Thursday, August 11, 2011

Fixated (August 11, 2011)

  A Slice of Infinity


"I fix things; that's what I do," says Walt Kowalsky, the character played by Clint Eastwood in his movie, Gran Torino. It is a departure from the usual expectations of Eastwood, although the expected scenarios of innocent or weak people, oppressed or threatened by serious bad guys, indeed occurs. What is different in this movie, however, is how Eastwood as the actor/director resolves these issues in an untypical (for him) twist.
The idea of heroes and heroines who "fix things" is a staple of writing, filmmaking, and good novels. Whether it is John Wayne, Burt Reynolds, Clint Eastwood, Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Bond, or Jason Bourne, the icon and images play to our expectations. And what are these expectations? It seems that we long for justice, for healing, for an end to evil or wrong in the world.
The Enlightenment era gave birth to a view that one friend describes as "rational man (and woman) in control of their destiny." Since it was believed that humans were the measure of all things (Protagoras), it followed that our destiny, our problems, and our challenges all rested within the power of our own capacities to resolve. It is as if long before Eastwood's character, there was a corporate hope expressed: We fix things; that's what we do.
One is tempted to stop and ask, oh really? The promethean vision of fixing things, and as a result, of ever-refreshed hopes, runs into many walls and recurring obstacles.  I have long come to appreciate Murphy's Law (if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong); not as a statement of despair, but as an ironic description of human life. This is the inbuilt "oh no" factor that affects projects, plane schedules, the best laid plans—and many of our well intentioned efforts at fixing things. Something is wrong in life and with life, but what is it and why can't we fix it?
The Christian narrative portrays a great calamity at the heart of existence. A disruption has occurred. The universe and reality is disordered.  There are forces at loose and powers at work that taint things, damage life, corrupt existence, and spoil things. What the Bible describes as sin (cf. Ephesians 2:1-3, Romans 3:23) is certainly one of the most helpful descriptions of what we actually see and experience, and I'd also suggest, one of the most empirically defendable.
When the London Times asked at the turn of the last century "What's wrong with the world," the writer G.K. Chesterton wrote a brief letter in response. "Dear Sirs: I am," he said. By this he meant not that he was alone responsible for all the evils of existence, but that as a sincere member of the human race, he knew he was flawed, damaged, and in need of a help greater than mere human sincerity and an effort to fix things.
Chesterton, like many before him and after him, discovered that the struggle to face was not only external (in society, culture, issues, people or threats), but also internal (in resentments, bitterness, hatred, and a desire for control). Jesus made it clear that externals have little to do with our truest issues; it is what is inside that is our problem: "Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach...It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come" (Mark 7:15-16).
Our modern world wants us all to adopt the stance of Eastwood's character. I fix things. But that is the issue: we don't, and we can't. It is not a motivation problem (in many cases).  We usually want to get better, and we want others to get better. On the contrary, it is an ability problem, or in other words, a power problem. We do not have the necessary qualifications or tools for the job. However, there is one who is qualified and whose title, Savior, offers not only what I need, but that which we all need.  The hunger for hope and the desire for things to be "fixed" are met in the one who, on Calvary's Cross, bore our sin and shame, and rose again to offer new life and hope. Thus, the great hymn writer Augustus Toplady said it best: "Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to your cross I cling."
Stuart McAllister is vice president of training and special projects at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
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