting to hear his thoughts on the concept.
On p14 he talks some more about his own feelings of guilt :

'I didn't feel like I knew God, and yet He was making me experience this conviction. I felt that the least He could have done was to come down and introduce Himself and explain these feelings of conviction in person.
If you don't love somebody, it gets annoying when they tell you what to do or what to feel. When you love them you get pleasure from their pleasure, and it makes it easier to serve. I didn't love God because I didn't know God.
Still, I knew, because of my own feelings, there was something wrong with me, and it wasn't only me. I knew it was everybody. It was like a bacteria or a cancer or a trance. It wasn't on the skin, it was in the soul. It showed itself in loneliness, lust, anger, jealousy and depression. It had people screwed up bad everywhere you went - at the store, at home, at church; it was ugly and deep. Lots of singers on the radio were singing about it and cops had jobs because of it. It was as if we were broken, I thought, as if we were never supposed to feel these sticky emotions. It was as if we were cracked, couldn't love right, couldn't feel good things for very long without screwing it all up. We were like gasoline engines running on diesel.

I like what he does here. It is difficult to talk about our 'sin nature' without sounding like some kind of fundamentalist. It has often been expressed in ways that make people sound worthless, completely overwriting the goodness of God's creation. The issue must be faced though, at some point in our lives we need to realise that we are 'part of the problem'. It is no good blaming everything on 'the system', on 'structural' or 'corporate' sin (although I do believe in such a thing). Miller expresses this on p20:

'The problem is not a certain type of legislation or even a certain politician; the problem is the same that it has always been. I am the problem.
I think every conscious person, every person who is awake to the functioning principles within his reality, has a moment where he stops blaming the problems in the world on group think, on humanity and authority, and starts to face himself. I hate this more than anything. This is the hardest principle within Christian spirituality for me to deal with. The problem is not out there; the problem is the needy beast of a thing that lives in my chest.'

The next bit is challenging for me, and for anyone who claims to be interested in social justice :
'More than my questions about the efficacy of social action were my questions about my own motives. Do I want social justice for the oppressed, or do I just want to be known as a socially active person? I spend 95 percent of my time thinking about myself anyway. I don't have to watch the evening news to see that the world is bad, I only have to look at myself. I am not browbeating myself here; I am only saying that true change, true life giving, God-honouring change would have to start with the individual. I was the very problem I had been protesting. I wanted to make a sign that read "I AM THE PROBLEM!"

This reminds me of a G.K. Chesterton story. The Times newspaper once ran a series of articles on the topic of "What is wrong with the world?". They had contributions from various politicians and other famous people. When the series had run for a while a letter was published which read
"Dear Sir,
What is wrong with the world?
I am.
Yours sincerely,
G.K. Chesterton"

There is so much good, honest stuff in this chapter, but I'm probably already in breach of 'fair use', so I'll just finish with this C.S. Lewis poem that he quotes (p21) :

'All this flashy rhetoric about loving you.
I never had a selfless thought since I was born.
I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through;
I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.

Peace, reassurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek,
I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin;
I talk of love - a scholars parrot may talk Greek-
But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin'

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