We were talking a while ago about prayer… not the “now-I-lay-me-down-to-sleep” sort of pious niceties, nor the generic “sending-good-vibes-your-way” sort of thing we often encounter. But prayer considered as a weapon. That’s something that can’t be done without an attitude of repentance… it certainly can’t be done if one is self-righteous or self-serving.
But there’s something else that leads a lot of folk toward a spiritual form of “unilateral disarmament,” a refusal to even take up the weapon of prayer. It’s a heart attitude that underlies a commonly heard statement, one that we are more likely to hear the more “difficult” the conversation in which we participate… Well, (often prefaced with a sigh and/or a wave of the hand), we live in a fallen world…” Spend much time talking with believers or church people about how messed up the world is and what Jesus followers ought to be doing about it, and I guarantee you that you will hear, “It’s a result of the Fall. We live in a sinful world…”
Discuss ways to alleviate world poverty, fight human trafficking, dismantle racial prejudice and other forms of stigmatization, make lasting change in environmental problems, see the world impacted with the Gospel, unseat settled institutionalized patterns of injustice… and, when the going gets tough, the “It’s a Fallen World” card will get played. My observation is that this often happens when either a settled paradigm of ours is being challenged or something substantive might be demanded of us.
What really irks me is not that I disagree. Of course, we live in a messed-up world. People don’t mention that because they think we might have overlooked that fact. It’s that “It’s a fallen world” is typically employed as a conversation killer. It’s used to shut down discussion about doing anything substantial about living out and working toward the reality of what it means to pray to the Eternal Father that “God’s will be done on earth.”
“It’s a fallen world” should be a BATTLE CRY… a CALL TO ARMS (starting with prayer and other weapons of righteousness). Instead, I hear in those words, “Resistance is futile.” Why try to change the world? It’s all full of sin, and you certainly can’t change that.
Jeff McNair in his Disabled Christianity blog gives an example: In asking about why the church so systematically participates in the “exclusion of persons with disabilities,” he often hears, “Well we will never get everything right because of our sinful condition.” That excuse wouldn’t even be a good one to give Liz for why I persistently avoid emptying the compost bucket. But it’s supposed to mean something when we’re discussing racial prejudice or the demand for trafficked persons generated by addiction to cheap consumer goods and/or pornography. Seriously?
If we don’t see “It’s a fallen world” as OUR call to battle-readiness, then we will allow the world, or some part thereof, to define our battles for us. When that happens, we either become recruits in someone else’s war (that’s co-option), or we become resisters (which is a fine thing to be, but then we’re reactive against a second-order agenda… when we were inactive about first-order concerns before.)
How in the world can we sing “This is my Father’s World” (well, we don’t do that too much any more, since we seldom “do hymns”…) and then parrot “It’s a fallen world” as a means to shrink back from action which may make the latter more like the former?
Where in Scripture is this sort of attitude seen? In discussing approaches to alleviating poverty, I’ve had people throw Mark 14.7 at me to imply that we shouldn’t bother trying, since we can’t, ultimately, fix the problem – that Jesus saying “The poor will always be with you” means that we shouldn’t busy ourselves with fighting poverty. I find it interesting that of all the people who have interpreted the verse this way, none of them were poor. That raises an entirely different hermeneutical question that we’ll get to soon enough.
My point is that OF COURSE, we live in a sinful world. And every time we pray the “Our Father,” we are reenlisting our commitment to devote ourselves to changing it. The will of God is NOT done on earth – but God WANTS it to be done. And if we are praying that it actually BE done, we certainly ought to be open to seeing ourselves as the answer to that prayer.
My biggest concern shouldn’t be whether or not the sinfulness of the world makes that to which God calls me seem unattainable, quixotic or unrealistic. My biggest concern should be my own obedience to that which God demands… and, most often, “It’s a sinful world” is just a fig leaf for my own disobedience or lack of faith.
And the same goes for a lot of the “It’s the End Times” rhetoric that also pops up when we discuss (or avoid) hard issues of faith and practice… more about that next time.