17 January 2013

Things Have Changed: But Why Do They Stay the Same?

This semester, I am enrolled in "Catholic Social Ethics."  Part of the requirement for the course is to create three "blog posts" throughout the semester and upload them to the class' website.  What follows is my first attempt.

Reading through the prophetic literature of the Old Testament, one gets the sinking feeling that the more things have changed, they more they have stayed the same. The rich still oppress the poor (Amos 2:6-9, 5:11), religious leaders provide scandalous example to believers (Amos 2:8) and the overwhelming cultural milieu leads the reader to believer that while God is certainly upset (Amos 5:21-24: in some impassible way) with the way the alleged pinnacle of creation treats its own (Gen 1:26-27), He is not quite willing to correct this aberrant behavior as he did in days of old, through plagues, invasions or a flood (Exodus, Exile, Flood).  And so, people of biblical faith are left cold when reading the Scripture.  The promise of the Covenant seems to be subservient to the sinfulness of humanity.  Moreover, the problems of the world, running concurrently with globalization, are increasing in terms of cost, scope, complexity – and oh, just about everything else. 
The most obvious answer to such a problem is to blame the dynamics of social sin.  The argument goes – in an oversimplified manner – that inequalities are embedded into our culture because of structures oriented away from rather than toward God.  Thus, we’re all part this sin to a greater or lesser extent at any one time.  Yet, this answer leaves us either resigned to injustice or just plain angry.  Yet in thinking this way, we employ a cyclical (and quite frankly, pagan) view of history.  I mean this, of course, in the strictest terms, because a cyclical perspective of history views evil as a sort of inevitability which rises and falls despite the best efforts of the gods or creation.  Most basically, cyclical history is inevitable.
Christianity, however, does not ascribe to such resignation.  This refusal is not necessarily because Christians are optimists per se or because they possess an exalted view of the human capacity for justice and transcendence.  Rather, the entire Christian theology of history is rooted in the basic reality of the Gospel: Jesus’ incarnation, ministry and Paschal Mystery served to inaugurate the end (or, if you like, the “beginning”) of a new history. 
In this way, history is linear: obviously there are certain components of human experience that repeat themselves, but in the fuller scheme of the world, not only is each human life an unrepeatable event (and thus, even Lazarus is important) (Lk. 16:19-31), but more generally, the Christ event has forever changed the world.  The life of Christ (and thus life, lived in Christ), is an unrepeatable human life par excellence which provides a model for the way human life should be lived in relationship to others.  As a consequence, a Christian reading of the prophets for the explicit purpose of ethical discernment (or any scriptural text bearing on ethics for that matter), must employ a Christocentric lens: for us, there is no other way.  If the Christian is, in fact, “saved by hope,” and at the same time, “faith without works is dead,” then it is incumbent upon us to not allow the comfortable morbidity of a cyclical world view to gain control over us (Rom. 8:24; Jas. 2:17).  Instead, we must work for justice precisely because the world has been changed by the Christ event, and perhaps even more importantly, because this same world is destined to be fulfilled in the same Christ, not as one kingdom in a long succession of kingdoms, but as the final and eschatological glorified Kingdom of Christ when every tear will be wiped away (Rev. 21:4).

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