We live in a fallen world. Now what?

Jared Staudt

Once, an editor of The Times newspaper asked G.K. Chesterton, “What is wrong with the world?” Chesterton, the great master of common sense and wit that he was, responded: “Dear Sir: I am. Yours, G.K. Chesterton.”

“I am.” There is starting honesty and humility in recognizing that the world’s problems rest in the heart, and not ultimately in any of the great social, political, or economic forces on the outside. It is the problem within the heart that causes those exterior troubles, of course. There are certainly sinful structures in the world, which are structures that arise from and encourage sin, such as Communism, although they only have power because they tap into the darkness within us. The world is broken because we are broken. 

Chesterton, once again, points to the commonsense reality of our brokenness. He rightly recognizes that “certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.” We can simply look around to recognize that we live in a fallen world. Due to the Fall, stemming from the sin of Adam and Eve, every human being following them has been born into the world without the gifts that God originally intended for us. He desired us to live without evil and suffering, sheltered within the protection of the Garden, but we had other plans. The Catechism speaks of how original sin impacts us: “It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin  — an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence” (CCC 405). Original sin explains why we all struggle to reach happiness and to be at peace with others. 

“Suffering and brokenness bring us to our own limitation and need for God. There is freedom in accepting this brokenness, so that we can face it and embrace healing in Christ.”

Original sin points to a lack of right relationship with God as the heart of what’s wrong with the world. It is a problem we all face, even as we want to blame others. In fact, owning up to our own brokenness and sin has been a problem from the very beginning. When God asks Adam why he ate the fruit, he blamed Eve, the helpmate that God had given him (implicitly blaming God). When God turned to Eve, she blamed the serpent for tricking her. There is truth to the fact that we do not sin in isolation from others. The trouble comes from wanting to blame the world’s problems on others, while acting like we are simply victims of forces outside of our control. 

Even if we recognize the source of evil as arising within the heart, we still have to face another question of why evil exists in the world. Like Adam, many times we blame God for allowing suffering to happen in our lives. If we are sick, lose work, or a loved one dies, we immediately ask God how he could have allowed it. God, however, did not intend this evil in his original plan, as suffering entered into the world because of sin. Sin is to blame for physical evil and death, not God. As a result of the Fall, God does allow physical evil to occur in the world, even as he uses it to bring about a greater good. Through physical difficulties, God shows us that the world is not our true home (and is not meant to be an earthly paradise any longer) and that we are made for something more. We cannot get too comfortable here on earth. Suffering reminds us of this and our need to trust in God. Even worse than physical evil, however, is moral evil which stems solely from our own free will. When we suffer, it can actually wake us up to the moral evil that lies hidden in our lives, calling us to conversion. 

Suffering and brokenness bring us to our own limitation and need for God. There is freedom in accepting this brokenness, so that we can face it and embrace healing in Christ. Thanks to my teenage son, Louis, I overheard Matthew West’s recent Christian hit, “Truth Be Told,” that points to the typical reaction to our own brokenness, “I’m fine.” With words spoken to God, West’s song accurately captures how we try to ignore what is really going on inside of us:

I say “I’m fine, yeah I’m fine, oh I’m fine, hey I’m fine,” but I’m not. I’m broken. And when it’s out of control I say “it’s under control” but it’s not, and you know it. I don’t know why it’s so hard to admit it, when being honest is the only way to fix it. There’s no failure, no fall, there’s no sin you don’t already know. So, let the truth be told.

In our fallen world, the problem begins with us and our frail state of sin and brokenness. During Lent, the Lord calls us to conversion – to turn away from our sin and toward him in a spirit of penance, opening ourselves to receive his grace.

Modern individualism tells us that we are fine simply relying on ourselves — that we can handle it and that we are weak if we turn to others for help. The Christian faith stands firmly against this, because we cannot ignore the brokenness within us, leaving it unaddressed and lurking to come out with a vengeance. We have to be truthful about who we are. We are broken, sinful people, who can experience healing and grace if we face the truth and allow it to be told. 

How do we tell this truth? During Lent, the Church calls us to conversion, through prayer and penance, and asks us to confess our sins. We “let the truth be told” when we come before God, acknowledge our sins, and ask for his forgiveness. Accepting our weakness calls us to turn to God for help, allowing him to remove the darkness within us and fill us with his own life and light. God does not just take away all of the world’s problems. Rather, he enters into them, first by taking them on himself by becoming man in Jesus, and then by entering into the broken center within us. God is not absent from the suffering world, even if he does not show himself visibly for all to see and dramatically solve things in a political way. God fixes the world one heart at a time in a way that is more powerful than the noise that surrounds us, preparing us to face it and do our part within it. 

If what’s wrong with the world is me, then the solution also starts with me. My inner brokenness can be healed by God (even if never perfectly in this life) so that I can become part of the solution. I can bring others to Christ for healing, inviting them to the Church and specifically to confession. Although people are often scared to confess their sins, it is actually a great relief and source of healing. It is a gift to be able to share this relief and healing with others. And, when enough people receive this gift, it will have an impact on the world more broadly. This Lent, we can embrace God’s solution, the healing that begins at the source of the problem: me. 

COMING UP: Christian Agitation and the Equality Act

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I don’t know about you, but I find myself getting agitated pretty easily these days, often in ways that are not fitting for a believing Christian. I have been thinking a lot about the perils of living in a society which is becoming more and more overtly hostile to many of the norms that were simply taken for granted by the vast majority of our fellow citizens a mere 20 years ago. I’ll come back to that in a minute. 

Read a letter to from the Colorado Bishops on the Equality Act here.

First, in order to avoid inciting unchristian agitation in you, I want to share a blessing I received from my husband a few days ago, just as I was launching into a bitter rant about how hostile so many have become to basic Catholic ideas.  As part of his Lenten discipline, he has been reading through all four Gospels, and that morning he interrupted and extinguished my rant by reading aloud the words of Jesus that he had just read:  

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5: 43-48). 

That caught me up short.  The words “your heavenly Father … causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust,” especially reverberated in my mind.  Maybe it’s just that I am anxious to get out in my dry Colorado garden, but for the rest of the day I kept coming back to those words and to the fact that the Father is the one in charge and that while it’s okay and maybe even necessary for me to do my little bit and do it energetically, it’s not okay for me to hate or fear or malign those who respond to my Catholic witness by calling me a “hater.” The Father causes the rain to fall on all of us, and I must do my part in his vineyard without undermining his work in me by succumbing to bitterness or reveling in outrage, temptations that my personality is all too prone to.  

The flipside of my temptation is felt by those who are so overwhelmed by the rapid change in “acceptable ideas” that they lose their confidence in what the Church teaches or even try to alter Church teaching in order to make it compatible with the culture’s new ideas. We are called to witness to the truths of our faith in season and out of season, but Catholics in America have become so accustomed to being accepted in the mainstream that it can be very hard for us to appreciate just how “out of season” core teachings of our Church are right now.    

The fact is that there are a number of non-negotiable teachings of our Church which we once could have confidently and respectfully proposed for consideration, but which many are now afraid to speak out loud. For example:   

  • That marriage is the union of one man and one woman and that it is not only meant for the “actualization” of the spouses but also to provide the best setting for raising physically, emotionally, and socially healthy children;   
  • That children are not commodities and should not be conceived in petri dishes and sorted for life or death according to pre-ordered specifications;  
  • That human beings are, from conception, immutably male or female;   
  • That hard-won civil rights protecting people from unjust discrimination based on immutable race or sex should not be co-opted to undermine the protections extended to women to protect them from male violence and from men having unfair advantages over them in the workplace, the marketplace, in education or in the sports arena;   
  • And, finally, that people should not be forced, either legally or economically, to violate their own consciences by participating in others’ violation of these norms.    

These ideas, all of which conform with the Church’s continuous teaching, are now regularly denounced in public as naked bigotry comparable to that of an unrepentant leader of the KKK.   

The last three on the list will be undermined by the law itself if the U.S. Senate passes the misnamed Equality Act, which has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives and which President Biden has promised to sign into law. The consequences, especially for women and children, will be severe. Here are just a few examples of the foreseeable consequences:    

  • Girls and women who compete in sports won’t be protected from having to compete with athletes-who-identify-as-female who have gone through male puberty, whose muscles have been bathed in amounts of muscle strengthening testosterone far in excess of any female’s, and whose metabolisms release energy at a rate with which no female’s can match;  
  • Parents will not be able to protect even young children from exposure to or encouragement of confusion about sexual identity;
  • Physicians and mental health professionals who question whether “gender transition” is really in the best interest of a particular minor will not be able to give those in their care their best counsel;   
  • In addition, the Equality Act would force physicians and nurses to participate in abortions, undoing longstanding legal protections for conscientious objection, because the Act redefines objection to abortion as “pregnancy discrimination” and explicitly forbids accommodation for religious or conscience objections by “providers.”  

Any one of those foreseeable consequences should agitate all of us. We should all be stirred at least to refuse to lie when we are asked what we think.  And any of us who claim to profess and teach the faith must muster both the courage and the love to face being denounced as a hater, knowing that if we do not stand against the force of these lies, those who denounce us will have no one else to witness to the truth for them.   

Our Father in heaven makes it rain on all of us.  Let us stand firm in the truth that we are all his beloved children, that we are all made in his image, that he made us male and female, and that it is not good for any of us to attempt to re-make ourselves in an image of our own choosing.  We hate no one.  It is because we love our fellow citizens that we insist on witnessing publicly to the truth. 

Dr. Selner-Wright holds the Archbishop Chaput Chair of Philosophy at St. John Vianney Theological  Seminary and is a member of the leadership team at the EPPC’s Person and Identity Project, which offers a Catholic response to gender confusion:  personandidentity.com  

Featured Photo by Julien Gaud on Unsplash