Now, this isn’t going to be a theological treatise – you you are probably quite glad of that! Rather, a collection of thoughts, hopefully not too random, that coalesced when I was talking to a friend the other night. Feel free to offer your own opinion.
Firstly, it’s not saying anything new that Western culture tends to be an individualistic one. Compared with other cultures, our sense of identity is much more wrapped up in self, and less in family, region, country etc. That does not mean we do not have those layers, but that often we do not recognise them for what they are.
As a result, I believe we are often blinded to our full identity – and as a result do not have a full picture of sin and judgment. What do I mean by that? Well, first, let’s look at identity. It seems to me that we all have multiple layers to what makes us ‘us’. First of all, there is us as individuals. Then there is us as part of a family. Then, perhaps, as part of a town or region. Then, a country. In addition to that there are many other facets that make up identity – workplace, clubs, social gatherings, as a part of a Church – and most importantly for the Christian a citizen of Heaven, part of God’s own family, grafted in though Jesus Christ. All these come together to form ‘us’ – to put it simply no one can be seen as an individual alone.
But I believe it is this cultural focus on the individual (now, there’s irony) that obscures this more full understanding of our identity, and – as I said – also blinds us to the full nature of sin and judgment. For, although we are tenuously aware of these extra layers, we are not aware enough to perceive the endemic sin that also resides in these layers, and more so that we are part of the problem. We may vaguely pray regarding the sins of our country. How much more would we pray if we understood that – as citizens of that country – we all partake together in that sin? That it is not something that can be vaguely put at somebody else’s door – it comes directly back to us.
Now, you may say we are citizens of Heaven. Just so. But we are in a strange place while we are yet here on this earth – something of a time between times – and just as ‘personal’ sin bedevils us at times, so does societal sin also. It is not somebody else’s sin, it is corporately ours.
Ultimately, understanding this requires a shift in thinking. But, if you can make that shift – it can also shift your understanding of judgment. So often when calamity hits a country, some folks will say ‘this was the judgment of God’. Now, that may or may not be true, but the reply often critiques the seemingly random nature of the casualties – utilising the ‘this person was good so why did it happen to them?’ argument. We often cannot wrap our minds around this. However, one you understand identity and sin as multi-layered, then judgments that impact a country (say), start to be seen in a different light. Not that this seeks to explain such things, but certainly it broadens our vista compared to our normal individualistic understanding.