When we assess the state of the world and the people who dwell in it we are often confounded by what we see. This is not a specifically Christian response. If one were to go out into a public place and ask random people, “What’s wrong with the world?” few would contest the premise that there is something amiss in life as we encounter it. The text for the Fifteenth Day of Lent is Romans 3:5-18 (going back to 2:25 as a starting point could be helpful):
5 But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) 6 By no means! For then how could God judge the world? 7 But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? 8 And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.
9 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
There are several common answers to the question of why the world isn’t the way it ought to be–lack of education, poverty, injustice, greed, lack of love, the necessity of a balanced universe in which both good and evil must exist in order to distinguish between the two, etc. All of these are valid observations, but they strike as symptoms more than they do as causes of the problem. And in virtually every case there is a subtle implication that the root of the problem lies outside oneself. There is a problem, that is to say, and I have to put up with the results, in spite of having done nothing to bring it about. The real problem is outside of me.
The text, to this point, has outlined an argument that deliberately implicates everyone in the problem, regardless of what group they belong to. The argument culminates in a series of Old Testament citations which describe our common human condition. It is for this reason, as noted in the previous post, that honest Christians should be about the business of self-reformation rather than societal condemnation. Rather than flaunting their forgiven status, they should be focusing on their transformation into the image of Christ–the one who provided the forgiveness in the first place.
I am reminded of the response given decades ago by G. K. Chesterton to a London Times question in the public comment section of the paper, which asked people to weigh in on exactly the same question we began with today. Chesterton’s response? “Dear Sirs, In response to your question of what is wrong with the world: I am.” As we continue in a period of repentance, let us reflect on the specific ways in which we might continue to participate in the sin which is the truth about the world’s problems. And then let us seek the assistance of one another in working out our salvation from those sins, even in fear and trembling. Many Christians have come a long way by the grace of God; most of us have learned only how far we have yet to go.