Building worlds

We create worlds with the stories we tell. It’s possible to create fantasy worlds–be it a virtual community populated by elves, magi and charmed swords–or places where normal rules don’t always apply (which can in turn have strange and/or painful consequences–as here). But consider what more typically comes into being on account of our perspective and language. Do I see the cup half full? That results in a ‘world-view’ which tends toward the bright and positive. Do I harbor bitterness to the point that it spills out in regular conversation? That leads to a rather small, dim neighborhood.

In thinking about glory, and its connection with sin, I’m listening to Romans 3:23–all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. ‘Sin’ got a lot of press in the tribe I grew up with, which had a way of directing attention toward failure and punishment–and since sin is a persistent and universal problem, this sort of language can create an environment where anger, guilt and anxiety grows. More than this springs up, of course, since there are other contributing factors, but these qualities and characteristics sprout alongside laudable virtues–and in some places threaten to dominate.

What I’m noticing is how Paul’s comment allows for a different interpretation, which in turn results in a rather different world. First off, we need to add in the last phrase of his statement–the one about glory. When we do that, it sounds like Paul has in mind a consequence of sin–namely the absence of glory which otherwise ought to be present, and desirable. Taken this way, Paul’s remark is not so much as a way of explaining the deplorable condition of humanity and the wrath about to fall on it as it is a lament that the way God designed things has gone badly awry (to use Cornelius Plantinga’s memorable phrase, life as we know it is Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be).

Now the big story is not just told in terms of failure and punishment (in which, let’s be fair, grace also makes a dramatic appearance–thank God), but one that acknowledges loss and anticipates recovery. I’m still turning this over in my brain, but my sense is that this reading fits well with the available data, and provides language for a different story. When the narrative revolves around loss and recovery (grace is a major factor in this story, too), the way we see ourselves (if we are people who have been rescued from sin) as well as the way we view those still in thrall to sin changes.

Perfectionism fades; humility emerges. Anger at my own shortcomings, or those of others around me–this gets absorbed in and replaced by compassion: a willingness to join God in the business of restoration, and profound gratitude that God commits to such activity. Confidence pushes anxiety to the margins and then off the cliff. No more need for threats either (like the ‘turn or burn’ approach that for some reason grew popular and still swims around too many pools); the invitation into the realm where Jesus is Lord has no barb attached.

According to Genesis, God created the world with words (and God said… ), and it seems that God’s creatures continue on with that same enterprise–albeit on a smaller scale–creating worlds by the words they use and the stories they tell.

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