This past summer I’ve indulged one of my hobbies: reading science fiction. For the haters out there, I won’t try to defend myself, except to say that I am quite really and honestly an irredeemable nerd. Yet know this: the best science fiction isn’t about explosions or alien wars or transporter beams. It is about ideas. So it was that I’ve been reading the Ender’s Game series by Orson Scott Card. The first book, soon to be a major motion picture, deals with questions of war, peace, innocence, and betrayal by focusing on a young boy called upon to save the human race. I wholeheartedly endorse getting a copy and reading it today.
The sequels to that first volume are a bit more philosophical in orientation, and in one of them I read a statement that rather blew me away. In the middle of the book, an older and rather bitter character says the following to her younger conversation partner: “Don’t ever try to teach me about good and evil. I’ve been there; you’ve seen nothing but the map.”
Good and evil. Powerful concepts. We Christians think about them a lot. As a former pastor and now ministry professor, it is my job to reflect on them, preach about them, and teach them with some regularity. In so doing, I run the risk of treating them like intellectual topics rather than the realities they are in the lives of so many. Perhaps that’s why this short statement struck home for me.
As you might expect, I’ve done a lot a reading in my day. And, like many of you, I’ve sat in a lot of classes. So believe me when I tell you it would be easy for me to talk about the reality of evil in our world, the need to stand against it, and the way that Christ comes to redeem us. Tie things up in a nice little bow and leave them at that. Utterly pious yet overly simplistic statements that would satisfy the “Christian checklist” but do little more. It would be easy, in other words, for me to provide students with simple uncomplicated answers to questions about the hurt, pain, and suffering in our world.
But I can’t do that. I can’t do that because there is so much of that “map” that I haven’t journeyed through. That I haven’t lived. While I hope I never have to, I do know enough to realize that in any case there are some things that are too deep for me.
We make a mistake as Christians when we think we’ve got it all figured out. But if we think that we ourselves have all the answers to people’s questions just because Christ is the Answer, we run the risk of running roughshod over others when we have no idea what they’ve been though.
Being a Christian means many things, but one of them is being humble. Humbling ourselves before God first and foremost. Humbling ourselves before others and being servants. It also means humbling ourselves in our own eyes and realizing that despite our vaunted theories and ideas and “answers,” this fallen world is much more complicated than we comprehend.
So the next time a friend comes to you with hurts and honest questions, be careful not to answer them too quickly or tell them that you understand, when quite honestly you have no way to feel the pain they are going through. When classroom debate turns to issues of politics, suffering, or good and evil, make sure you understand that what you speak about is not just another topic to play around with, but involves real people. Remember, first and foremost, that all of our knowledge and ideas are but a drop in the ocean compared to the God who holds all things and has suffered all things for us. Because, at the end of the day, the only one that fully comprehends the entirety of human good and evil is Christ Himself.