What's the Problem?
Updated: Jan 12
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to Him that he might be repaid?”
For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.
- Romans 11:33-36
When the doorbell rang, the dogs went berserk as they always do, certain that some terrible and fearsome invader lurked on the other side. As we held them by the collars and eased them away from the door, the plumber stepped in and asked, “So, what’s the problem?” Sitting at the kitchen table and working, I watched him working to clear the dishwasher line. Interestingly, he never asked how the heater or air conditioner was working. He was interested only in the dishwasher drain.
It would have been odd indeed if a plumber were called to work on the heating system. The person you call depends entirely upon the problem you have. Obviously… Who treats a heart problem with chemotherapy or radiation? Who seeks a pulmonologist to provide medical care for diabetes? The solutions we seek depend entirely upon what we determine our problem to be.
What do you think the problem is these days? Is it politics? Or education? Is it immorality? Or godlessness? What is the problem that needs to be fixed? Maybe there isn’t a problem?
Recently, sitting around talking with some other Christians about the problems of the world, I brought up Genesis 3 in which the man and woman sought to have all knowledge as God does and to be their own gods in control of their lives and so forth. Although this was a specifically Christian conversation among practicing Christians, several looked at me with blank stares. I had this urge to ask, “Are you unfamiliar with the Fall and sin?” Instead, I just stopped talking and allowed the conversation to wander down the road of denominations, politicians, education, and so on.
I think it is hard for us to connect ourselves to the ancient stories of human origins. After all, most of us harbor some uncertainty if not outright doubt that our origins are truly connected to the exclusive creation of Christianity’s God. Nor do we continue to think of human sin as described in the first chapters of the Bible. Something about evolving from monkeys seems slightly suspect and unpleasant when we stop to think about it, but the idea of evolution is so engrained in our collective thought and individual self-awareness that the stories from Genesis seem far removed from today, especially with all the sophisticated knowledge we possess. I mean, we have pills and treatments and such for our problems, do we not? It’s not so much that we disbelieve in the force of God’s creative power as it is that we trust science has “real” descriptions of existence. Such being the case, we no longer relate ancient accounts of the activity of God to the lives we live today.
The thing is self-understanding depends a great deal upon the story that identifies our origins. What’s odd is that the “big questions” are not as commonly asked as they used to be. Who are we? Why are we here? How did everything come to be? What is the purpose of life? Is there meaning to my existence? These are the questions that span centuries, even millennia, as human beings sought to make sense of who and what we are. The odd factor is our own sense of advancement over previous, less-educated generations that braved the important questions uncommon in today’s discourse. These questions became less common and have almost been eradicated by the purported certainty of evolution, with its obtuse demand that we accept the utter meaninglessness of human existence. Each individual human life exists because we happened to win the lottery of the genetic pool. If this is all that a human being is, then no human being needs a savior. The most we can hope for is a pill or a treatment to solve the problems of our lives. We are nothing more than impulses and urges subject to functioning synapses – simply arranged organic matter that flourishes until it rots.
Scripture tells us an entirely different story, however. It is the story of a wondrous God Whose knowledge, wisdom, and judgments are so far beyond our own that we cannot begin to understand. He is the God Who was before all, Who is in all, and to Whom all returns. He is the breath of life that sustains every being and all living things. He is the Word that spoke and galaxies were born. He is the One Who called each one of us forth from our mother’s womb.
The problem that Christ’s salvation solves is the redemption and restoration of His creation that we broke and even now continue to break. We talk about salvation and experience genuine salvation as forgiveness and freedom from sin, in the destruction of the forces of evil and darkness in our lives and world, and the finally, with the defeat of death itself. The Gospel is good news only if our sense of self aches with the problem of sin, admits our helplessness before the machinations of evil – in others, in ourselves, and in the dark spiritual forces of our world, and trembles before the inevitable death that stalks all human life.
The problem of sin is not, as we are inclined to think, a problem of breaking rules or being immoral. Immorality and the inability to follow the rules are the symptoms of sin. Sin itself is like a deadly disease slowly stealing life from us as it separates us from God. Sin is the distortion and mutilation of human character and nobility, the destruction of the image of God by layering the soul with confusion, brokenness, misguided knowledge, and unmerited pride. Nothing in our society today speaks to the reality of evil, to the dark forces that influence us and those we know. Despair encroaches in human minds, even as a little voice incessantly reminds us of all the good we deserve, of all the injustices we suffer, of just cause for our fears and worries, and more. Finally, death hangs over our lives like a specter. It’s going to end, and so many live with a near constant state of desperation that it hasn’t mattered, that living and dying are ultimately meaningless.
All of this and so much more is spelled out for us in Scripture, and the clearest explanation is found in those quaint chapters that start the story. Christianity is not about morality, at least not centrally about morality. Christianity is the Gospel of life for a people held captive to death. Christians inhabit the Scriptures. We are Adam and Eve called to life and fellowship with our Creator. We also are Adam and Eve choosing to rebel and be our own gods rather than live fully in the paradise of God’s abundance and provision. We are Samuel, surprised to hear God calling us to Him. We are the Israelites who reject God and want our own king, so that we can be like everyone else. We are Saul clinging to position, jealous and threatened by those who are more faithful than we. We are Peter bragging that we will follow Jesus wherever He goes, only to draw back in denial when the going gets rough. We are Paul mocking Jesus and trying to stamp out Christianity until Jesus claims us as His own. We are the fish the apostles were sent to catch.
There is no small paradox in the exaggerated certainty of knowledge among many contemporary atheistic philosophers, scientists, and researchers that “frees” humans from the superstitions of religion, thus making us all quite small and irrelevant. (That is such an Adam and Eve move, taking the fruit to know everything only to lose all things.) In contrast, the much mocked and maligned superstitions of faith turn out to be the clearer and more accurate understanding of all that is. Still, there is within each one of us a deep longing to have the answers for ourselves, to define the problem and provide the solution. We are Adam and Eve. We are the kings, queens, and plebian masses of the world throughout history. We are the lost, broken, and dying made in the image of the God “from Whom and through Whom and to Whom are all things.”
Ask yourself this question: what is the problem I’m trying to solve in my life? What am I trusting in my hope of it all coming out right in the end? If you do not immediately know the answer, then you are due a time of reflection on who or what you are. If your answer is not “the problem of sin and death,” then you are due a time of repentance. The solution of Christian faith is the salvation and redemption of the whole of creation, thus implying the need to be saved. To the extent that we do not live in that understanding, in that humility, and in that gratitude, we are separated from the reality of our true humanity.
We need to know the problem before we decide on a solution. The problem of humanity and creation is not a problem we can solve. It’s not even a problem we can understand unless we accept what God revealed to us through the Scriptures. Only then do we begin to hope for the solution that is life in Jesus Christ.
Science can answer many questions, but no answer can stretch beyond even the brightest of human minds. Psychology and sociology can provide ways of coping with the brokenness and confusion of human life, but these fields cannot lift any of us beyond ourselves to embrace the God Who created us for eternal glory. Correctly identifying what the problem is critical for finding the solution.
We need a greater, deeper understanding of what it means to be human than has been concocted for this generation. We also need the humility to see the riches, wisdom, and judgments of God are far beyond anything we can comprehend. When we acknowledge we do not know the mind of God and He is too great to owe us anything, paradoxically, every human life is elevated as His creation, the object of His love and respect. We have a bigger God than we have allowed ourselves to trust. We are far more than the world would ever suggest we can be. This is the salvation we carry with us for the world – the light into the darkness, the hope into despair, and life into death.
In Christ –
Rev. Elizabeth Moreau
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