Dorothy Sayers in her essay titled “Problem Picture” presents a perspective of a Christian writing in England during World War Two. I would like to draw a few statements from this essay:
“There is one vast human experience that confronts us so formidably that we cannot pretend to overlook it. There is no solution to death.” … “The spiritual and mental energy that we expend upon resenting the inevitably of death is as much wasted as that which we from time to time have expended on attempts to solve the problem of perpetual motion. Further, this irrational preoccupation curiously hampers us in dealing with such a practical question as that of the possibility of war. It encourages us to look on the evil of war as consisting, first and foremost, that it kills a great many people.” … “Because of that, we would not risk war, for right or justice, or even in the hope of preserving peace. We threw down our arms [after WW1], crying ‘No More War!’, and so delivered up Europe.”
I am also writing from the perspective of a Christian. As I survey the landscape today I believe we can see that the sort of attitude that Sayers decried back in World War 2 is still alive and well with us today. When I hear calls like “Support the Troops- Bring them Home,” I recognize that the speaker believes that the very worst thing that can happen in life is to die. We must ask ourselves how many tyrants are in power today, stifling their populace by whatever means that they have, because free men and women can’t bring themselves to assert their understanding of what is right and what is wrong for fear that war might break out.
That is the story of Rwanda in the 90s. It is today’s story in Sudan. This article is not about trying to lay out arguments for war but rather to expound on the principle at work in Sayer’s statement. That principle is: In the face of evils that will always be with us, we shouldn’t try to avoid them, stall them, or overcome them in such a way that is also evil or sets the stage for something more horrific.
I can think of other applications of this principle and when we are in a political season I think it is wise to consider the matter, especially those of us who are Christians.
Perhaps another illustration from history should be presented. Let us take the problem of poverty. Poverty has always been with us and though it may offend some to point it out, it will always remain with us in the face of all our efforts. Poverty, like war, and like death, is a thing we should be concerned about. Can we put our finger on an attempt to deal with poverty that not only was worse than the problem to be solved but also brought more poverty?
I believe we can point to the rise of Communism as a case in point. Communism surged because of the vast amount of people feeling the dull weight of exploitation upon them. The solution was to take from the ‘haves’ and give to the ‘have nots.’ This was done violently but in the end many of the ‘have nots’ still had not and hundreds of millions perished in an effort to enforce ‘equality’ on a national scale.
Communist countries became the poorest countries on the planet. Only by softening their principles, as in China and Vietnam, did they manage to stay afloat at all. With all of the efforts of the Chinese to stamp out the problem of economic disparities does anyone believe for a minute that there are no poor people in China?
Now, in America there are people who would like to take from the ‘haves’ and give to the ‘have nots.’ Is it ever right to take what belongs to someone else just to give it to another? Do we know from history what kind of outcomes might result if such a venture was carried out in its full strength? We do. Is there a way to take poverty serious while not offering ‘rob the rich’ as the solution? I think so.
There will always be problems – death, war, poverty, conflict, sickness, etc. Some people take the attitude that these problems must be fought at any cost and tend to elect people who will fight them at any cost, oblivious to the fact that in tending to one problem they are creating another. In my view, the ideal candidate will take the problems seriously but will be aware of the law of unintended consequences and try to keep government out of the way of good citizens at work on those problems at the local level.
But it might be argued that there are some problems that are so big that they can only be handled by an institution as massive as our government. I don’t believe there are as many as we might think. I am not arguing that we do nothing about the problems of society but that we do so in a way that doesn’t do even worse damage. If not the government, then, who do I propose tackle these issues?
Quite simply, I believe the Christian church itself has what it takes to handle many of these social problems. I fear, however, that many Christians have gravitated towards solving such problems with government. This, in my view, is shameful. Attending to the concerns of our fellow man is a task given to us by Christ. He didn’t give it to us so that we could delegate it off to bureaucrats, no matter how well meaning we think those people are.
I wonder how many other issues that we Christians take seriously could be largely managed if instead of trying to resolve issues legislatively we devoted our time, energy, and resources to dealing with these problems as they arise in our own local communities. A litany of examples comes to my mind. I am not saying that we don’t work legislatively. I am saying we don’t put our hope in the government and that we don’t give up duties that rightly belong to us.
In this political season, I will be looking for a candidate who trusts the people themselves to address the big issues of our time. I fear that even if we elect such a candidate, the Christian community would not capitalize on the opportunity such an approach will afford. So, no matter what happens in the next election, there is still plenty we Christians can do… and should do. We can start now.
Anthony Horvath is the author of the Birth Pangs series, the Executive Director of Athanatos Christian Ministries, and the Chief Apologist at www.sntjohnny.com.