Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Sin and the Assertion that "the Center Cannot Hold"

I took a course in college called "Integrated Humanities." It was a fascinating course because we simultaneously studied western history, religion, philosophy, art, and music. In fact, there were five instructors for the course, each an expert in one of these fields.

I remember getting to the chapter on the beginning of the twentieth-century which was entitled The Center Cannot Hold. The point was, and is, that the idea of God could not hold up under the pressure of the development of the western mind and that God could no longer be considered the ultimate reality to which all other realities submitted, and in which all other realities derived their meaning.

And what is more, no other idea would be able to take the privileged place of God and thus give stability to the superstructures of being and society. Because "the center could not hold," older systems of logic, reasoning, and otherwise making sense of existence imploded and we were left with nothing but ourselves. No longer was there an ultimate external reality to which we could relate ourselves, and from which we could derive meaning.

This crisis in western philosophy, at one level, is real and has been devastating. What I mean is that this is more than philosophical mish-mash; the leading secular minds of the last century are convinced that these things are so and thus have drawn disastrous implications for religion, society, morality, war, hope, and many other things. After all, if there is no ultimate reality and no ultimate meaning and we're truly left with nothing but ourselves, how can there possibly be a basis for religion, society, morality, and the rest?

But David Wells, in his book The Courage to be Protestant (Eerdmans, 2008), makes the argument that the center did in fact hold but that sin has obscured our ability to see it. "The biblical answer explains why all of life has become disordered. As the twenty-first century is beginning in the West, part of that disorder is the sense that life has no center, that it is adrift, and that it has no meaning. This answer, which explains all of this, is sin. And this is the normative answer. It does not change. This, in every age, is the answer that explains life's disorders...

"The biblical answer about why we have lost our center is rather straightforward. The center has not been lost. What has been lost is our ability to see it, to recognize it, to bow before it, to reorder our lives in light of it, to do what we should do as people who live in the presence of this center, this Other, this triune, holy-loving God of the Bible. For we start our life's journey on the alternative premise that he is not there, or that he has not spoken, or that he does not care. We do not reckon on his providential and moral presence. We begin life as if life were empty and without a center and as if we were empowered by our choices to make of life what we will. And so we create our own center, we create our own rules, and we make our own meaning. All of this springs from an alternative center in the universe. It is ourselves" (pgs. 99-100).

With these words Wells simultaneously acknowledges that the center has shifted in the West but that the true Center has not in fact shifted at all. He acknowledges the realities that have plagued the west for over ten decades now but affirms the fact that the solution to this plague is repentance, a turning back to the God of the Bible who is there.

Of course, this turning will take nothing short of a miracle. So let us pray that our great and gracious God will unveil the eyes of those who have been blinded from seeing the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ. "And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:3-6).

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