Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Thursday, March 06, 2008

It's in Our Nature.... sort of

Have you listened to Jose Gonzales' great little song, "It's in our nature"? You can listen to little of it here. The whole of the lyrics are really simple: A bent towards peace and justice is in us, inside our hearts, in our nature.

Therefore, Gonzalez seems to posit, put down your sword, open up your heart, and let down your guard. This marvelous music is packed with anthropological and theological questions. Here are a few of them, along with my own understanding of answers offered us in the Scriptures.

Is it in our nature? Yes. God has placed eternity in the hearts of all people, so that there's something in us that longs for peace, longs for justice, longs of safety and intimacy. This is why we're outraged at so much that we see in the world, or should be. 30,000 people a day are dying of diseases that are easily treatable. It's in our nature to be outraged because we believe the world ought to be different than this, ought to be a place where sick people are able to get care, and hungry people are able to get food, and all of us can sleep soundly at night without worrying about getting whacked by a gun, or a terrorist. It is in our nature to care for these things.

Then what's the problem? If it's in our nature to be just and loving, why is is that all of us have blood on our hands? We Americans, for example, consume a disproportionate amount of the world's resources, and mosts of us surfing the web are guilty. Even if it's in my nature to be a loving and caring person, my capacity to do that perfectly, consistently, and in a manner that contributes to the wholeness of people across the planet is broken. And often, we fail not just in being globally just and loving, but in being just and loving at all, even with the people who we love the most. Why is this the case?

Because, the flesh is in our nature too! We have within us a lust for feeding our own appetites, even at the cost of other people's well being. Paul calls this 'the flesh' (if you have a New American Standard Bible), and it's the term he uses to describe that part of us that is, by nature, fallen, in rebellion to all that is good and right. Paul says that this nature isn't just in members of terrorist clubs, but in all of us, even including people who know and love Jesus. We'll do battle with this lust for rebellion all our days, though for many of us the rebellion might take socially acceptable forms (like gossip, working too hard, hiding from the poor, and wasting our resources excessively on ourselves) instead of socially reprehensible forms (like killing people with guns). But it's all flesh, all sin, and all at the heart of the problem. Sin? It's in our nature.

So both principles are in our nature, and it's naive to think that we have one without the other. That was the beauty of the movie Crash. It showed us both sides of the coin in all the players, so that just when you think you've someone categorized, you come to see that you're wrong - the category is defied.

All this points, not to despair, but to Christ. Because Paul wrestles with the reality of these two natures in Romans seven, aware as he is that he has a desire for living well, but that actually living well eludes him. When he cries out 'wretched man that I am, who will deliver me...?" he's turned a corner. Why? Because he's no longer looking for something in his nature to be his source of transformation. He's looking to Another, Christ, to enable him to live the life that he knows and desires to live, but is unable to live without the strength of this Other.

So yes, it's in our nature - to love and lust - to give and greed (do you like greed as a verb? I do. It's in my nature to break rules). But we need something outside our nature to enable us to overcome that which is destructive in our nature. Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ.


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