A fistful of dollars
Is there a line in human history and conscience that divides what is right from what is wrong? Is marriage a sacred institution in which there is no room for a third party? Is lying permissible under some circumstances? Is moral integrity a basic essential to decent functioning of the human community? Is there a marked distinction between white and black or is there a shady area of grayness where anything goes and everything is possible?
Time was when the very asking of such questions was considered weird and unacceptable. But no longer so. With postmodernism bursting onto the scene, the distinction between black and white seems to disappear and the certainty of not just grayness but various shades of gray have begun to define human conduct and behavior. A lie is no longer a lie, but a statement that has become inoperative during a course of time. Virginity is no longer a virtue to be preserved until the wonder and mystery of matrimony envelops the young. Mass media and television are no longer transmitters of just information and entertainment, but shakers and shapers of the norm for society from politics to sex to business to life’s real quality. Clint Eastwood works no longer for just a fistful of dollars to re-establish order in the wild West; on the contrary, the criminals of The Italian Job are praised because they are able to take a fantastic loot from another resourceful (and traitor) robber.
For decades our parents and grandparents wished for clear answers to divisive and alienating approaches. Some of them were socialists, some capitalists. Some of them were for abortion, some against. Some were liberal, others conservative. Well, postmodernism ended all such divisions with two different strategies: On the one hand, it changed the name of the various options or approaches to requalify as problems; on the other, it taught us that it is more advisable to dwell in shades of gray.
Postmodernism has proved to be very successful in modern and technologically advanced societies, where religious beliefs and their implications are relativized and reinterpreted. Now, it is said, we do not need to be ruled by a canon of absolute truth and standards because such “absolutes” do not actually exist. The absolute has become obsolete. Our beliefs are defined by our experience, not the other way around; our morals are based by what we enjoy doing, not by what we decide to avoid.
The problem of evil
If there is one concept deeply affected by postmodernism, that is the notion of evil. For postmodernism, evil is nonexistent. Evil is just made of unfavorable circumstances resulting from the random actions of natural elements.
But this trend is not an accident. It was inevitable as more and more Darwinian ideas were allowed free reign in arts and sciences, educational, social, and psychological realms, and even in philosophy and theology. The theological scene, surrendered to Darwinism, is the most pathetic of all, so that it is not uncommon to see some present-day theologians reject the biblical concept of sin but speak of evil as a necessary and unavoidable reality, resulting from the performance of natural forces ultimately allowed by God. Many theologians see the Fall and Adam and Eve as myths. Some who accept the Fall do not consider it a negative experience. After all, the serpent told Eve the truth–Eve did not die when she ate the fruit, and she gained the knowledge she was after–knowledge of good and evil that made her more like God. Far from regarding the Fall as the ruin of humanity, such advocates regard it as a liberation from self-imposed and biological constraints. In this postmodern view, so well advocated by Patricia Williams,1 evil becomes an agent for the personal development, providing human beings with knowledge about themselves and their environment.
Living in such a context, Christians may feel disappointed at the lack of valid answers offered by society when discussing vital and overarching dilemmas. Even our children are sinking in the sea of relativism as they find themselves without meaning and relevance in a society plagued by moral ambiguity and spiritual uncertainties. Such a challenge to moral and spiritual stability becomes even more acute when we face unexplainable tragedies like the recent tsunami that washed away more than 200,000 lives in one gigantic sweep. What is the Christian response to such a challenge?
In the light of Patricia Williams’ interpretation, one wonders what positive value and knowledge were obtained by those carried away by the raging waves of the ocean? Or to go back to the original scene, was the knowledge Eve acquired in Eden worth it? In opposition to what Aristotle and others may claim, knowledge is not always a good thing, nor is it always a developmental achievement. We can all recollect events we would rather not have known, as is the case with war survivors. As William Dembski puts it, if the knowledge resulting from the fall of Eve “was such a great blessing, why did God employ angels and a flaming sword to keep humanity from trying to get back into the Garden–to their pre-Fall state?”2
The biblical answer
Those of us who still think of ourselves as belonging to the old school do not hesitate in telling our children that biblical “myths” are in fact the best explanation for the humanly unexplainable: the origin of evil. But for many the biblical account is not satisfying. Even Jesus did not offer another–be it scientific, biological, materialistic, or theological–explanation for the problem of sin. His succinct theology of evil can be summarized in a brief phrase: “‘An enemy has done this’” (Matthew 13:28, NKJV). We may not able to process every implication of His explanation, but it makes sense. Jesus tried to shift the focus from why evil exists to how one can be free from it.
The fact of evil is real. It faces us each day. It surrounds all of us. It baffles our understanding. The Christian call is not to try to understand its intricacies here, but to know how to be freed from its curse. While it is impossible to explain the why and the wherefore of sin, we are given an understanding of how we can obtain freedom from its clutches. The gospel of Jesus is the good news of salvation from sin. That salvation will ultimately lead us to an eternal process of education in which God Himself will teach us about the mystery of sin and the wonder of His redeeming love. When sin will be no more, eternity will open to the redeemed the possibility of knowing all that we need to know.
Jesus did not portray evil in a relative light. His theodicy has no gray areas as some scholars have interpreted. The Bible is clear about the origin of evil and their consequences: “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12, NIV). The Bible does not only specify how evil came to be, but also defines what is evil in the first place. This is what disturbs many people–postmodern thinkers first among them–who insist on wearing gray glasses. In so doing, they keep trying to offer a different origin for sin because if we change the source, we feel we are not responsible.
What our children and churches need to know is not so much how evil came to be, or how to explain it within a particular scientific paradigm or theological model, but to get to know who was its originator and how to call him by his right name. If we get to know the who of the origin of sin, we would shift our focus from explaining to fighting sin for what it is.
The failure of postmodernism in explaining the essence of evil resides in the fact that human beings cannot live permanently in shades of gray. Human beings need answers. They need to know that there is a solution that transcends philosophical considerations. There is in fact a solution that gets into the practical realm of experience. Because the price of putting an end to sin–which Eastwood tried to accomplish by using his guns and for just a fistful of dollars–Jesus accomplished it by shedding his own blood.
Raúl Esperante (Ph. D., Loma Linda University) is an associate director of Geoscience Research Institute, Loma Linda, California. His email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- See, for example, Patricia Williams, Doing Without Adam and Eve: Sociobiology and Original Sin (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2001).
- William A. Dembski, Christian Theodicy in Light of Genesis and Modern Science. Available online at http://www.designinference.com/documents/2006.05.christian_theodicy.pdf. Accessed on September 10, 2007.