I was having a conversation with someone after worship last night. This friend is a longtime worker for peace and justice in this country. We were celebrating the passage of marriage equality in New York state and simultaneously mourning our governor’s immediate turnaround to lift the ban on hydrofracking.
I’m enough of a Calvinist that I believe there will always be something wrong with this world. We’ll never get it totally right. There will always be one more reason to march on the capitol, call your senator, write an editorial, or practice civil disobedience. That’s what “total depravity” means to me.
On the other hand, I also believe that victory is inevitable for the cause of goodness and right.
Why do I believe this?
- Not because I “have faith in people”. I don’t. Trying to make a left-hand turn without a stoplight onto Black River Boulevard during rush hour will destroy that for anyone.
- Not because I trust the spineless Democrats or the heartless Republicans. I don’t.
- Not because I “believe in America”. I don’t. It’s a country like any other. There are some wonderful things about it and some horrible things. If you want to know what happens when people uncritically “believe in their country”, just look at the Third Reich.
I believe the final victory of goodness and right is inevitable because I believe in God. With my Christian coreligionists (among others), I accept the biblical tenet that “God is love” (that’s 1 John 4:16, in case anybody wants to look it up). This means that love is the “Ground of all Being”, to borrow a phrase from Paul Tillich. Love sits at the center of the universe. Love is the source of the Big Bang and all subsequent nebulae, quasars, galaxies, and planets. The “invisible hand” of the cosmic economy is love (apologies to Adam Smith).
If this is true, then all that is not love is destined to dissipate into nothingness. This goes for all ego-centricity, injustice, exploitation, prejudice, and death-dealing. The Jewish prophet Isaiah sang his Dylanesque folk song: “They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the whole earth will be full of the knowledge of Yahweh (lit. “The One Who Is”) as the waters cover the sea.”
I shared this idea with my friend, who continues to struggle with this faith. She lamented the fact that, for the moment, evil seems so present and powerful. How do we know it won’t win or last forever? In a flash of T.M.I. insight, I thought of a helpful (if gross) analogy:
Have you ever been in a closed room when somebody ripped a really really smelly fart? It’s over-powering. You can’t even think straight. You feel like you’re going to die. But what happens when you crack a window or step outside? The smell goes away. In the context of the larger scheme of things, the fart has less substance and less reality than the world around it. So it is with the evil we see in this world. If love exists at the center of the universe, then all that is not love is destined to disperse into nothingness once somebody opens a window.
We can even get biblical with this. Here’s a line from Psalm 68. When I read this, I interpret “enemies” and “wicked” to mean “evil itself” rather than individual human beings. As it says in the New Testament, the struggle of faith is not against “enemies of blood and flesh” but against “spiritual forces of evil”. Disclaimer aside, read on:
“O God, arise, and let your enemies be scattered; let those who hate you flee before you. Let them vanish like smoke when the wind drives it away; as wax melts at the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God. But let the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; let them also be merry and joyful.”