The following were handed out along with the message "Shipwrecked Earth and the Sovereignty of God" given for the Inversion Fellowship on February 1st 2007.
Is Our World Shipwrecked?
The book of Habakkuk begins with a prophet reflecting on the chaos of his world and questioning God as to how long this state of affairs will continue without God intervening. His world was a world of violence, injustice, strife and contention. In short, his world is our world, a world that is fallen and broken with sin. Some today would debate the reality that we live in a shipwrecked world, that this world is fractured and not the way it is supposed to be. Some say that humans are by nature nice and good people, that we just have bad education and we can fix all our problems given time. While I do find reasons in this age for optimism (not in education, but in the work of God) I am also a realist in relation to the condition of the world. The world is indeed full of goodness but it is also deeply marred by sin. GK Chesterton, a prolific writer in the early 20th century, once poignantly wrote about the current state of affairs which is our world. He describes it as the aftermath of a shipwreck and his language is insightful
And my haunting instinct that somehow good was not merely a tool to be used, but a relic to be guarded, like the goods from Crusoe's ship - even that had been the wild whisper of something originally wise, for, according to Christianity, we were indeed the survivors of a wreck, the crew of a golden ship that had gone down before the beginning of the world.1
There are many things one could point to as “evidence” for the world indeed being a shipwreck, being fallen from a good state. I will briefly list a few and make some comments.
The history and actions of human beings — The history of the human race is one littered with war, oppression, murder, and mayhem. Many would have us believe fanciful narratives about the grandness and goodness of people, but the evidence is shockingly to the contrary. The British Journalist Steve Turner once wrote the following satirical lines in his poem entitled Creed
We believe that man is essentially good. It's only his behavior that lets him down. This is the fault of society. Society is the fault of conditions. Conditions are the fault of society.2
Of course this is a satirical take on the modern mindset revealing an evident contradiction. Societies are nothing but relationships of human beings. So let it be clear—the reason why things go bad in human communities and relationships is because of us. The history and actions of human beings repeatedly shows us that we are not the way we should be.
The mingling of good and evil in the world — Life is a mingled reality of many good things haunted with many evils. Our own lives, the cycles of nature, the realities of disease and sickness, and the eventuality of the great enemy of death all point to a world which is a mixture of good and bad. My life—some days it is full of great joys, others...not so much. The weather—we cannot live without rain, wind, etc. but these same forces can destroy and rack our lives with grief. Disease—anyone who has suffered or watched loved ones suffer with cancer and the myriad of other perplexing conditions knows that something is wrong. Life itself ends with the shocking and abrupt finality of death. Death is universal, it should be seen as the most normal thing in the world. Yet it is not. Every funeral is indeed a testimony that something is wrong, that death is as the Scriptures teach—the last enemy which needs defeat.
The moral training of children - If you ask any parent, they will quickly tell you that no one has to teach them how to be selfish, how to take stuff from other kids, how to lie, how to pull hair, or punch another kid in the nose. To the contrary, everyone knows that we have to consistently teach kids what is good, right and true. This must be constantly and consistently reinforced in order to teach kids to behave. Yet even when the good is known, we do not always do it, for there is a problem with the will. In the book of Romans we see the great struggle that happens in us when we know the good and fail to do it. It is a condition from which we need rescue.
There are many ways that the fall is evidenced around us even when it is denied by many, these are but a few. So what is the biblical view of the world? Is it just a pessimistic, this world sucks, type of attitude. By no means! For the fall and the shipwreck are but part of the story. For we are radically optimistic because this is God’s world and he is at work in redeeming it! Permit me if you will to quote Chesterton one more time at length as his imagery is so powerful.
I know this feeling fills our epoch, and I think it freezes our epoch. For our Titanic purposes of faith and revolution, what we need is not the cold acceptance of the world as a compromise, but some way in which we can heartily hate and heartily love it. We do not want joy and anger to neutralize each other and produce a surly contentment; we want a fiercer delight and a fiercer discontent. We have to feel the universe at once as an ogre’s castle, to be stormed, and yet as our own cottage, to which we can return at evening. No one doubts that an ordinary man can get on with this world: but we demand not strength enough to get on with it, but strength enough to get it on. Can he hate it enough to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing? Can he look up at its colossal good without once feeling acquiescence? Can he look up at its colossal evil without once feeling despair? Can he, in short, be at once not only a pessimist and an optimist, but a fanatical pessimist and a fanatical optimist? Is he enough of a pagan to die for the world, and enough of a Christian to die to it? In this combination, I maintain, it is the rational optimist who fails, the irrational optimist who succeeds. He is ready to smash the whole universe for the sake of itself. 3
The story of the gospel, the narrative of the gospel is one in which all of creation is redeemed by the work of Christ. Human communities will be made right, evil has been and will be finally thwarted in every form, and the last enemy of death is also a defeated foe. In fact, the apostle Paul does something very interesting when reflecting upon the death and resurrection of Jesus. He proclaims Jesus the victor over our sin, death, and the powers of hell—and he even talks junk to the great enemy of the grave. A selection for your meditation:
51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:51-57 ESV
It is not wishful thinking—it is Old School gospel truth...remember the work of Jesus and rejoice—even amidst a world that is indeed a shipwreck, and then join him in the revolution to turn the world upside down redeeming it in a revolution of love, grace, and forgiveness. Live as an irrational optimist in the midst of wars, terror, disease, and death...even in light of your own besetting sins. Choose to live upside down—it is the more excellent way.
If you ever wondered about the appropriateness of questioning God Habakkuk can put that to rest for you. In this book we see a prophet, who we assume was a righteous man, openly questioning God about the condition of the world and where he found his life. As one author has put it: Habakkuk raises openly the kind of questions any thinking and believing person ought to ask.4 We see him questioning, this is not surprising, but we also see God answer him twice. But what are we to do with the overwhelming biblical evidence that we are to have faith and not doubts? Let me put forward the suggestion that one can question God in faith. Let me explain.
If we come to God with questions, we may come in several different postures. First, we can come in a doubt that is not in faith accusing God of wrong doing, speaking arrogantly about things which we are ignorant, effectively putting God on trial as a guilty criminal. This does not honor him. I call this coming to God with a clinched fist. Secondly we can come to God out of spite, declaring our independence of him, effectively denying him and choosing to go our own way. I call this coming to God with our middle finger. Personally, I have interacted with some atheist types who are literally hacked off at the God which they deny even exists. It is a strange phenomena but very real. Finally, there is a way to question God in faith. By this I mean we come to God confused, in pain, yes even angry at him. We come to him because we are in need, we are perplexed at life and cry out to him seeking an answer. I call this coming to God with the open hand. We need not put on a fake, happy-clappy Christian mask in our lives. We desire all the real, authentic, messiness of our souls to be poured out before our Father. We come like the man in Mark’s gospel5 who says to Jesus—”I do believe, help me in my unbelief” Such questions honor God, they come because we truth him and know him; we believe he is good and that he cares for us. So Habakkuk the prophet comes to God and says “What the heck is going on!!? and “God, why don’t you do anything about this evil!!?” and God answers him with truth. Then Habakkuk asks another question about God’s answer, and the dialogue continues. This is our dance, to honor and trust a Sovereign God who rules our lives while relating to him in honesty, authenticity, and the gritty real of life in the shipwrecked world. We walk that road together—in our sins and yet in the grace of God.
- GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York: NY, Image books, 1959) 80. Originally published: New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1908.
- Steve Turner, (English journalist), "Creed," his satirical poem on the modern mind. Quoted in from Ravi Zacharias’, Can Man live Without God? (Nashville: Word, 1992) 42-44.
- Chesterton, 71.
- David Prior, The Message of Joel, Micah & Habakkuk: Listening to the Voice of God. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1999, 212.
- See Mark 9:14-29. In this passage a man brings a demonized boy to Jesus for healing. Jesus tells him that all things are possible for him who believes. The man responds in human frailness and trepidation. “I believe! Help me in my unbelief” - I think this is life with God—passion and faith! Yet we doubt and need his help to believe...