A Journal of Christian Thought
I S SU E 0 2 - SP R I N G 2 0 1 5 Insights on Faith and The Academy from Professor Chuck Huff The Theodicy of C.S. Lewis For The Good of All Creation: A Christian Ecological Ethic
As students at a college of the Lutheran church, each one of us is exposed in some way during our time here to the Christian tradition. Whether that exposure comes through daily chapel services or a religion course taken to satisfy a general education requirement, we are each confronted with the claims of the Christian faith founded upon the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For many of us this is familiar territory, having been raised in the Christian tradition; for others, this is the first time they have had interaction with Christianity. Many fall somewhere in between. But despite the unique connection that our community has with the church, in the busyness of life on the hill and in the midst of a culture that is uncomfortable with statements of universal truth, it is difficult to experience Christianity in all of its fullness. We may experience it merely as an academic topic to be studied from a “neutral” perspective. It may also be perceived as simply a set of unchanging dogmatic statements that we should never try to understand better through reason. Or, it may become to us simply one of many valuable ways that a person or group of people can express their belief in the Divine. The St. Olaf Avodah exists to help students take a step towards encountering Christianity in all of its fullness and beauty. Taking as its statement of faith the Nicene Creed, an ancient Christian creed, we hope to show the faith to be both welcoming of academic study and critical thought and at the same time founded upon eternal truths that are relevant and important for the whole world to hear. Most importantly, we hope to present Christianity as a proclamation of the good news that God has come into the world in his Son, Jesus Christ. This good news invades every aspect of our lives – personal, social, academic, and religious. In this issue you will find a variety of pieces that reflect on the ways in which God has worked and is working in the world through Jesus. Professor Chuck Huff shares his thoughts on his academic career and practice of Benedictine spirituality. Brian Klein ’16 analyzes C.S. Lewis’ defense of the goodness of God in the face of evil. Paul Escher ’16 reviews The Global War on Christians, which documents the frightening persecution of followers of Christ around the world. And Nicole Newell ’15 seeks to explore connections between Christianity and environmental responsibility. We hope that this issue of the St. Olaf Avodah leads you to think deeply about the claims of Christianity and their relevance to our world, and sparks much fruitful discussion within our community.
Insights from Professor Chuck Huff Insights from Professor Chuck Huff
Avodah Editorial Staff Avodah Editorial Staff
Bill Jordan ’15, Editor-in-Chief Nicole Newell ’15, Managing Editor Maddie Osgood ‘16, Layout and Design Ellie Anderson ‘15, Business Manager Anna Priore ‘16, Editor Chance Bonar ‘15, Editor Paul Escher ‘16, Editor
Myth Myth Become Become Fact Fact
Becky Bowman Bowman Saunders, Saunders, ‘16 16 Becky
Chuck Huff, Professor of Psychology Becky Saunders ‘16 Brian Klein ‘16 Paul Escher ‘16 Nicole Newell ‘15 Anna Priore ‘16 Christina Solensten ‘16 Lucas Shurson ‘17 Alexander Quanbeck ‘17 Bill Jordan ‘15
The Theodicy of C.S. Lewis Brian Brian Klein, Klein, ‘16 ‘16 26 26
Review: Review: “The “The Global Global War War on on Christians: Christians Paul Escher, ‘16 Paul Escher, ‘16 30 30
PHOTOGRAPHY Ida Sobotik,‘15, pg 8 Kyle Obermann,‘14, pg 10, 17, 30, 38, 50, 58 Stewart Yurcyk ‘17, pg 18, 17 Maddie Osgood ‘16, pg 25, 64, 68
For the Good of All Creation: For the GoodEcological of All Creation: A Christian Ethic A Christian Ecological Nicole Newell, ‘15 Ethic Nicole Newell, ‘15 48
L. DeAne Lagerquist, Professor and Chair, Department of Religion Jason Ripley, Assistant Professor, Department of Religion
Anna Priore, ‘16, and Christine Solensten, ‘16 Poetry Anna Priore, ‘16, and Christine Solensten, ‘16 51 51 Letting Law Go? A Lutheran Perspective on Law in Frozen Letting Law Perspective Lucas ShursonGo? ,‘17, A andLutheran Alexander Quanbeck, ‘17 on Law in Frozen
SPECIAL THANKS: St. Olaf Student Organizations Committee St. Olaf College Student Congregation The Augustine Collective
Lucas Shurson,‘ 17, and66 Alexander Quanbeck, ‘17
The Word Becomes Flesh in You and Me
stolafavodah.wordpress.com Direct letters to the editor to: firstname.lastname@example.org
66 Bill Jordan, ‘15
The Word Becomes Flesh in You and Me Bill Jordan, ‘16
Insights from Professor Chuck Huff AV O D A H E D I T O R I A L S TA F F
Avodah: Chuck, can you tell us how you ended up at St. Olaf College?
the psychology department, a class that has a large section on religion in it since religion is closely wrapped up in morality. Some evolutionary theorists think that one of the reasons that we’re wired to be religious is because it helps us in being moral and that being moral is helpful for the species because it means we kill each other less, provide for each other, things like that.
Dr. Chuck Huff: When I was a postdoc at Carnegie Melon University doing research in how people use computers to interact with each other, I applied at major research universities and a couple liberal arts colleges. My friend Tom at Carnegie Melon had an uncle who was a dean at St. Olaf. Since Tom knew that I was a Christian and cared deeply about such things he said, “You might like St. Olaf College.” It looked to me that St. Olaf was the kind of place I could really do rigorous psychology. It had bright students who could do research with me. But I could also think about Christianity without feeling like I had to switch into another set of clothes or something.
I also teach a course in the science conversation along with David Booth who is my co-teacher where we look at the social nature of science - in other words, the sociologists and anthropologists studying science. We also put that up next to theology. We’ve been reading Paul Tillich [20th c. theologian], but also Bruno Latour [French philosopher and anthropologist of science]. The Science Con course is not just about epistemology. It’s also about what we should believe and how we should believe, particularly the theological aspect of it.
My research has been an attempt at maintaining this tension between Christianity and careful scholarship. It is a tension that has only recently arisen in the U.S. since the late 1800s, and within world history since the enlightenment. Now lots of schools have dropped their church affiliation. St. Olaf has maintained its affiliation, but not at the levels of places like Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University and Bob Jones University where there is a creed you have to sign. So this to me is a place where you can get, to my mind, the most thoughtful integration of religion and secular scholarship. And that sounded to me like a great place.
The third class is in computer science and looks at the ethical aspects of the design of software. The students are divided into teams and each team gets a real client—some of them Fortune 500 companies— to give advice with regard to the ethical aspects of a particular software project. Right now we are working with the college’s registrar to look at the accessibility of the St. Olaf website. We have a couple of blind students, several faculty members with vision impairment, and other people with movement problems. How do those people get access to the website? What are the barriers in the way for them? For example, we have this cool webpage, with nice rotating pictures at the top. The problem is that if you’re using a screen reader because you’re blind, every time the picture refreshes the screen reader
Avodah: What do you currently teach and research at St. Olaf College? Currently, I’m teaching in three different programs. I teach a senior seminar on moral psychology in
presumes that the page has reloaded and it starts all over again. So essentially you never make it past the first top third of the webpage and nobody thought about that. People design software that deeply affects the way people interact with each other and access information, but designers don’t always have the skills to think about those social and ethical implications because it’s not taught in undergrad.
looking for truth as a scientist? The answer is well, yes, of course you are! But, now we have to be a little more complex about what we mean by truth. In the moral psychology class you get a similar kind of reaction when beginning to look at religion and evolutionary explanations for why a religious tendency would have arisen in our species. It certainly makes sense, at least, that religion would arise as a way of helping us to be moral. Being moral helps us cooperate as well as practice the kinds of skills that we need in order to do that. But it is unsettling for people to think that their religious sensibility might have evolved. But frankly, pretty much everything about us has evolved. So then I have to think more complexly about what that means for my religious sensibilities and how I relate to religion and morality.
Avodah: Do you have any particular examples from your classes where people have really thought through or wrestled with the issues of religion and science? CH: In the science conversation people—particularly some of the science majors—have been challenged by the idea that many of what we call facts are actually quite socially constructed. They have a kind of reaction to this in the way some fundamentalists in Christianity do. A gut reaction of rejection, because they think, “what do you mean there aren’t any facts?” It’s a kind of foundationalism that facts are these things that exist out there when really ‘facts’ are a complex interaction of people who care about the world and a world that does exist and pushes back against us. We have to figure out the categories we will put it into as we study it. That makes the idea of a fact very difficult.
Avodah: Do you have conversations with students on religion? CH: Yes. Usually the conversations about that don’t happen in the classroom as much, because in the classroom we’re more focused on what the science says about it. But I make it very clear to the students that if they would like to talk to me about those subjects, they can. I am, by the way, an oblate of St. John’s Abbey. I discovered St. John’s while I was up here and decided to become an oblate, which means I’ve taken vows to live my life according to the rule of Benedict. So I’m a kind of Benedictine.
For example, across three or four disciplines that study molecules you’ll find that they all disagree about what a molecule is. They have to have long conversations with each other if they are going to collaborate. There is a place where again a somewhat naïve view of science and a naïve view of religion gets confronted with a more complex reality. Then they have to figure out what that means. Am I not
I remember a lovely conversation I had with one of my students while I was doing term in the Middle East. She had just discovered that many of the sacred numbers and other parts of the structure of the Old Testament’s stories had been influenced by Egyptian mythology. This was deeply disturbing to her,
says, “No, it’s about compassion…love the LORD your God with all your heart and all your mind and your neighbor as yourself.” It’s not about belief in the afterlife. A lot of people miss, for instance, in the story about the Good Samaritan, that there were good reasons for the first two people who passed by to not want to help and they were religious reasons. They had to do with things like uncleanness, which was really very important to those folks. And so they were being religious to not help the person.
because she understood “the Bible” as a document written for Christians. That is often the way it is taught in Sunday school. So we sat up on a rooftop overlooking the Nile and had an hour and a half conversation early one morning about what that might mean for her faith. So here is a place where literary analysis, history, and the study of religion intersected with her personal faith struggles. It was a time when she had to rearrange some of her understanding of what it meant to be a Christian. I felt privileged to be someone involved in that conversation.
This also ends up being one of the reasons why I’m now a Benedictine. Benedictine spirituality is much more about practice than about doctrine. If you’ve looked through Benedict’s rule there is a whole lot about practice and not a whole lot about doctrine.
Avodah: Can you tell us about your own religious experiences, convictions, and engagement with Christianity?
Avodah: What does being Benedictine look like as a professor?
CH: I think it was in the Jesus movement of the 1970’s that I discovered what my colleagues over in the religion department would call pietism. I discovered a deep concern for the personal experience of religion, which can be dangerous in that people end up worshiping the experience.
CH: It means that I do the daily office, morning and evening prayer, I read the rule of Benedict regularly, and try to apply it to my life and the way I interact with students, family, and others. I regularly do spiritual direction. I have a Benedictine spiritual director whom I see regularly. That way of being in the world is a way I try to emulate. It influences the way I am a faculty member here, the way I live with my family, but it also constantly reminds me of the ways I fall short.
But it also can be wonderfully liberating in that you recognize that it is the practice of the way one lives one’s life that is more important than the doctrine. And so Jesus says, for instance, “Follow me.” He doesn’t say, “I believe in the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only Son, etc.” He doesn’t say believe these things. Even when he does say ‘believe,’ the word is used in the sense of trust rather than doctrine. Many of the arguments he gets in, with what some of the gospels portray as the local bad guys [Pharisees], are arguments about doctrine where he confounds them and
Avodah: Did you notice a change in what it meant to be a professor after you took that vow? CH: Not a change in the classic American style of conversion story. Instead it was what Benedict urges a kind of practice. It’s the practice that helps to
change the way you experience the world. And it’s like people who do meditation, because doing the daily office, if you do it in a particular way, can be a kind of mediation. It does change the way, slowly, that you relate to the world. And it grounds you and helps you realize that not everything is an emergency.
unique, but at least a rare place in the American landscape. There are a handful of other places where you get the really high quality of scholarship and academic challenge and an open commitment to things of God, where the conversation about these things and their tensions is welcomed rather than hidden away or only done with embarrassment or deeply restricted. So there are places like Calvin and Wheaton that do wonderful work, there is great scholarship that happens and students learn tremendous amounts at those schools, but there are certain things that aren’t represented there and certain conversations that are hard to have. But here we can put together a panel with Jews and Muslims and Christians and Hindus and have a conversation about what those spiritual lives are like with people who are part of this community.
Avodah: Do you have any advice for St. Olaf students who are exploring their own faith during college? CH: My first advice would be to be fearless about it. If a question bothers you or sounds scary that is probably a reason to approach it rather than a reason to avoid it. The second bit of advice would be to seek a guide. Seek somebody who has done that before. That is one of the reasons I try to make it obvious to folks that I’m happy to talk to students about issues in their religious lives. I do it across religious convictions; I’m non-sectarian in that regard. I talk to Buddhists and Muslims. A guide can help you ask those questions in a way that is full of compassion rather than full of fear. Too often people go to a question like that with a base of fear and they want to get an answer that helps to reduce their fear. That usually narrows the window about the kind of ways you’re willing to answer the question. I think a better way to do it is to go into that question with a spirit of gratefulness and a spirit of compassion - compassion for yourself and compassion for the people who might disagree with you. Think about your commitments with that sense of compassion. Avodah: Any last thoughts?
I have learned a great deal from one of my friends and colleagues, DeAne Lagerquist, about St. Olaf as that kind of institution. One of the things she said, that I think is really important, is, “we can host those kinds of conversations precisely because we are somewhere instead of being nowhere.” We can host those conversations because we have a spiritual home. We come from a Lutheran line of thinking, whereas big universities and other schools that have given up their religious connections or never had them host a conversation like that in a different way. But we host a conversation like that in a way that makes it clear we really take the faith commitment seriously, rather than just think of it as just an interesting topic of academic study. This is really a great place to be to ask just the kind of questions you’re asking .
CH: I will say that St. Olaf College is not entirely
Chuck Huff is Professor of Psychology at St. Olaf College.
Become Fact ”
B E C K Y B O W M A N S AU N D E R S
hroughout history, countless characters have arisen who speak or act in ways that remind one of Christ. In light of this, how could Christianity explain its ideas as unique and more legitimate than others? C.S. Lewis addresses this question through the concept of Christianity as “Myth become Fact.” In his “Myth become Fact” argument, Lewis builds the case that all similarity to Christ claimed by other religions is the result of humans unwittingly comprehending aspects of God’s overarching plan. Lewis builds the argument by acknowledging a sense of mystery common to Christian and non-Christian stories, noting Christ’s historicity, explaining the existence of alternate views, and concluding that Jesus was the embodiment of what had previously been only vague notions. “Myth become Fact,” when paired with other theological arguments by Lewis, is a notion that fosters an understandable and convincing argument for the divinity of Christ in light of other religious beliefs.
As creatures created by God, occasionally creative minds stumble upon a kernel of truth - a single aspect of God’s overarching plan for His creation.
Christianity possesses a sense of mystery which also arises in the examination of other spiritual stories. In his “Letter to Arthur Greeves,” Lewis admits that, as a questioning atheist, he approached Christian writings in a manner distinct from the way he approached other religious or mythical writings. In reading Christian writings, he disallowed any sense of wonder or awe to arise in the reading of Jesus’ words and actions. In reading other religious writings, he permitted his mind to accept its inability to understand the full scope of the subtleties of the work, and thus allowed the wonder-inducing aspects of the text to guide him to profundities engrained in the stories. The different approaches to reading, he realized, intensely changed his understanding and appreciation of the text. Christianity, then, must be approached with the same sense of expectation with which one approaches myths. Lewis does not end there, however. He points out a significant difference between the Christian myth and those of other religions: the myth of the Christians is true myth.1 Thus, while there is notable similarity between Christian and Pagan myth, the truth backing each differs. One problem remains: Why should one concretely believe this claim of truth? How is one to know that Christianity is the truth and that the others are not? C.S. Lewis briefly touches on the historical evidence that backs up Christian claims regarding Jesus as the true myth. Jesus of Nazareth, he claims, existed and was crucified. There are ancient documents that record his existence within the legal system of the time.2 Ancient scholarship has no choice but to acknowledge the reality of His existence, independent of the validity of any other claim about Him. He existed, and the following that He garnered has carried into this generation.3 It is clear that Jesus Christ existed and was fairly influential. The question then arises: If the myth of Christ is true but other similar myths are not, then why does the false myth exist? Lewis accounts for the existence of myths similar to Christianity by explaining how God is in man. As the creator of all things, Lewis claims that God left a piece of Himself in mankind. These pieces tap into the same divine nature, as demonstrated by the existence of the Moral Law. As creatures created by God, occasionally creative minds stumble upon a kernel of truth – a single aspect of God’s overarching plan for His creation. Thus, God’s status as the Maker and His action of putting Himself in His creation causes creative semi-truths to crop up even in cultures unfamiliar with the Christian gospel. Lewis mentions that in making humanity, God placed a piece of Himself in each person. A special spark exists in each person that allows him to 12
Wisps of God’s plan may alight upon the heads of cultural storytellers, inspiring them to action.
gain insights into the works of the Maker, since the spark is part of Him. This spark is one of “divine illumination,” shedding light on otherwise incomprehensible spiritual truths.4 The spark in each must be somewhat similar in nature due to each one’s origin at the source: God. The truth of their similarity can be found in the existence of the Moral Law. This Law is normative, not absolute: in other words, it depends on rules that should govern behavior instead of rules that inevitably do.5 It seems to be a natural conclusion that different norms of behavior might develop in different cultures. However, this is not the case. The Moral Law arises to some extent in every culture.6 Though it plays out somewhat differently for each - Lewis gives the example of monogamy versus polygamy - the general idea remains the same – a man may not have any woman he desires at any time he desires her.7 The Moral Law, similar across time and space, is evidence of God’s nature placed within each person. If there is a piece of each that is the same as the corresponding piece of everyone else, it would make sense that similar norms would arise. There is, then, a piece of each man that is connected spiritually to God, and which proves to be similar – just as God’s nature is constant – across people groups and time periods. Lewis also explains that similar connections to God – similar pieces of Him – would logically lead to similar discoveries. While Christians possess a deeper, more complete understanding of God and His plan since they have knowledge of the true myth of Christ, it is nonetheless possible that non-Christian peoples may accidentally stumble upon hints of God’s truths and, unconsciously recognizing their legitimacy, flesh them out into myths.8 The innate God-connection within all people allows everyone to function to some degree in the spiritual realm. Wisps of God’s plan may alight upon the heads of cultural storytellers, inspiring them to action. If God has a master plan for the universe, and every person has some line of connection to His ways, it would logically follow that even people naïve to the reality of God’s ways would occasionally gain vague insights into that Plan. These insight, while not solid knowledge of the Plan itself, could be deemed “premonitions” of the plan; whispers of an event to come.9 The God-connection could also allow God to directly influence people and their stories, Lewis argues. God is expressive and creative, as evidenced by the complexity of His creation. Since the universe tends toward His Plan to send Christ, Lewis maintains that God expresses Himself through Pagan religions. He does this by placing images and ideas in the heads of Pagan poets in 13
Jesus was the reality foreshadowed by ancient myth.
the knowledge that these impetuses would be used to develop myths.10 In this way, God expresses Himself and His plan indirectly. It was not until Christ’s birth that God broke from manmade myth and placed Himself in human reality. He was then able to express Himself completely in the form of true myth – stories that truly occurred.11 The difference is the expressive medium: without Christ, God expresses Himself through wisps of thoughts and dreams which relate to His Plan; through Christ, God expressed Himself through earthly words and concrete demonstrations. It is man’s innate connection with God that allows men to grasp Heavenly concepts and allows God to place thoughts of expression in men’s minds. Myths of pagan traditions, then, touch on truth but do not fully encapsulate it. What conclusions can come from this point, then? What is the finished nature of the puzzle that Lewis has built? Lewis concludes that Jesus is the embodiment of all previous myths, and that this “Myth become Fact” has established the similarity between Christianity and Pagan myth, demonstrated the fact of Christ’s existence, and used Christian thought processes to account for competing worldviews. Christianity’s ability to connect and explain a variety of cultural phenomena is enough for Lewis: he concludes that because all phenomena explored in his work can be explained using his reasoning, then it necessarily follows that Jesus was the reality foreshadowed by ancient myth. All vague concepts – all loose interpretations of possibility – become concrete in the truth of Christ.12 All aspects of myth draw to the brief period of Christ’s life, to the time when God Himself directly addressed His Creation via Christ. Christ’s existence is as incomprehensible as magic in Pagan myth, is historically verifiable through ancient documents, and is the culmination and the expression of all previous myths. His life draws all key aspects of myth into His true myth – that of His physical existence on Earth. Lewis’s argument thus far holds together well if Jesus is God incarnate. Unfortunately, there is no argument as such in the “Myth become Fact” explanation. This seeming hole in his logic is not a problem for Lewis. One need only turn to Mere Christianity for a thorough view of Christianity and its doctrines – including the divinity of Jesus. Lewis’s “Mad, Bad, or God” argument fleshes out a potential hole made by his inattention to Jesus’s divinity. In the “Mad, Bad, or God” argument, Lewis presents the choice that each person must make regarding Christ. If Jesus is God, then all that Lewis has explained is true, and Jesus, since He existed, must be God incarnate. 14
The only option remaining, if he genuinely proclaims himself as God and is neither crazy nor lying, is that the man truly is God.
Lewis looks to Jesus’s claims in order to close the argument for Jesus’s divinity. In the Gospels, Jesus often claims that He forgives sins – wrongdoings against God and others. In so doing, He subtly claims to be God, for who could forgive one’s offense against another unless that offense personally affected the forgiving party?13 The only Person hurt by all offenses is God, as each offense directly violates His commandments.14 Jesus, then, claimed to be God. When a man genuinely believes – or at least consistently and thoroughly claims – that he is God, there are three possible conclusions. The first conclusion is that the man is crazy.15 Any man who completely and consistently believes himself to be something he is not – such as a gardener who believes himself an astronaut or the King of Spain – would be classified as mentally unstable. Though some profundities may arise from such a brain, one should not accept them as anything more than random talk based on unsteady grounds. The second possible conclusion is that the man is a devil.16 If the man making such claims is neither crazy nor correct, then he must be lying. The only conclusion to be drawn in this case is that one must respond in complete rejection, since a person so intent on acting as God – pulling strings and making commands as He does – can have no good intentions at heart. In fact, the intentions must be of the utmost horror. The man, therefore, should rightly be distrusted. The only option remaining, if he genuinely proclaims himself as God and is neither crazy nor lying, is that the man truly is God. In this case, an appropriate response would be to prostrate oneself before Him.17 In this way, by showing and describing the options of classification for Jesus, Lewis pushes the reader to a conclusion about Him. No longer available is the comfortable classification of “good moral teacher” – a good moral teacher would not claim to be God as Christ did.18 This final claim is controversial. Many people enjoy the comfortable ability to pick and choose which of Christ’s teachings to apply to their own lives, and this is an option only available when Jesus’ claims of divinity are dismissed. However, Lewis hopes that the reader is drawn rationally to the conclusion that Jesus must be God. It is not the guaranteed conclusion, but Lewis believes it the most logical. Thus, he has accounted for the hole left by his lack of argument surrounding Jesus’ divinity. Jesus must be God Incarnate, so the remainder of Lewis’s arguments are maintained. The argument of “Myth become Fact” allows C.S. Lewis to account for the existence of world-religious beliefs while supporting the divinity of Jesus. He acknowledges a sense of mystery that surrounds world religions 15
and Christianity, notes Christ’s historicity, accounts for similarities to other religions, and comes to the conclusion that Jesus was the embodiment of what had previously been only fleeting ideas. While the argument leaves a gaping hole in the proof of Jesus’s divinity, this hole is fixed when one takes into account a large portion of Lewis’s other work – especially Mere Christianity. “Myth become Fact,” when paired with other theological arguments by Lewis, creates an understandable and convincing argument for the divinity of Christ in light of other religious beliefs. It is a cohesive, clear, and captivating argument that is very convincing to any reader. Becky Bowman Saunders ‘16 is a physics and dance major from Lakeville, MN.
(Endnotes) 1 C.S. Lewis “C.S. Lewis Letters 1930’s (Selected),” The Inklings, 3 October 2014 <http://cslewisjrrtolkien.classicalautographs.com/ cslewis/bookexcerpts/letters1930s.html>. 2 C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2001), 128. 3 Ibid, 128. 4 Ibid, 127. 5 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (London: harper Colins, 2001) 2.0 6 Ibid, 5. 7 Ibit, 6. 8 Lewis, Weight, 127. 9 Ibid, 129. 10 Lewis, Letter to Greeves. 11 Ibid. 12 Lewis, Weight, 130. 13 Lewis, Christianity, 51. 14 Ibid, 52. 15 Ibid, 52. 16 Ibid, 52. 17 Ibid, 52. 18 Ibid, 52.
The Theodicy of C.S. Lewis BR IA N K L E I N
The presence of evil in the world is one of the primary issues that appear to contradict Christianityâ€™s belief in a perfect, all-powerful God. As a result, C.S. Lewis attempts to develop an argument in Mere Christianity to defend the goodness and omnipotence of God against the corruption of the world. Lewis argues that God allows free will, and thus the possibility for evil, out of a desire to create the
“ Free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.”
best world possible. Additionally, Lewis asserts that this justification of evil as a necessary consequence of free will defends the perfection of God with regard to both human cruelty and other forms of evil such as natural disasters. Lewis asserts that a world with free will would be a better creation than a world without it, and that as a result God had to permit autonomous will for humans. Lewis first appeals to the readers’ personal experiences by drawing an analogy between God and a mother who tells her children that they should clean up after themselves. The mother wants her children to learn self-sufficiency so that they can become the best possible versions of themselves. However, when she inspects the room that night, she finds that the children have not cleaned and that the room is still a mess. In allowing the children the opportunity to learn those self-governing skills, she also ran the risk that the cleaning would never be done and that the children would learn nothing.1 Lewis goes on to argue that God desires what is best for humans, and thus He operates in a similar fashion to the mother. Lewis states that “It is probably the same in the universe. God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go either wrong or right.” 2 Lewis believes that God allows humans the choice to follow His will or to turn away from it because that ability to choose is the only way for humans to achieve the highest possible happiness. Lewis asserts that “free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.”3 He goes on to state that “a world of automata-of creatures that worked like machines-would hardly be worth creating”.4 With these two quotations Lewis argues that there is a distinction between love freely given and love that is compelled. Essentially, since voluntary love is the only type of love “worth having” Lewis implies that forced love is not love at all. As a result, even though free will enables humans to choose evil rather than God, Lewis believes that the potential benefits of one human’s voluntary love outweigh the possible benefits of required obedience from all humans. Therefore, God allows humans the choice to be “united with Him” or to choose evil, because only that choice can create the best possible world. However, one might object that this worldview raises significant issues with the benevolence of God, as it implies that free choice enables many individuals to choose against God, and thus not reach eternal salvation. Lewis would first respond with his earlier argument that a freely chosen love is the
only true love. If God had forced complete obedience it would not give humans the opportunity to achieve the greatest possible existence through love. Therefore, God is justified in allowing humans the freedom to choose against salvation, because the value of some humans voluntarily loving God outweighs the benefits of requiring total conformity to His will, even if some humans elect to not follow Him. In order to prove this point more fully, Lewis would likely appeal again to the reader’s personal experiences: would the reader prefer friends who voluntarily loved him, or would he rather have “friends” that he had to force “love” from? Naturally, the reader would desire authentic friends rather than a contrived imitation of affection, and thus there is greater benefit from voluntary love. Additionally, Lewis would argue that this division in the quality of love is only a partial justification for free will, since humans are unable to fully understand the eternal plan which God has in store for us. As temporal beings, we cannot comprehend all of the divine reasons for allowing free will and the possibility of evil, because God plans on an eternal scale for all of Creation. Therefore, the reader cannot fully assess the justice of enabling some to choose against salvation, because the reader cannot possibly conceptualize all of God’s reasons. It is realistic to expect such an argument from Lewis, as he uses a similar justification for the existence of miracles in the world.5 The reader can thus gain a glimpse into the underlying logic of God’s decision to give humans free will, but should know that since humans cannot conceptualize God’s eternal plan, there are likely further reasons to justify the apparent contradiction of God’s desire for humans to join Him and the human ability to choose against that salvation. A further objection to this worldview might argue that Dualism can better explain the presence of evil than belief in freedom of the will can. Dualism asserts that there are two independent Good and Bad Powers in the universe, with the former enjoying love and mercy and the latter preferring hatred and cruelty. These two Powers eternally fight against each other, and thus evil comes to exist in the universe through the Bad Power’s efforts. Lewis argues, “If Dualism is true, then the Bad Power must be a being who likes badness for its own sake.”6 Essentially, Lewis believes that if the Bad Power is truly independent from the Good, it must desire evil things simply because they are evil. He then disproves this conception of badness with the Augustinian notion that God created the world ex nihilo, or “from nothing.” As a result, evil is simply a perversion of the good, and “badness consists in
A freely chosen love is the only true love.
God designed the human machine to run on Himself.
pursuing [good] by the wrong method, or in the wrong way, or too much.” Therefore, it is impossible to be bad purely for the sake of badness, because all bad actions are done in a misguided attempt to obtain good things. Lewis demonstrates this point by stating, “No one ever did a cruel action simply because cruelty is wrong - only because cruelty was pleasant or useful to him.”8 Since “pleasant” and “useful” are good things, the Bad Power’s goals are reliant on the Good Power. Therefore, Dualism cannot be true because the Bad Power cannot independently cause evil in the world. Lewis thus proves that an autonomous, perfect God is the only feasible explanation for the existence of cruelty in the world. Even if one accepts that free will and God are the only available justification of evil, one could still argue that God is flawed for empowering humans to become so cruel when they choose against Him. Lewis would again respond with Augustine’s argument that evil is simply a privation of the good. Lewis argues that if God creates a capacity for good, there will necessarily be a corresponding ability for evil: “The better stuff a creature is made of-the cleverer and stronger and freer it is-then the better it will be if it goes right, but also the worse it will be if it goes wrong.”9 Lewis essentially argues that in order to create a large upper limit on human capacity for good, God also had to allow for an equally small limit on the human capacity for evil. An example to clarify this point is Mahatma Gandhi and Adolf Hitler. They were each equipped with an incredible ability to motivate, influence, and organize others for their respective causes. However, Gandhi elected to use his skills to promote peace and societal change, while Hitler embraced a mission of hatred and genocide. Thus, while both had the opportunity to achieve greatness in service to God, Hitler chose instead to use his skills to pursue a perversion of the good. This example illustrates Lewis’s point that God must equip all humans with a strong skillset to enable great achievements, but that humans can choose whether to use these abilities to accomplish good or evil. One could argue that this free choice will result in approximately half the population choosing against God, and that He thus does not truly desire for all humans to join with Him through love. Lewis would respond that his worldview is not simply a zero-sum game with equal numbers embracing good and others choosing evil. He believes that “God designed the human machine to run on Himself,” just like a car runs on gas, and that when man attempts to find other 22
sources of satisfaction, it only results in poverty and depression.10 Humans are thus built with an incentive to seek God. As a result, while He necessarily must create the possibility for great evil in order to allow for the greatest possible good, he also “tips the scales” in favor of good by creating humans with a desire to be united with Him. Therefore, the human capacity for wickedness-which comes as a consequence of the ability to attain greatness-cannot be used to question God’s perfection and desire for the good because He limits the possibility of evil by dis-incentivizing it. This explanation of injustice in the world serves very well to reconcile the existence of a perfect God with evils committed between humans, but one could object that it fails with regard to other types of evil. Lewis argues that any cruelty inflicted by humans upon other humans is simply a privation of the good, and thus a necessary consequence of God’s intent to create the best world possible. However, Lewis’s rational defense of God weakens when one considers the evil of natural disasters such as illness, famine, tornadoes and others. There does not appear to be an immediate relationship between these calamities and the free will to choose greatness or the corresponding evil. Lewis would respond that the Devil causes these catastrophes for the purposes of thwarting the human quest for goodness. Furthermore, Lewis believes the Devil freely fell because he deliberately chose to challenge God out of pride, and thus the existence of the Devil is a consequence of God’s decision to allow free will. This response offers an explanation for natural disasters within the framework of Lewis’s original argument that free will necessitates the possibility of wickedness. While it is clear that the Devil came about as a result of this potential for evil, this account may leave readers unsatisfied since it is difficult to see exactly how the Devil would cause storms or illnesses in the world. However, Lewis would likely borrow from his argument in Miracles that it is possible for purely spiritual beings such as the Devil to introduce new physical events into nature, such as hurricanes. Lewis thus asserts that the Devil causes the evil of natural disasters as a form of opposition to God, and as a result Lewis’s justification of cruelty in the world accounts for both human and natural evil. Lewis’s defense of God’s goodness in the presence of evil rests heavily upon the belief that love given out of free will is more valuable than love given out of forced obedience. Although this view is compatible with most individuals’ personal experiences, if one believed that there was no distinc23
tion between the love gained by the two, Lewis’s account loses much of its validity. However, provided that one accepts this presupposition, Lewis convincingly argues that humans must have free will in order to achieve greatness through love, and that this opportunity to choose good is necessarily accompanied by the presence of evil. While this Augustinian notion of evil as a privation of good explains cruelty in human relationships very well, it is not as successful in justifying God’s perfection in the face of natural disasters. However, Lewis’ argument from Miracles that spiritual beings can interfere with the physical world is sufficient to counter this argument, and Lewis thus develops a comprehensive justification of God’s perfection and omnipotence. Brian Klein ‘16 is an economics major from Wells, MN.
(Endnotes) 1 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (New York: HarperCollins, 1952), 47. 2 Ibid, 47. 3 Ibid, 47-48. 4 Ibid, 48. 5 C.S. Lewis, Miracles, (385-389) 6 Lewis, Christianity, 43. 7 Ibid, 44. 8 Ibid, 45. 9 Ibid, 48. 10 Ibid, 49.
Review: “ The Global War on Christians” PA U L E S C H E R According to estimates by religious demographers David Barrett and Todd Johnson, 45 million Christians were martyred for their faith in 20th century.1 In the present day, the International Society for Human Rights estimates that 80% of all acts of religious persecution are perpetrated against Christians.2 On this day alone, somewhere between 20 and 250 Christians will be killed as a result of their beliefs.3 Despite these jarring figures, there is relatively little general awareness or media coverage of anti-Christian persecution. In response to this unfamiliarity and silence, John L. Allen, Jr., Associate Editor of the Boston Globe and a longtime observer of issues involving Christianity and the Catholic Church, writes his book, The Global War on Christians, to “tell the stories” of persecuted Christians and to “debunk the myths that too often surround it,” and raise public consciousness about this issue often hidden from our eyes.4 Surveying the globe continent by continent, Allen relates the horrific, saddening, and often infuriating personal stories of persecuted Christians as well as alarming statistics from different regions. They are too numerous to reproduce here, but a sampling will give readers an idea of the magnitude of the storm buffeting Christians around the world today. In Nigeria, the terrorist group Boko Haram attacked Christian churches and homes during the Christmas season each year from 2010 to 2012, resulting in numerous deaths and property loss.5 Asia sees the repressive regimes of China and North Korea imprisoning millions of Christians. China prevents worship of Christians if not approved beforehand, and demands the right to control 26
selections for episcopal appointments in Catholic dioceses, imprisoning bishops like Thaddeus Ma Daqin who dare to speak out against such oppression.6 Fully a quarter of North Korean Christians are jailed in prison camps.7 The Middle East is also a powder keg for Christians. Christians in the Syrian city of Qusayr received an ultimatum to flee within six days or risk unnamed punishment, a scene that has played out in other areas as well.8 Iraqi Christians in the city of Mosul were forced to flee when members of ISIS marked their homes with letters denoting that Christians lived there, making them targets for future assaults. This overview serves as only a snapshot of the persecution seen by Christians all over the globe. Allen’s account was published just before ISIS gained more widespread fame for their brutal beheadings of persons caught in their wake, many of whom are Christians who refuse to convert to their radical version of Islam, a development which underscores the urgency of Allen’s concerns. Christians are not safe even in places where they constitute the majority of the population. The evangelical group Rescue Christians reports that “25 to 30 Colombian pastors are murdered by armed groups every year” and that hundreds of churches have been closed by such groups.9 Mexican clergy and laity who stand up to drug cartels and government corruption are targeted for retribution. For example, journalist Maria Elizabeth Macías Castro, who used her blog to criticize the Zetas drug cartel, was kidnapped and decapitated in Nuevo Laredo. Fr. Francisco Sánchez Durán was killed near Mexico City for criticizing thieves who targeted local families and businesses.10 Despite being in a country where over 90% are Christian, the preaching of 27
Christian justice is not a safe occupation. Eastern Europeans also experience repression at the hands of Muslim radicals in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as authoritarian governments in Ukraine and Russia, among others.11 These examples lay bare the reality of Christian persecution even in majority Christian nations, and cast aside the stereotypical belief that persecution is only a problem for minority Christians in Muslim-majority states. Allen further examines the reasons why Christians are disproportionately targeted for persecution, as well as recent trends of growth in repression and violence. Besides being the largest religion in the world, Christianity is also undergoing extraordinary growth around the globe, leading to tension with existing religious majorities or, in some cases, nationalist factions who feel Christianity is “western.” Further, Allen contends, Christians are often some of the most outspoken critics of corruption, and are “advocates for human rights and democracy,” which threatens authoritarian figures.12 This often places Christians in the crosshairs, as was seen in the cases of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, killed for helping in the plot to assassinate Hitler, and Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, assassinated because of his criticism of corruption within the government and human rights violations by the military. Far from stagnating in recent years, Allen notes that anti-Christian persecution has risen dramatically in the last century and even the last decade. Of all Christian martyrs (about 70 million) since the life of Christ, over half were killed in the 20th century alone.13 In some areas, the explicit violence grows exponentially. Allen cites analysis by the National
Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism estimating that “explicit” attacks on Christians in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East grew by 309% in only seven years (2003-2010).14 Persecution, it seems, is not slowing down at all, but is increasing in frequency. Given these dramatic personal accounts and eye-opening statistics, Allen wonders why there is relatively limited discussion or awareness of the plight of Christians on the part of believers and secularists alike. Allen contends that silence of secular media outlets towards the alarming amount of violence and persecution directed towards Christians is due to people being conditioned to see Christianity as the perpetrator of oppression, not as its recipient.15 It is unpopular to challenge this stereotype in the media, so even if a media outlet recognizes anti-Christian persecution at home or abroad, they may not report on it. Furthermore, Christians in the West are sensitive to political correctness, and don’t wish to offend these common views, or appear to be laying blame on another religious or ethnic group, further hindering news outlets from drawing attention to this serious issue. Allen further examines the various stereotypes surrounding the persecution of Christians. Of particular interest is the idea that Islam is the only force against Christians; Allen lays out how many groups, including Buddhists, Hindus, and even rival Christian factions can become radicalized and support violence against Christians and other minorities. Totalitarian states and crime syndicates are also major contributors. In short, Islam is not the only source of persecution for Christians. Allen similarly quashes the misconception that martyrdom is a politically liberal or conservative issue. Both sides of the political spectrum have their martyrs. Oscar Romero supported justice for the
poor and espoused economic views that clashed with the conservative interests of the ruling powers. Countless believers have been similarly slain by liberal communist governments like those in the Soviet Union or in China. It is a mistake to make such a basic human rights issue as religious freedom about political views. A final notion treated by Allen in his attempt to correct mistaken stereotypes is the idea that harassment is only persecution if the motives of its perpetrators are religious in nature. Allen revolutionizes the discussion surrounding the rising tide of maltreatment of Christians by attempting to broaden the concept of what it means to suffer repression that is specifically anti-Christian. Allen argues that we must not only take into account the motives of the perpetrator, which may be religious or may instead be related to political power or finances, but also the reasons a victim was placed in a situation that they could be harassed or attacked. Christians harassed because of some stance they take based on their Christian convictions are victims of anti-Christian persecution, even if the perpetrator does not consciously think of it that way.16 Thus for Allen, for persecution to be anti-Christian, it does not need to be undertaken in odium fidei as traditionally understood. Thus, for instance, a Christian who is killed for opposing a drug cartel (opposition driven explicitly by their Christian values) now “counts” as a martyr—another victim in the global war on Christians. Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Oscar Romero, who were cited earlier, could not strictly speaking be called martyrs under old definitions that only focus on perpetrators’ motives. However, it is clear that while their murderers did not kill them by virtue of their being Christians, Romero and Bonhoeffer would not have been killed had they not been Christians. While
Allen’s expanded definition of “anti-Christian” serves such cases as these well, it also encounters problems. For instance, in relating the story of Eric de Putter, a French missionary and professor serving for two years in Cameroon who was killed after he accused a student of plagiarism, marring the student’s pursuit of a Ph.D. Allen contends that this is a case of martyrdom, since de Putter’s presence in Cameroon was dependent on, and his and actions were perhaps motivated by, his Christian beliefs. However, such reasoning seems to stretch the truth. Surely de Putter was a man of faith, but to term his or other similar acts of violence anti-Christian persecution seems like an attempt to inflate numbers, something Allen certainly doesn’t need to do given the astounding frequency of other more explicit attacks. His intention of showing the scope of the struggle of Christians here veers a bit off course. Another area of tension comes when Allen tries to draw a line between the more violent persecutions of Africa, Asia, the Middle East and South America, and the more subtle ones in the United States and Europe, such as the Obama administration’s much-maligned weak conscience clauses in requiring contraception and abortifacient coverage by religious employers. Allen’s desire to distinguish between mild and serious forms of persecution is well intentioned. He states that he doesn’t want the humanitarian plight of Christians in other parts of the world, whose deaths and persecutions ought to be readily condemned by anyone as violations of basic human rights, to become trapped in the quagmire of western liberal/conservative politics. Indeed, Allen says, these issues are not of the right or the left: they are of humanity. However, Allen’s tone ends up coming across as dismissive of the difficulties of conscience faced by western Christians, even if these difficulties pale in comparison to the horrors
endured by others around the globe, which distracts from his central argument. These criticisms aside, Allen clearly accomplishes his primary objective in writing The Global War on Christians. Ignorance of the struggles faced by Christians in modern times allows violence and harassment to continue. Allen’s exhaustive presentation of relevant numerical summaries gives readers a vivid sense of the scale of persecution faced by Christians in the world. The innumerable personal testimonies Allen documents give a face to these statistics, and galvanize readers to reflect upon and share the horrific suffering about which they have learned. The realization that persecution still happens on a larger scale is an important one for 21st-century Christians. Understanding the plight of Christians abroad helps the Christian Church as a whole attempt to address their needs, as well as to defend fiercely against the spread of violence through awareness and social action. Allen recalls toward the end of the book that he asked a group of Syrian Christian refugees what can be done to help embattled Christians worldwide. “The most common response,” he relates, was simply: “Don’t forget about us.”17 Allen’s account of the suffering of Christians is an outstanding response to that request. I would like to express my thanks to Dr. Edmund Santurri for suggesting that I write about this pressing topic. Paul Escher ‘16 majors in religion and biology, and is from La Crosse, WI. [Endnotes] 1 Allan, John L. Jr. The Global War on Christians: the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution. New York: Random House, 2013, 33. 2 Ibid., 33 3 Ibid., 42-45 4 Ibid., 22 5 Ibid., 59 6 Ibid., 71 7 Ibid., 84 8 Ibid., 144
Ibid., 100 Ibid., 106 Ibid., 157 12 Ibid., 38-39 13 Ibid., 33 14 Ibid., 36 15 Ibid., 15 16 Ibid., 216-217 17 Ibid., 283 9
For the Good of All Creation: A Christian Ecological Ethic N IC O L E N EW E L L
If you look closely enough, you will noticeâ€”between the newly green blades of grass in the quadâ€”tiny maple seedlings. Thousands of them. The seeds fall from giant maples and germinate in the ground. Walk through the Norway Valley forest, and you will see even more seedlings. Here, some may grow up tall and strong, depending on the light and nutrients available. Most, if not all the seedlings, will die in their first few years. And yet, every year, the trees produce an abundance of potential life in their tiny winged offspring. In the seedlings, I see the exuberant fecundity of life on this planet we call Earth. In his book Earth Honoring Faith, ethicist and St. Olaf regent Larry Rasmussen argues that Christianity and other religious traditions have particular power in developing ecological ethics because of their sense of reverence for the sacred. On the other hand, Christianity has been accused of being at the root of a paradigm of human dominion and exploitation of the earth. While this interpretation does hold true in at various points in history, it misrepresents Christian thought and tradition, at the heart of which lies a call to be in right relationship with Creator and creation. Christianity can be a rich resource for people in finding beliefs that underscore care for creation, and can also exhort those who do not care for creation to do so. In this article, I affirm dimensions within the Christian tradition that turn us toward ecological justice, I argue for the mobilization of the church and other institutions as communities that can help link belief and practice, and I develop a teleological ethic for all creation, based in character for humans. What we profess and believe ought to align with our practices and way of living in the world. For me, this means engaging with my beliefs and the reality of the world to practice reverence and respect for creation. God wants us to be in right relationship to creation, of which we are a part. But how do we live ethically in this complex, globalized world? Are My Hands Clean? For a week last semester, I wore the same outfit everyday along with members of my ethics class. My classmates and I had just taken inventories of our dorm rooms, where I found most of my stuff to be outsourced from second and third world countries. We wore the same clothing each day as an experiment, using embodied practices to explore ethical questions about how much we need
and how much the stuff we have defines our social identities. Our society places a high value on appearances and clothing as markers of class, ethnic, and social identity. Social scientists call this conspicuous consumption, consumption that goes beyond the functional value of a product to the identities and status conferred through it. Yet despite these cultural norms, not a single person noticed my repetitive wardrobe, not even my roommates. The singing group Sweet Honey in the Rock follows the production of a blouse from cotton fields in El Salvador to oil rigs in the Caribbean Sea to a Sears department store where the blouse is on sale for twenty-percent discount. Crooning the final line, they ask, “are my hands clean?” When we stop to look at the systems behind the production of things we use, we start to realize the moral complexity of the choices we make every day at the electronic store, the grocery store, and the shopping mall. As consumers, we are implicated in the injustices at various levels in this elaborate and complex system. We are all in a morally ambiguous gray zone induced by global capitalism, which separates product from the means and place of production. Disproportionate consumption by a well-off minority “goes hand in hand with desperate poverty for starving millions. Economists estimate that 25% of earth’s people in the affluent nations annually use roughly 75% of the world’s resources.”1 Are we ethically and morally responsible for the injustice, exploitation, and ecological devastation that occur outside of our own awareness or control but as a result of summed individual actions? The Extent of Ecological Crisis Clothing is just one example of a present day consumption habit that wreaks havoc on the ecosystems of our globe, from the rainforest to the arctic ice stores. Anthropogenic species extinction and climate change threatens the beauty, dynamism, and diversity of Earth, our home. In the history of Earth, there have been six mass extinctions, the last of which has been going on at the hands of homo sapiens – Latin for ‘wise humans.’ In this latest mass extinction, ecologists estimate that “more than 200,000 generations of humankind will have to live and die before levels of biodiversity comparable to those we inherited at the start of the twentieth century.”2 Not only are water sources and oceans across the globe polluted and
rainforests being cleared for exotic lumber and farmland under our watch, but our atmosphere is changing too. Arctic ice loss since 2007 is far above the predictions of climate models, even that of the IPCC.3 Further ice loss will release unknown quantities of methane—which has a warming effect seven times stronger than CO2—locked beneath the Arctic Ocean as well as cause rising sea levels, flooding port cities. Further, with raised temperatures come droughts and declines in crop productivity, contributing to collapse of lawful rule and creation of refugees and migrants.4 Modern political scientists tend to “decontextualize politics from geography, and culture from nature” and hence are more likely to read these events as the clash of civilizations than as evidence of climate change.5 A four-degree Celsius warmer planet would be drastically different; the only habitable and fertile land would be in the Northern hemisphere above the 49th parallel – the border between the US and Canada. Climate science is contested, but it is worth pausing for a moment to consider why with the help of ethicist Michael S. Northcott from the University of Edinburgh. If anthropogenic (meaning human-induced) climate change is a reality, then our present way of life and consumption of fossil fuels must drastically change. Estimates are such that though we have enough presumed coal stores to last us for the next 200 years, CO2 emissions from these stores would be devastating.6 Northcott draws out the political aspect of the science: Mitigating climate change requires dramatic, large-scale political interventions in fossil fuel extraction and marketing, and hence in the energy systems and behaviors that these fuels sustain. But these systems and behaviors are so intrinsic to industrial civilisation and modern consumerism that radical reform without a real and present climate catastrophe lacks popular support, and hence influential advocacy, in most political domains.7
For Northcott, climate science is political because it runs directly counter to the modern story of human control over nature and implies that to live within planetary constraints we must collectively regulate consumption.8 But he argues that it is also theological because it points to the error of human ways and indicates imminent judgment on human dominion. Anthropogenic species extinction and climate science beg us to consider how our lifestyles affect the world of which we are a part. Ecological crisis, whether as dramatic as some predict or not, means we must reconsider the be-
liefs implicit in a system that exploits humans, creatures, and natural resources. But I hope that in doing so, we find that, with or without a crisis spurring us on, we would develop ethics of care and respect for the world that go beyond mitigating negative consequences to shaping our behaviors and beliefs about human nature and our relation to the world in which we live, move, and have our being. The Theology Behind the Crisis Lynn White, in a well-known 1967 Science article, indicted Christianity’s ‘dominion paradigm’ as the culprit behind environmentally degrading modern technologies viewing man as over nature and nature as ‘resource.’ White references Genesis 1:28, in which God directs humans to have dominion over the earth and its creatures. White argues that Christians, who adopted the moldboard plow in the early 7th century after Christ, have had throughout history a distinctive paradigm of man versus nature and of perpetual progress. But as Michael Northcott points out, White neglects to recognize that the Christian dominion paradigm took on new meaning and power when Francis Bacon melded the theme of human dominion with science and technology for progress that advanced human salvation, which he defined as happiness. Knowledge, for Bacon, is power over nature. However, White does see the solution for our modern ecological crisis in the religious and philosophical underpinnings of how we see the world: “human ecology is deeply conditioned by beliefs about our nature and destiny—that is, by religion.”9 We need a fundamental reshaping of human nature. In a different diagnosis of the issue, Northcott traces the modern industrial mentality driving degradation of the earth to several philosophical shifts, some of which were brought on by materials. For example, the high temperature at which coal burns allowed for the development of more precise and powerful optical technology – the telescope and the microscope – that have drastically affected our understanding of the world and the place of humans within it. Northcott also critiques mechanistic models of life and modern philosophies that involve a split between nature and culture, a divide between science and ethics, and an elevation of the rational individual leading to the disappearance of the common good. These ideas are the foundations of the modern economy and political system, which takes advantage of natural ‘resources.’ Northcott
contends the modern political economy falsely characterizes humanity and the earth, and fails to recognize that the root of the political is the ecological; in other words, the land on which we build our lives. Our entire political economy needs to be reoriented in order for us to be able to live more ethically. Another diagnosis of the roots of ecological crisis is bad theology. Rather than conflating paradigms of dominion with the core message of Christianity, theologians Sallie McFague and Jürgen Moltmann both reflect on aspects of theology that influence poor practices with respect to the earth. McFague diagnoses the problem to be models of God in the Christian tradition, which have typically focused on God as separate from nature, and therefore engendering dichotomies of God over human, human over nature, and man over woman. McFague critiques these models on account of the inequalities and oppressions that result from such dualisms. In an age of impending ecological crisis, McFague sounds the need for a different model of God that reflects that all matter and life have value. German theologian Jürgen Moltmann, in his 1984-5 Gifford lectures, similarly takes issue with bad theology (as well as bad science, which sees itself as neutral and value-free) at the root of ecologically devastating practices. In enlightenment thought, humans started to see themselves as creatures that exist through rational thought, not through bodies, passions or love. Further, when God is seen as only potential and power, uninvolved in the messiness of this world, humans become gods over a desacralized nature. Science makes us powerful, with nature as the object of humans’ power. For Moltmann, we need to retrieve Christianity’s robust theology of creation. Christians need to think critically about how to practice respect and reverence for God’s creation. But McFague and Moltmann correlate beliefs and practices almost too easily, following a logic that if beliefs change, or bad theology is corrected, better practices will follow. At least in our time, there is no such flow between beliefs and practices. Rather, there is a complex nexus of beliefs and practices influencing each other at the individual and collective level. To develop the linkages between belief and practice, we will turn to the Christian tradition to help us develop a theological and philosophical basis for ecological ethics. Resources in Christian Doctrine and Tradition Catholic nun and writer Elizabeth A. Johnson seeks to “put the natural
Christian doctrine and tradition provides a resource for reflection and an imperative for ecological action. world back on the theological map,” asking what the theological meaning of the world – for her in particular, evolution, speciation, natural selection, death – is in order to illuminate an ethic of care for species. Over the centuries, Christian thought has narrowed its interests to focus on human beings, particularly after Anselm’s satisfaction theory, which placed Jesus’ death and resurrection as redemption solely for humans.10 In the church, ecology is generally not on the agenda at all. The key obstacles, Johnson believes, are theology setting up humans as the species set apart to rule the world and the use of such theology to support our present day political economy and consumption levels. But Christianity is not an anti-ecological faith; thinkers such as Augustine, St. Francis, Julian of Norwich, and the early church fathers had robust theologies of creation. Theology must broaden its focus and reclaim the natural world. In doing so, we do not need to create a whole new theology severed from the roots of the tradition; instead we need to seek deeper into the tradition itself to find ways that it has been giving us a basis for an environmental ethic all along. Johnson sees the task of theology as seeking “to understand faith more deeply in order to live more vibrantly.”11 Johnson draws from the Christian story of God’s love and mercy in the Nicene Creed to develop a basis for ecological action. The creed is at the heart of Christian faith and tradition, itself a kind of practice as laypeople in many churches across the globe confess the creed at each mass or Sunday service. Christian doctrine and tradition provides a resource for reflection and an imperative for ecological action, as well as a corrective to those beliefs implicit in economies running on growth without acknowledgement of the ecological costs of consumption. In contrast to other religions, Christianity is historically a religion of orthodoxy – right belief. Islam, Judaism, and other religions are orthopraxis religions, focused on right practice. As such, Christianity has very few mandatory practices, and in many communities has become only about mental assent. This means we need to do some extra work in translating our beliefs into practices that work within our context. The Doctrine of Creation To begin with, we can look at the relation between God and creation. There is a distinction between the terms ‘nature’ and ‘creation’: nature is a dynamic
While humans and other creatures come in and out of existense, God is, and will never not be. but law-bound process we can scientifically study, but the word creation implies the living world in light of its relation to its Creator. The doctrine of creation in Christian thought is threefold: creatio originalis, creatio continua, and creatio nova, meaning original creation, continuing creation, and new creation. The doctrine of creation continua means that God is immanent in creation through the Spirit, Moltmann and Johnson both argue. In the creed, Christians confess the Holy Spirit as the giver of life: the Vivificantem, in Latin. The Hebrew Scriptures, in which the Hebrew word for spirit also means breath or wind, simultaneously evoke divine nearness and a sense of the ineffable: blowing wind, flowing water, blazing fire: the spirit is personified as nature. These symbols “can surround and pervade other things without losing their own character; their presence is known by the changes they bring about.”12 The breath and spirit of God is the animating force of all life. Moltmann argues for the panentheistic view that through the Holy Spirit’s animating presence as the breath of life, God is immanent in all creation. God dwells in the world through the presence of the Spirit, but God is more than the world. Johnson summarizes the beauty of panentheism well: “Rather than conflating God and the world as happens with pantheism, panentheism allows that God who dwells within also infinitely transcends the world at every point. At the same time, it honors the immanence or closeness of God.”13 Such a view imbues creation with the presence of the Creator. God enlivens all creation, in every breath we take. God is in us, but we are also in God, along with the rest of creation, by the mere fact of our existence. The links between God and creation are such that everything has being – existence and essence – but some things have less being than others. God has the most being; in fact, God is the ground of all being, being itself. While humans and other creatures come in and out of existence, God is, and will never not be. We have being because God has shared God’s being with us. In the words of Aquinas, we participate in God’s being. The same goes for other beings – animals, plants, matter – in their very existence they participate in God’s being. Participation, creation dwelling in God, is inevitable, what it means to be; but creatures still exist with their own integrity. Every created good is good by participation in the One who is good by nature. God, whose being is fundamentally relational as three ‘persons’ united in love, creates out of love and generosity in being. In an ethic guided by participation, our task is to commu-
nicate love through our actions, because this is what God does.14 Therefore, relationships are not about power or even our idea of perfection, but indwelling, sympathizing, and mutuality. Related to participation is Johnson’s understanding of the doctrine of creation, which implies a community paradigm for all those created by God as a counterpoint to the dominion paradigm critiqued by Lynn White and other thinkers. The primary evolutionary insight is that we are all a community, intimately interrelated in our development and existence. For those Christians who do not accept evolution as demonstrated, present day ecology voices a similar message of interdependence and interrelatedness among species and ecosystems through the cycling of nutrients. Sallie McFague suggests that in our formation and education as humans, “we forget that our own lives as well as the ongoing life of our species depend also on living on top of, in between, and inside other forms of life on our planet.”15 Furthering this insight of evolution and ecology, the biblical vision of creation reminds us of our contingency and relation to creation. God answers Job out of the whirlwind: “where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?”16 In Psalm 104, the psalmist lays out the species in their beauty and speaks of humans as part of the whole God created. In these scriptural passages, humans and other creatures as finite, dependent on God. Simply being is an act of praise in Psalm 148, and everything praises God in its own way: rivers rush, fish swim, ants march. These passages do not perpetuate an anthropocentric view of dominion that places humans above creation; rather, they present us with a theocentric view of God above all created things, which have their being by and through God. The divine indwelling of the Holy Spirit in creation, participation of creation in God’s being, and the community paradigm affect our understanding of divine presence and the natural world. God is intimately and profoundly present, and the natural world continuously participates in the livingness of divine being. Therefore, goodness is encountered not merely in looking past creation to its source, but in creation itself by celebrating each creature’s uniqueness and value. While goodness in God is simple and uniform, in creatures it is diverse and manifold. Biodiversity manifests the goodness of God. Such a view of God dwelling in creation also makes Earth a kind of sacrament. In the church, a sacrament is a material sign that signifies God’s presence in the world. The physical
God is intimately and profoundly present, and the natural world participates in the livingness of divine being. 41
and the spiritual are intertwined in materials things blessed by the church, such as bread, wine, sexual union in marriage, water, oil. In Johnson’s words, “Instead of being distant from what is holy, the natural world bears the mark of the sacred, being itself imbued with a spiritual presence.”17 Moltmann also develops a view of earth as sacrament, a kind of cosmic liturgy in which we can recognize God as creator and sustainer. God Incarnate and the Christic Paradigm Central and unique to the Christian narrative is the person of Jesus Christ, God-with-us. Christ is not just another sign of God in the world, but actually is God in the flesh. In the centuries after Christ and even today, varying positions regarding Jesus’ humanity and divinity existed. For example, in the docetic position, Christ only appeared to be human, but was actually God. This view stems from Hellenistic elevation of the spirit over matter.18 But the gospel of John tells us a different story. Read every Christmas day, John 1:14 expresses what would later be called the doctrine of incarnation, “the belief that the living God who is utterly beyond comprehension has joined the flesh of the earth in one particular human being of one time and place.”19 “And the word became flesh and lived among us.” The text does not say that God became a human being (Gk. anthropos) or a man (Gk. aner), but flesh (Gk. sarx). Sarx refers to a broader reality of embodiment shared between humans and animals. God becoming flesh would have been shocking to the average Greek, yet this is what John writes. Johnson argues that in becoming flesh, the carpenter Jew from Nazareth not only becomes human, but reaches down to the very tissue and matter of biological life. To be human means more than just having a body and mind; it is also to be fundamentally related to the rest of creation. In Jesus, God “became a creature of Earth, a complex unit of minerals and fluids, an item in the carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen cycles.”20 The atoms comprising his body were once part of other creatures, and his genetic structure was similar to flowers, fish, and horses. Through Christ, matter has been touched by God. This is deep incarnation: sarx weds Jesus to other human beings but also to the whole biological world and the materials of which it is composed. Deep incarnation also provides a basis for redemption for all creation, supported in the language of Colossians 1:20: Christ
reconciles God to all things, whether on earth or in heaven. Creation, too, is to be saved and glorified. Sallie McFague offers further insights for developing an ecological ethic based on Jesus’ life and works through what she calls the ‘Christic Paradigm.’ The Christic paradigm deconstructs our normalcy, hierarchy, and anthropocentrism; reconstructs through healing stories that deal with physical bodies in pain; and gives us hope for the future exemplified by the inclusive eating stories of Christ.21 Christ reveals God reaching out to the poor and the oppressed, concerned first and foremost with bodily needs in healing and eating. Through Christ, we see that physical bodies, not only those that are beautiful, but also those that are diseased, violated, or dying, matter to God. Though later Christian tradition interpreted Christ primarily as spiritual savior and saw bodiliness opposed to the divine, Christ himself “used his own spittle and warm touch to convey health.”22 In our world, McFague identifies nature as the ‘new poor’ whom Christians are called to include and protect.23 Jesus sees not in an arrogant, objectifying way akin to modern industrial appropriation of resources, but with a loving eye, teaching us also to pay “patient, careful attention to the particularity of the other in a non-sentimental, vitally interested way that reverences its reality.”24 A wanderer with few possessions, Jesus lived a sacrificial life concerned with the outcasts of society and not his own reputation. In these ways, the life of Christ provides us with beautiful and challenging practices to enact in our own context. But Christ is not only an example for us in living out ethical practices. One obstacle we encounter in changing our individual actions is desire. Going back to the ethicist Michael Northcott, even if we see the earth as intrinsically valuable, our desire will prevent us from making the lifestyle and political changes we know we should. Our choices are always limited because we are guilty of sin. Drawing from St. Augustine, Northcott argues that the only way to overcome our tendency to sin is to look to God in Christ as the redeemer, reformer, and ultimate satisfaction of desire. For McFague, Christ is an example and happens to be our best example, whereas for Northcott, Christ is the organizing principle of our lives, and if we miss this, our desires remain messed up. Here we see how the two different approaches to the relevancy of the Christian narrative for ecological ethics play out differently in directing how we ought to live. The trans-
formation of the mind and heart cannot occur fully without God’s direction and without us turning our eyes not only to the outcasts, but to God. Ultimately, God’s love is what empowers us to love others. To conclude this section, I turn again to Catholic thinker Elizabeth Johnson and her discussion of a ‘conversion to the earth.’ To repent literally means ‘to turn,’ in Greek, metanoia. At my Northfield church, our pastor recently gave a children’s sermon on repentance. She played follow the leader, periodically exclaiming, ‘repent!’ And everyone turned around. Johnson speaks of conversion to the earth as just such a turning. God calls us to turn from lifestyles of consumption that perpetuate inequality and destroy living systems. Such theological awakening and commitments to the goodness and value of creation should transform us to new thought patterns, and new lifestyles.25 Intellectually, we must move from an anthropocentric view to a theocentric view and let go of philosophical dualisms that prize sprit over body. We also need to recognize our culpability in the state of the earth, however small or large that may be, and work to correct it: Ecological degradation is not just one more issue to be addressed along with the misery of racism, poverty, domestic violence, and other human ills. It embraces all these and more, insofar as our ecologically destructive actions are depleting and degrading the very condition that make human life possible at all, to say nothing of jeopardizing the rest of life in fundamental and unprecedented ways.26
In the words of Pope John Paul II, it is deep moral failure for humans to go on destroying life on earth. Such ways of life are profoundly sinful, suggesting lack of respect for life. In our day, a moral universe limited to human beings is no longer adequate.27 Since we tend not to consume with the intention of dominating the earth and harming creation, it can be difficult for us to realize our own responsibility in the larger effects of extinction and climate change. But the consequences of our actions, however distant from us in space or time, matter to God, and ought to matter to us as well. The Role of the Church and Institutions In contrast to the other thinkers cited in this paper, Michael S. Northcott
Humans and all of creation are created to simply be and to flourish in their God-given glory.
does not necessarily base his ethics in the doctrines of the church; instead, Northcott constructs a political theology that reaches back into concrete Judeo-Christian practices that recognize land as theological, created by God.28 Northcott retrieves the Judeo-Christian concept of covenant, in which there is a clear relation between God and creation based on justice. The Israelitesâ€™ possession of the land and its fertility depended on their worship of its owner, God.29 In the Christian faith, humans are stewards of an earth ultimately owned by God. God creates, and God redeems; people of God live into this redemption through the egalitarian practices such as the jubilee, the Sabbath, the Eucharist, and the Christian call to love both neighbor and stranger.30 The church, therefore, has a duty to witness to the nations the importance of restraint and care for the earth.31 We need communities such as churches and other institutions to help us link belief and practice in meaningful, fruitful, and ultimately transformative ways. In our present world, beliefs and practices are often severed from each other; we can do Hatha yoga or learn meditation without the contextual spiritual traditions that have historically been associated with them. As such, we have particular difficulty, I think, in figuring out how to live out our values when there are, 1) so many values to choose from, and 2) so many things competing for our attention. Our desires tend to be shaped by media, advertising, and peer groups, often at the subconscious level. Society shapes us, but we must remember that it is also set up by us. Communities can serve as powerful crucibles for social and personal change. While the role of the church in peopleâ€™s lives is much less encompassing and influential than in the past, the church can help form people whose faith leads them to care deeply about issues of ecological justice. Given the robust basis for an ecological ethic in the Christian tradition, the church ought to be a leader in environmental practices. Mobilization of the church, however, first requires recognition of the ways that the beliefs professed by a congregation do or do not align with their practices as a congregation. We need to examine our practices more carefully to understand whether the norms of our culture are in line with the individual and communal beliefs we hold. There is also a need, then, for church communities and leaders to engage with science as dealing with
what is real: how our lives affect the earth and its processes. For instance, we consider plastics and Styrofoam disposable when they do not biodegrade – perhaps this norm needs to be reexamined and other cups for church coffee hour sought out. We must also recognize that social change can have positive consequences but can also alienate or shame those who do not participate. I recently spent time at a place called L’Abri (‘shelter’ in French), composed of a small Christian community of people who come and go for anywhere from days to years. In my few days there, I took part in the communal effort to sustain the community – spending part of each day cooking lunch, cleaning the house, or doing laundry. While there, I used clothing from their free closet to help me stay warm in the chill of Swiss winter in the Alps. I did not even think twice about wearing the same wool sweater everyday because that community cultivated social norms of simplicity and sustainability. Such small, village-like communes are perhaps not practical on a large scale, but may offer inspiration for how institutions can be helpful to us in living ethically. With more powerful resources and purchasing power, institutions can help people be ethical both in the choices they provide and the tools they give us to think about such choices. For example, St. Olaf as an institution creates a space where some of our lifestyle choices become more ethical than they otherwise might be, with energy sourced from a windmill, dormitories that use less heat than individual houses, and cafeteria food that is sometimes locally sourced. The downside of such benefits, however, is that sustainability is sometimes chosen by St. Olaf students out of mere convenience rather than actual values for sustainability that would translate into seeking out such a lifestyle beyond our four years at St. Olaf. But such institutions can also play a part in the formation of citizens who are conscious of their environmental footprint and the moral ecology of everyday life. We Are All Ethicists Because we make choices everyday that have moral components, we are all ethicists. Most ethical theories fall into one of three categories: character ethics focuses on the individual person and his or her motives and dispositions; deontological ethics are based on rules or duties that a person must follow to be ethical; and teleological ethics have do with goals or consequences as the guide for ethical action. The Christian tradition interpreted here urges us to a teleological ethic with respect to all creation as well as a character ethic for humans in particular. The Greek word telos means goal, or end. So, we ask: what are people for? what is the earth for? As we have developed above, humans and all of
creation are created to simply be and to flourish in their God-given glory. Jürgen Moltmann lays out a particular telos for creation in his reading of the creation story with rest as the final act of creation. We tend to read that story as though creation ended on the 6th day, but Moltmann proposes that this seventh day of rest, which is for God and for all creation, sets a precedent for our lives. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the weekly Sabbath is a kind of eternity-in-time, a reminder of God allowing all things, not just humans, to rest from their labors. The goal of creation is ultimately this rest, celebration, and peace. The early church doctor Irenaeus writes: “The glory of God is a human fully alive.”32 For humans in particular, as creatures endowed with language and reflexivity, character ethics goes hand in hand with a teleological ethic for all creation. In Johnson’s formation of the ecological vocation, she notes: “Christian tradition has always interpreted the good we are called to do for other humans not first and foremost under the rubric of duty but as an expression of love, love of neighbor impelled by the love of God.”33 Good theology can help us to tend to the earth as a sign of God and as a way of honoring God in all that we do in our involvement with and as part of the natural world. When we learn to act out of humility, love, and prudence, we internalize values and beliefs through practices so that they become habits. Such an ethic cultivates and forms human agency. Character ethics help us mediate between beliefs and practices so that we may live out our values in our way of being in the world. There is hard work to be done in thinking about what practices speak of care and respect for the earth and all its creatures, including other people. The dual meaning of the word practice may help us here; it is both a continual way of doing things and a trying-and-failing-and-trying-again kind of practice. We will not be perfect, but we can strive for better ways of living together that help us all approach a more peaceful, flourishing, and exuberantly alive world as creatures of God, hopeful of resurrection. Nicole Newell ‘15 is from Clive, IA.
[Endnotes] 1 Elizabeth A. Johnson, Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014), 245. 2 Ibid., 252. 3 Michael S. Northcott, A Political Theology of Climate Change (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2013), 1. 4 Ibid., 7. 5 Ibid., 8. 6 Ibid., 53. 7 Ibid., 12. 8 Ibid., 100. 9 Lynn White Jr., The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis (Science, New Series, Vol. 155, No. 3767, pp. 1203-1207.
American Association for the Advancement of Science. March 10, 1967), 1205. 10 Johnson, 222. 11 Ibid., 2. 12 Ibid., 134. 13 Ibid., 147. 14 Jürgen Moltmann, God in Creation, Trans. Margaret Kohl. 1985. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993). 15 Sallie McFague, The Body of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 63. 16 Job 38:4 17 Johnson, 150. 18 Ibid., 194.
Ibid. Ibid., 196. 21 McFague, 168. 22 Johnson, 201. 23 McFague, 165. 24 Johnson, 44. 25 Ibid., 258. 26 Johnson, 259. 27 Ibid., 258. 28 Northcott, 169. 29 Northcott, 59. 30 Ibid., 44. 31 Ibid., 49. 32 Johnson. 33 Johnson, 281. 19 20
Walking to Mass A N NA P R IO R E Anna Priore â€˜16 is from Kenyon, MN.
First, the sun: the long pink pit of the skyâ€™s mouth. The snow-capped peaks of Division Street businesses are grey cutouts of the virgin gold sky. Lights and televisions wink in windows. Mothers reheating waffles, children rustling plastic lunch bags, and dad if there is a dad remarking on the bitterness of the coffee while slathering saltines in butter. I move on. The darkness seems uncertain of where it wants to hide before the dawn forces it to retreat sighing into basements and dark computer rooms. But it knows its time will come again as sure as my boots strike the asphalt, as the white smoke escapes my lungs and dissolves in the pure cold air like a personal incense. I am the only pilgrim this brutally quiet morning; on my knees as the sun ascends from the black voids of hell.
The Boy Ozymandias
He came from the garden, sprinting forth with gust and power. Shoelaces tripped him twice but he kept running, desperate, greedy, and cruel. Distant was the voice that called him home for dinner – mom wanted to cool his fever with a wet rag, while she set the table and asked him to eat. He spat at the door and kept running.
CHRISTINE SOLENSTEN Christine Solensten ‘16 is fromWoodbury, MN.
Azure eyes beheld a jungle-gym empire perched on an Earth-sized sandbox: the sand was slipping, trickling the ankles of his subjects, swallowing them whole like quicksand. Here, he was king over all. A playground shrine, consecrated to his name – reinforced by the proverbs of the modern sage, all singing praise! “Hail thee, Ozymandias!” Yet stumbling in the quicksand, lacking food and drink, his shattered visage began to sink deeper in the depths of the pit. The sand rises, chest high now up to his shoulders – “But I am the King of Kings!” He roars! “My deeds are mighty and righteous!” The dust soon to engulf entire, he clenches a fist towards the heavens – a jagged thunderbolt, sock to the jaw at once grew limp and fell as the life left him – left him like any other. The sands of time will smooth over, while younger brothers pick up the same toys.
Letting Law Go? A Lutheran Perspective on Law in “Frozen” LU K E SH U R S O N , A L E X A N D E R QUA N B E C K
erhaps the most iconic moment in Disney’s movie Frozen occurs when Queen Elsa, clad in the teal dress and royal purple cape from her coronation, flees from Arendelle into the imposing mountains outside the city gates. Singing the song “Let it Go,” she casts off her cape and utilizes her icy powers to fashion a majestic ice castle amid the swirling storm she perceives to exist both inside and around her. In this scene, Elsa does her utmost to let much of her former life go, declaring during the climax of the song, “I’m never going back, the past is in the past!” Of course, Elsa never makes it clear precisely what she intends to let go, leaving open the possibility of a multiplicity of interpretations. She seems to be letting go of everything in Arendelle that she believes restricts her freedom to “be herself ” and live as she wants to. This could be interpreted as a rejection of 51
the forced repression—of her “sorcerous” powers, of her emotional self, or perhaps of her sexuality—that characterized her life in Arendelle. Alternatively, she could be seen as rebelling against gender norms, the responsibilities that come with being a queen, or society itself. However, another component of Elsa’s attempts to “let it go” is her rejection of the repressive moral law, which, we argue, she hopes to cast off as she proclaims, “No right, no wrong, no rules for me, I’m free!” By analyzing Elsa’s changing understanding of law, as it relates to her moral duties to her kingdom and to her sister, we hope to show how Frozen can be interpreted through the paradigm of Luther’s conception of law. While this certainly was not the intent of the creators of Frozen, we believe that Elsa’s transformation—from existing in a state of condemnation under law to living in a state of grace following her sister’s sacrifice—demonstrates Luther’s understanding of the three uses of law. Moreover, examining Frozen through this lens enriches our understanding of law by providing an important alternative perspective to the lethargy of moralism that often plagues modern Christianity. On one end of the spectrum, in a position often criticized as “Puritanical” and repressive, strict adherence to law is viewed as necessary for individual and societal spiritual purification. On the other end, law is abstracted from these spiritual qualities and is understood primarily as a tool for individual or societal improvement. However, the Lutheran conception of law, as demonstrated in Frozen, offers another view that does not rely on the dichotomy between the models of law as repressive or enlightening. Instead, law serves both functions, as a comprehensive, inescapable force with which we can live in harmony only through a gift of sacrificial grace and love. Luther’s View of Law Though the Protestant Reformation produced new understandings of a number of aspects of traditional Christian theology, few proved to be so influential or controversial as Luther’s dialectic between Law and Gospel. With this idea, Luther argued that all of scripture may be divided into what he calls God’s precepts and God’s promises, which later thinkers termed Law and Gospel, respectively. Luther defines these precepts as that which “certainly teach[es] us what is good.”1 Thus, Luther proposes that God’s precepts, hereafter to be called Law, consist of everything that God commands. These commands were
expressed in a more concrete form in the Law of Moses, but also include Paul’s summations of that set of commands: “For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself ’.”2 In Luther’s mind, law is therefore defined as a universal moral law that is the summation both of the Old and New Commandments. With this definition of law in mind, Luther proposes that Law has several functions. The first has to do with what has become known as “civil righteousness.” He writes on the subject, “Since, however, no one is by nature Christian or pious, but every one sinful and evil, God places the restraints of the law upon them all, so that they may not dare give rein to their desires and commit outward, wicked deeds.”3 In this iteration, law is designed simply to restrain outward acts of sin to maintain a peaceful society, an important inclusion in the politically unstable climate of Luther’s Germany. However, the next use of law is more important to his theology as a whole. Luther writes on the second use of law, “Now when a man has through the precepts been taught his own impotence, and become anxious by what means he may satisfy the law…then, being truly humbled and brought to nothing in his own eyes, he finds in himself no resource for justification and salvation.”4 Put more simply by Luther’s disciple Philip Melanchthon, “law always accuses.”5 From this perspective, law is not designed to be followed in a traditional sense. Rather, it prepares the way for the Gospel and for grace that is granted freely, so that the recipient of grace might be aware of its utter unconditional nature. A final, third use of the law has been the subject of a protracted and heated debate within modern Lutheranism. The Lutheran Confessions, found in the Book of Concord, explain the third use in these terms: “When [Christians] have been born anew by the Spirit of God, converted to the Lord, and thus the veil of Moses has been lifted from them, they live and walk in the law.”6 Essentially, when a person has been made new by the Holy Spirit, the law remains as a guide toward living in righteousness. It does not save or justify the individual, but it plays an important role in sanctification. In modern circles, this approach has been challenged by non-confessional Lutheran theologians who argue that the third use was an innovation of Melanchthon and the other second-generation reformers, and that Luther’s essentially eschatological conception of grace should prevent us from seeing law as something that can be applied as a guide
while we remain in our temporal existence.7 Luther therefore holds a view of Law that appears to be in tension with itself. On the one hand, the law’s prescriptions of our moral obligations to God are fundamentally good. Its precepts can be summed up as Christ himself summarized them: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”8 In looking simply at what the law asks of humankind, it expresses moral obligations markedly similar to those found in a whole host of other religions, as well as a sentiment that many in non-religious communities hold to as well. However, in Luther’s assessment of what law actually does, the reformer envisions something much more bleak. “The law says, ‘do this,’ and it is never done... the law works wrath and keeps all men under the curse.”9 Thus, we see the great tragedy of law: the things it demands are indeed good, but it does not grant the power to actually do those things. Then, in humanity’s inability to fulfill the precepts, the law condemns us. Though good in its commands, the law does not fulfill a good purpose in bringing humanity in line with righteous life; rather, because of our nature as resistant to God’s commands, it oppresses and puts humanity under God’s condemnation. Law in Frozen Using this paradigm based on the Lutheran conception of law just outlined, we can now turn to examining the development of Elsa’s relationship to her moral duties to consider the nature of law in Frozen. In the early stages of the sisters’ childhood, the demands of law are foreign to Anna and Elsa. They feel free to play with each other, joyfully laughing as they build snowmen in the middle of the night. Unconcerned with any danger, Elsa uses her magical ability to control snow and ice for the entertainment of her sister. It seems that they are in their own Eden, lacking the knowledge of good and evil and fearing nothing. However, their innocent freedom from law’s impositions vanishes after Elsa strikes Anna with her magic to save her from falling to her death while they are playing in the castle. Concerned about Anna’s survival, their parents take them to Grand Pabbie, the sage magician of the rock trolls. Following Grand Pabbie’s recommendation, the king commands that Elsa be isolated from her sister and
the kingdom to avoid harming anyone until she learns to control her powers. Previously, Elsa’s relationship to her sister had been mediated only by their sisterly love and affection. However, after their metaphorical fall, symbolized by Anna’s physical fall from the ice pillars, the rules instituted by their father must mediate their relationship. His commandment of isolation functions as an expression of law, which must now regulate Anna and Elsa’s interactions. The initial intentions behind this mandate parallel Luther’s understanding of the first use of the Law. In her fallen state, Elsa must suppress her dangerous impulses in order to protect her sister and the rest of the kingdom and maintain a peaceful society. She strives for, in Lutheran terminology, civil righteousness. Elsa’s father also seems to believe that this law will aid Elsa in a sort of self-improvement. His hope is that adherence to this negative duty of isolation to avoid harm will permit Elsa to ultimately control her powers for her own good as well. However, it is not long before we see that the imposition of this law is ultimately ineffective in fulfilling the latter aim, and not entirely successful in fulfilling the former either. Upon their return to the castle, the restrictive burden of the isolating law is made clear as Anna laments the loss of relationship with her sister in “Do You Want to Build a Snowman.” In this song, the shut door can be seen as a metaphor for the separation between people that law engenders. Knocking on the locked door to Elsa’s room, Anna continually pleads with her sister to open the door and build a snowman. However, Elsa continually ignores Anna’s request to rebuild their relationship, knowing that opening the door could cause her to again injure her sister. While Elsa is successful in avoiding inflicting physical injury on her sister, her legalistic attempt to uphold the letter of the law prevents her from engaging in genuine relationship with Anna. Elsa seems to be well aware of the fact that she cannot properly love Anna, and this knowledge is certainly one cause of her misery. Thus, Elsa’s adherence to this law can prevent outwardly harmful acts, but it is of no use in helping Elsa to fulfill the greater obligation of truly loving her sister. In stark contrast with Anna’s later proclamation that love is an open door, it appears clear that the closed door of law is of no avail in fostering love. Instead, law only condemns Elsa’s conscience. Moreover, Elsa has a deep fear of revealing her true, “sinful” nature, i.e. the destructive force of her powers when unrestricted by law. Not only does she fear
hurting others, but she fears how others would judge her if they were to see who she really is. This may be a legitimate concern, as the people do not respond well to seeing an exhibition of her sorcerous powers. Still, her effort to obey law to maintain the illusion of goodness are comparable to a pharisaical attempt to put forth an outward display of righteousness while inwardly failing to fulfill the law. Her attempt to hide her nature is most clearly exemplified on the day of her coronation, when the introduction of another higher-level moral obligation--the beginning of her positive social duty to rule her subjects as queen--creates the likelihood of conflict with her negative duty of avoiding harming others. Her blue gloves, which permit her to suppress her powers, become another symbol of Elsa’s attempts to repress her nature through adherence to law. Elsa is extremely hesitant to take off her gloves as she picks up the orb and scepter, doing her utmost to avoid letting loose her destructive powers. However, she is ultimately unable to avoid revealing her nature. When Anna forcibly removes Elsa’s gloves, Elsa cannot control her fear and anger, sending out a blast of ice that nearly injures several people nearby. Elsa’s inability to permanently keep her dangerous nature under control through outward adherence to law is made clear to everyone present, and most significantly, to herself. It is in this scene that Anna begins to function as a Christ-figure, in the broad, Lutheran understanding of the term. In Luther’s formulation of the second use of the law, one purpose of Christ’s incarnation is to reveal to humanity our inability to fulfill the law. This is similar to the role the Anna plays when she reproaches Elsa for shutting her out and takes off Elsa’s gloves. Anna reveals to Elsa the truth of her condition: that Elsa cannot isolate herself forever in an attempt to uphold her father’s law of avoiding harming others, and that trying to do so has actually resulted in causing great emotional harm to Anna. This could be considered the first time that Anna, resembling Jesus, alters Elsa’s relationship with law. Elsa realizes that her attempts to fulfill the totality of law have failed. Not only has she failed to fulfill the summative commandment of truly loving her neighbor, but she has even failed to fulfill the particular commandment of avoiding harm. Now, in a more immediate sense made known through the person of Anna, the law has truly begun to condemn her. However, after Anna reveals her inability to live up to the law, Elsa does not respond to the condemnation of which she is now aware by by seeking forgive-
ness. Instead, she seeks to free herself from the power of law by rejecting it altogether. She believes that she is doing what is best for herself and for her people by leaving. However, since she has now been crowned queen of Arendelle, Elsa has quite real duties to her subjects, duties on which she turns her back. She hopes--incorrectly, as it turns out--that she can do away with these obligations simply by declaring herself free and fleeing from her responsibilities. The disastrous consequences of Elsa’s rejection of moral law, for herself and for her kingdom, soon become clear. The outward manifestations of her failure to respect her obligations to others are first apparent in her setting off “an eternal winter” (as Anna informs her) and the abandonment of her kingdom to her impulsive, young sister who soon hands off leadership to an ambitious foreign prince. Elsa’s rejection of the first use of the law--the aim of maintaining a healthy, stable society--clearly results in chaos, fear, and pain. Elsa’s attempt to cast off law also has tremendous internal consequences. “For the First Time in Forever” is quite possibly the most significant song in the movie, as it is here that Elsa begins to grasp the failure of her attempt to free herself from moral law. After Anna informs her of the consequences of her actions, Elsa understands that her actions are not isolated and that she has truly harmed others by trying in vain to reject her duties. Upon hearing this news, she declares, “I’m such a fool, I can’t be free!” Unable to free herself from law, Elsa begins to understand its condemnatory power and despairs. Her reawakening to the reality of law does nothing to improve the situation as she strikes out at her sister in pain and confusion, causing even more destruction and further putting herself under the condemnation of law. The refrain of “For the First Time in Forever” marks a turning point in Elsa’s conception of her relation to law, and again, it is Anna serving as a Christ-figure who permits the reconfiguration of Elsa’s relation to law. Similar to the coronation scene, in which Anna employs the second use of the law to reveal to Elsa her failure to uphold it, Anna here points out the consequences of Elsa’s actions to remind her that she is still bound to the law. While Elsa had previously accepted the first use of the law in her attempts to avoid harming others by locking herself in her room, she rejected it when she fled Arendelle and her responsibilities. So, Anna is not introducing a novel concept, but she effectively reminds Elsa that her attempts to isolate herself from the social obligations
of law cannot be successful. Like Jesus, Anna does not herself condemn Elsa, but Anna opens her eyes to the fact that she is already condemned by law and implores Elsa to repent. As a consequences of Elsa’s recognition of her duties and her realization that she has failed to fulfill them, the second use of the law returns in full force. Having realized her failure, Elsa tries desperately to remedy the situation. She paces around the throne room of her castle trying to undo the damage she’s done to her kingdom by bringing herself back into a mindset where she can restrain her powers, repeating, “Don’t feel! Don’t feel!” However, these attempts to calm herself into compliance with law provide a sharp contrast with the frantic cracking of the shards of ice that begin to grow and mar her palace. Despite willing with all her strength to come back into alignment with the law’s demands to protect her kingdom and her sister, it has become abundantly clear that fear holds a stronger grip on Elsa than the queen herself does. Furthermore, though she both knows and assents to the requirements of the law, she has not found the strength to do what it demands. Having now tried both to discard and to fulfill law, Elsa begins to understand that both strategies are untenable, making her situation incredibly dire. From this point, the law’s reckoning comes quickly as Hans and his group of soldiers attempt to apprehend Elsa. In the accompanying fight, Elsa’s wholehearted efforts from the previous scene to remain in compliance with law disappear. Her attempts to evade capture prove to be incredibly destructive to her own castle and to the people pursuing her, among whom were several Arendellian soldiers. Her snow monster transforms from the almost comical guard that removed Anna and Kristoff from the castle into a violent, aggressive creature that nearly throws Elsa’s own soldiers off a cliff. Elsa’s disregard for duty over the course of the fight nearly pays off. She comes very close to repelling the intruders by nearly killing Weselton’s henchmen, when suddenly Hans shouts, “Don’t be the monster they think you are!” Hans cunningly plays on Elsa’s fear of condemnation to force her to confront her relation to law. Elsa cannot disregard law; each of her attempts to do so have only led to further condemnation when Anna reawakens her conscience. At the same time, to attempt to live in accordance with law would lead, in her immediate situation, to her arrest and imprisonment. Hence, either choice would
become an expression of that same condemnation. Hans’s ploy is successful, and Elsa regains her awareness of the threat of law. Looking in horror on the absurdity of the situation, she realizes she is trapped. She must choose between being captured or killing Weselton’s men. Inwardly, this conflict reflects the conflict between her ongoing desire to fulfill the law and her awareness, now very present, that even if she can comply with the law, doing so will not save her from its condemnation. Paralyzed by this realization, she hesitates. Consequently, she is captured as the chandelier, the object that was the crowning jewel of her achievements while she was supposedly free from law, collapses on her. When Elsa wakes up, she finds herself chained in a dungeon. Finally, the true nature of law becomes explicit. Just as she was locked inside the palace as a child for the sake of upholding the law, her failure to uphold that law has led to her literal imprisonment. Both in her early life when she apparently was able to hold to the law’s precepts and now as she has failed to perform that duty, Elsa is in bondage to the force of law. It restricts her and acts as a prison, first in a metaphorical sense in the restraints it places on her conduct with her sister as a child, and now in a literal sense as she is physically chained. With her hands tied, she is unable to make use of her powers, another presentation of law’s first use as a tool of restraint against causing greater harm. More importantly, her imprisonment reflects her condemnation by the law in keeping with the second use. This period of literal imprisonment will end when Hans finally tries to complete his coup d’état by attempting to execute Elsa. Thus, her bondage to the force of law has condemned her to death. Elsa initiates one more desperate attempt to free herself from this condemnation, breaking out of her chains and prison and fleeing out onto the frozen sea. Here, Hans finds her and, acting also as the instrument of the condemnatory law, seeks to enact the final judgment on Elsa by bringing his sword down upon her. Once again, law has condemned Elsa to die. However, unlike in Hans’ first condemnation--in which Elsa attempted to escape from that judgment-here she makes no attempt to defend herself. Having been tricked into thinking she has killed her sister, Elsa’s constant battle between her desire to follow law and her competing desire to overthrow it have both vanished; she comes to believe that the law’s condemnation may actually be warranted. However, just as
It is here, dying in place of her sister, that Anna most clearly assumes the role of a Christ-figure. Hans is about to strike her, Anna, whose heart and body are nearly frozen, steps in front of her and intercepts the blow. At just this moment, Anna’s entire body freezes as she sacrifices herself in order to save her sister from death. But, as was earlier prophesied, “an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart.” Anna’s great love for Elsa thaws her frozen heart, and she is resuscitated. It is here, dying in place of her sister, that Anna most clearly assumes the role of a Christ-figure. Just as law is about to condemn Elsa to death, Anna intervenes and takes the burden of law’s condemnation upon herself. Not only does Anna free Elsa from the condemnation of law, but she allow Elsa to engage in a renewed relationship with law. In the confessional Lutheran understanding of the third use of the law, Jesus’s death and resurrection and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost instituted a new function of law, one which does not condemn but guides liberated Christians to obey God’s will. Guided by the love of the Holy Spirit, Christians can finally truly act according to the precepts of the law. The Lutheran third use of the law closely resembles Elsa’s new relationship with her duties as sister and queen. Elsa had previously been unable to fulfill these duties in any meaningful capacity, and she instead viewed them as a burden. However, now that her sister’s sacrificial love has penetrated Elsa’s own heart, she is able to adopt a fundamentally different attitude toward these moral obligations presented by law. Permanently opening the gates of the city, Elsa creates an ice skating rink and makes it snow, bringing joy to the people of Arendelle. Elsa enthusiastically embraces her responsibilities as queen and sister, giving Kristoff an official post as “ice master and deliverer” and skating with Anna. No longer are her duties an onerous chore or her magical powers merely a dangerous threat that must be repressed, but her heart, as well as her entire nature, seems to have undergone an essential change. As the screenwriters put it, her heart has been thawed by the power of love, just as Anna herself was literally thawed after her act of sacrifice. In Christian terms, this process is analogous to the idea of death and resurrection with Christ that Paul describes in the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians. The second-generation reformers imagined that the third use of the law can be applied only when a person has been remade after their justification, mirroring the necessity of resurrection, both physically in Anna’s case, and internally in Elsa’s. As the movie concludes, Elsa’s internal
resurrection and thawed heart finally permit the reconciliation of her relationship with moral law. Frozen and Contemporary Christian Discussions of Law With this interpretation in mind, Frozen offers an alternative perspective to commonly held Christian views of law. As it stands, American Christianity is deeply entangled with notions of normative law and moralism. This “traditional moralism” is often critiqued because it inadvertently does serious psychological (and sometimes physical) damage to those who don’t fit within a narrow interpretation of what the law prescribes. The more subtle aspect of legalism that has embedded itself in modern Christianity is moralism that presents itself as something that is fundamentally in line with Western, liberal democratic ideals. These forms of legalism function as a sort of “edifying moralism.” On an individual level, this manifests itself in individuals’ attempts to use Christianity as a framework that leads to self-improvement and fulfillment. In this tradition, the rules prescribed by a particular reading of scripture can truly cause a person to reform one’s life and become upright. This improvement is perhaps the form of moralism Elsa’s father ascribes to her as he prescribes ways that Elsa might go about concealing her powers; he hopes that in concealing her powers, her impulsive use of them will disappear. Looking toward a more societal view, other circles find it tempting to use Christianity’s emphasis on love for neighbor as simply a means to the true end of social responsibility that exists outside the framework of religion. The abolition of difference between various groups that Paul describes in Galatians 3:28 becomes the expression of humanity’s telos of temporal equality.10 While both traditional and edifying moralism within Christianity can have noble goals, the presentation of Luther’s conception of law found in Frozen aptly demonstrates the problem of viewing Christianity as an expression of a higher law to which humanity must adhere in order to fulfill its responsibilities. In truth, we cannot view law as a force that is either repressive or enlightening, good or bad. As Elsa discovers, duty can be an expression of great good; it is encapsulated in our responsibility to serve and love those around us. Yet at the very same time, our duty proves to be our condemnation when we cannot live up to that perfect love. Law is both the summation of all that which we must do
Not only does Anna free Elsa from the condemnation of law, but she allow Elsa to engage in a renewed relationship with law. 63
and that which we cannot do. Over the course of the film, Elsa comes to understand this paradox, and her desire for a solution that will prevent her condemnation drives her attempts to throw off law. In the process, she discovers that law’s reach extends far beyond her own capacity to nullify it. Ultimately, a heart frozen by the paralyzing inability to fulfill law can only be thawed by the unconditional love of another that comes without first being asked. As is the case with everything, there is a place for moralism; the law is still fundamentally good, even in our inability to fulfill it. However, preaching law without gospel is disastrous. Without Anna standing in the way of Hans’ sword, Frozen would have been a very different movie. This lesson is critical for the future of American Christianity. As Paul writes to the Romans, we uphold the law.11 However, law cannot distract from gospel, lest the whole message be lost in the “swirling storm inside” that law creates in humankind. At the center of all Christian teaching should be the radical, unconditional grace that frees us from bondage to the forces of sin, death, and law.
Lucas Schurson ‘17 is from Yucaipa, CA. Alexander Quanbeck ‘17 is from New Brighton, MN.
index.php. 6 “Article VI, Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord,” The Book of Concord, 2008, http://bookofconcord.org/index.php. 7 Gerhard Forde, A More Radical Gospel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 134. 8 Luke 10:27, NRSV. 9 “The Heidelberg Disputation,” The Book of Concord, 2008, http://bookofconcord.org/ index.php. 10 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 11 Romans 3:31, NRSV.
(Endnotes) 1 Martin Luther, “On the Freedom of a Christian,” Fordham University, 1998, http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/luther-freedomchristian.asp. 2 Galatians 5:14, NRSV. 3 Martin Luther, “Secular Authority: To What Extent It Should Be Obeyed,” in Martin Luther: Selections From His Writings, ed. John Dillenberger (Garden City: Doubleday, 1961), 369. 4 Luther, Freedom. 5 Philipp Melanchthon, “Defense of the Augsburg Confession,” The Book of Concord, 2008, http://bookofconcord.org/
The Word Becomes Flesh In You and Me BILL JORDAN When I went to Washington D.C. last February, I was fortunate enough to get a tour of the Capitol building from an intern in my congressman’s office. And at one point in the tour, we arrived at the hallway and staircase down which the President-elect walks out onto the scaffolding to be sworn in on inauguration day. If you’ve ever watched an inauguration on television you have seen the participants in the ceremony walk this fateful path, the President-elect’s last steps before greeting the massive crowds and taking the oath of office, entering into a commitment that surely not even they can comprehend the enormity of. I couldn’t help but stand there at the top of this imposing, dimly lit, massive stone staircase and look at the bright sunlight coming through the doorway at the bottom, imagining what must go through the mind of someone walking this path once every four years, about to take the weight of the world upon their shoulders. But the tour guide looked unimpressed, and when I asked the question to which I already knew the answer – “So, I’m standing where the President stands?” - he told me yes, but without any hint of interest in his voice over the historical significance of this sight. He probably just wanted to get to his lunch break. But it was clear that he was so used to giving this tour that he had been dulled to how amazing this place was. Do you find that when you take a trip to a historical site with your parents, your parents will always want to read every word of every informational plaque there? You just want to move along and see the sight, but parents have some sort of radar for these plaques. Perhaps we should give them more credit than we do, because they have not yet been dulled to the significance of these places. Plymouth, Massachu-
setts appears to have just another beach if you don’t realize that it was there that our nation’s history was changed forever by the first European settlers. The fields of Gettysburg look quite ordinary until you know of the 46,000 casualties who fell there in July of 1863. Once you realized what happened you realize theses places are anything but ordinary. This is why we like visiting the places where we grew up, isn’t it? When we visit the playground we played on or walk through the hallways of our old school, we do it because we can just imagine our younger selves still there, and our memories of the past make these sacred spaces. Humanity is fascinated by these places because history haunts the ground on which it happens and keeps it from ever being ordinary again. The author of John’s gospel knows this better than we do. In fact, he knows that something has happened that is so significant that its echoes haunt not only a single rock or field or even nation but rather the entire world…“The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” In other words, God was here, in flesh and blood, as a man, and his name was Jesus of Nazareth. How can we, after hearing this, look at the Earth on which we walk and not be amazed by the fact that God himself walked on the same planet that we do? A number of St. Olaf students have been to Israel and Palestine, and for them that experience may have been intensified because they really were walking on the seashore that Jesus walked and seeing the things he saw with his own eyes. But John tells us that the incarnation of the Son of God is something that has forever transformed the whole Earth. So what are we supposed to do with this newfound amazement? Well, John not only says that Jesus has transformed the world, he says that he is 66
“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” John 1:14
transforming the world. He wants to transform the world through you and me. In John 13, after Christ washes the disciples’ feet hours before he is crucified, he tells them, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love one another, love one another, love one another. Everyone will know you are mine if you love one another. Not only was the word made flesh and blood 2,000 years ago, but Jesus Christ is made present – made flesh - in the world today through the self-sacrificial love of his disciples. I’ll leave it to Biblical scholars to say whether St. John and St. Matthew knew each other, but I think Matthew had a grasp of what John means with that phrase, “the Word made flesh.” Do you remember, in Matthew 25, what Christ says he will say to us at the Last Judgment? Whatever you did to the least of these – to the poor, the sick, the prisoner, the hungry- you did to me. We are to see the Word made flesh in them, and when they see our love they will be seeing Jesus’ love, because we are now his hands and feet, the manifestation of the Word made flesh today. Or as St. Paul said, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” His identity was so taken over by Jesus manifesting himself through him that he was able to say, “Paul is dead. Jesus now lives through me. The Word is made flesh in me.” So the message of John, and the message of the New Testament, is not only that God was here, but that God is here. We must stand in amazement at the fact that God was present in Jesus, but we must not stand in place but act, because we are the vessels that
God uses to make Himself present on Earth today. That may sound like a nice concept but consider the responsibility that comes with it. Scripture paints a horrible picture of what it means to be separated from the presence of God. To be separated from the source of all love and all life is to know nothing but hatred and death. If we are the vessels by which God chooses to pour his presence into the world, our refusal to accept that calling will result in God’s absence from the Earth, a state that can only be described as Hell on Earth. As St. Paul might say, woe to us if by our refusal to be the Word made flesh through our love, we make this world a living Hell. Archbishop Fulton Sheen told the story of a homeless boy. This boy walked up to a pastor and said, “I could never be a Christian. I could never believe in the God that you believe in.” And the pastor asked him why not. And the boy said, “Well, you Christians believe that God can do anything. You say he made birds and birds make other birds, and that he made trees and trees make other trees, and he made humans and humans make other humans. Well if God can do anything he should be able to make other Jesus’s. But I’ve never seen that before. I’ve only known people who turn me away.” And the pastor dismissed the boy’s question and said that that kind of reasoning doesn’t apply to Jesus. But, Sheen said, the boy was right. God is able to make other Jesuses. He makes little Christ’s out of you and me to make Jesus manifest to the world today. Be amazed at the fact that God was here in the flesh two thousand and fifteen years ago. And be amazed that he still haunts this world today, in you and in me. Delivered by Bill Jordan ‘15 at the St. Olaf Daily Chapel Service on February 10, 2015. Bill is from Wilmette, IL.
The Nicene Creed We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.
Published on Apr 30, 2015