Chaos and the Human Condition
A Poem by Mike Garner
Unexplainable feelings ‘fear’
Uncertainty where is it from?
I’ve tried so hard
It all comes undone
Alone I face monsters
Where has everyone gone?
Together they’ve slain us
Will we rise?
Jesus is with me
Still he is with me
I charged the darkness
Like a knight of faith
Solitary, naked, unarmed
Still he is with me
Will daylight come?
It has been dark for so long.
I am undone
Has the monster won?
The daily experience of living that gives rise to ‘monsters’ is a constant and will remain a common predictable event until the telos. The possibility for the eruption of monsters (Leviathan) is always just below the surface. The most troublesome rising of the monster is brought about by the tension present in human relationships. This is so whether it is merely a couple of brothers or in larger relational formations such as the cultural, national, and international. The continual collision of chaos in life is a reckoning of hidden failure, misunderstanding, and evil covered over by false civility and niceness. It is the tension brought on simply by existing, a tension that permeates each life, every society, the entire world.
In its immanence, the rise of Leviathan is a product of those perennial idols (militarism, materialism, and ethnocentrism). In the present era, the monster is the unsustainable consumption of the world’s resources by the wealthy, the powerful and in particular the U.S. Hyper Power. Within the boundaries of the U.S., the cost of rising to the status of a hyper power has required a cultural ethos built around the sacralizing of warriors and the development of a warrior culture. Christendom (popular evangelicalism) in the U.S. has embraced the warrior culture and, in doing so, has lost what it means to be a Christian.
We are creatures in process, for us becoming is before being. It is religion that endeavors to aid people in a transformative life of becoming, of changing. All our becoming is lived out with the presence of monsters, that is powers beyond our control who, like parasites draw the life out of us, causing the closest of relationships to suffer their murderous interruptions.
I was conversing with my daughter about the terminal illness of her mother and did not think my eight-year-old granddaughter playing behind us was listening. It was my birthday so we enjoyed blowing out candles and eating a piece of cake. Suddenly my granddaughter began to cry with deep emotion. I asked why she was crying. She began an elaborate story about her fear of a doll coming to life and bearing a knife and seeking to kill people.
My thoughts were that she had heard our conversation; unable to comprehend the reality of death and dying she needed a monster. She knew the monster she created wasn’t real, but her feelings needed an explanation she was incapable of expressing. We all live with this reality of the nearness of some monstrous force threatening the well being of our lives. Apocalyptic literature fulfills a role in scripture that addresses the birth of monsters both real and imagined. Behind every monster is fear, misunderstanding, tragedy, natural disaster, or human conflict.
Naming Leviathan’s Children
Racism is the deep-seated ignorance of an undercurrent in all American social reality that supports and feeds the monster of white superiority. The Biblicism that did not understand the book of Joshua as a conquest narrative, as a piece of literature, contributed to the co-opting of God for the service of war and genocide as western Europeans arrived in America. Scripture became a tool for justifying the state rather than instructive on the human propensity to war in the name of God.
Good theology serves as a corrective guide to the ever-present push from culture and government. When theology serves and justifies state and culture, religion becomes useless for transformation and serves the idols of the age. The monster of racism exists in the sense of white superiority built into American history and present in colloquialisms, books, movies, and perceptions of what constitutes beauty.
Wealth disparity exhibited in abject poverty is a monster. To end the injustices of limitless wealth and extreme poverty lies at the heart of Torah, echoes throughout the prophets and is the activity that follows acceptance of the gospel; it is the activity that begins the healing of the world. The need for correcting the illegal accumulation of wealth through injustice, through legalized crimes in the halls of power is pressing humanity and will not end without a response.
Christian leaders and theologians should be, the first responders speaking denunciation to the injustice of current economic systems, and directors of nonviolent resistance by the people. Our world needs saner voices than the keepers of the status quo. The most somber words ringing daily are: Remember the Poor.
Of course, there are many monsters to be named. The complexity in personal relationships that gives rise to monsters is as complicated as the few I have named in relation to larger systems of states, cultures and social stratifications.
In personal relationships, particularly familial, the tension of the unspoken and the buildup of careless words produce an uncontainable monster that will disrupt the relationship if equality and love are not nurtured, if forgiveness is not given. People who love each other often cannot have a healthy relationship because one or both of them do not address their own failures. Claims of absolute innocence in personal relationships are always false; we are all guilty. Arrogance, pride, controlling words, hurtful words, float around in the atmosphere of human relationships like a disease in the body.
Living with Monsters
It is notable that theology has often ignored that in the first creation account God created the ‘great sea monsters’ or serpents or dragons – all are legitimate translations – and called them good. It is significant that of the seven times the word create is used in Genesis 1-2:4a, one of the uses is applied to the creation of mythical creatures that represent chaos.
So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves,
of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good.
The chaos motif is firmly rooted in the OT and particularly in the Genesis account. Although the first Genesis account serves as a polemic in relation to the Babylonian creation myth ‘Enuma Elish’, it also displays the role of humanity in relation to creation as one of domination, not servitude to cosmic gods. The second account shifts to validate the distinctive value of humanity as image bearing vice regents caring for and naming God’s creation. Humanity is loved by God and capable of naming the creation. Humanity is responsible for building their reality as image bearing creatures. However they must do so while living with forces beyond their control. Theology is required to view the existence of chaos in reality as essential for the purposes of God in relation to humanity.
We are not ready for heaven, nor are we fit for utopia. Rather, we are creatures in process, moving from a beginning to an end, a birth to a death. We might view chaos as the absence of God in creation and human reality. It is good that chaos is present in a creation in which God withholds his nature - which is holiness. God is not ‘in creation’ and although the creation exists within God, it exists as work, witness and home for humanity.
Humanity is ‘up from the ground’ belonging to the material from which creation is made up. Humanity is the hope of God and the reason for sustaining the creation with his will. Our journey in the land of monsters is at the heart of human experience. We are not in control of reality, regardless of all our efforts, the underlying current of invisible tensions will rise like a raging dragon. Scripture counsels us that (unlimited) forgiveness for the repentant, along with love and understanding, enable us to live through the dark night of poisonous serpents.
Tragedy, catastrophe, and unexplainable evil in myriads of manifestations capture every human being’s life. Learning to survive the monsters is a formidable challenge when faith cannot subdue trials of darkness. How we survive these dark moments is what makes us who we are. When reason has vanished, confusion reigns, when God cannot be found, we must remember that Jesus suffers alongside us; suffering is essential for character formation.
And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings,
knowing that suffering produces endurance,
and endurance produces character,
and character produces hope,
It should be every believer's desire for the igniting of the human imagination with hope and faith to enable each one of us to live out the inbreaking of the reign of God with the belief that change in humanity is possible. However, all these efforts are accomplished without the benefit of the imagined change. The Christian life is lived out as a star on a dark night with no one to see its glory. Love must suffer the mess of living and lay aside any idea of being acquitted for personal culpability in the conflicts of relationships.
In personal relationships, chasing monsters – that is looking for cause and blame – is our normal practice. It is an insufficient practice, life is far too complicated and the origin of monsters beyond our capacity to dissect. Rather, humility, forgiving speech and refusing to let the monster win must be our ultimate concern, only these will bring reconciliation. Of course, we personify our monsters, much like my little granddaughter.
In international affairs, the failure to recognize the human condition (subject to chaos) in light of uncontrollable underlying tensions results in catastrophic events of war. The personification of the monster is the demonization of the other - that is the competing nation state as the enemy. In relation to our capitalist democracy, most often, enemy states are merely those that resist the effort of the other state to acquire more than they give in return. This alone moves one state to resist the ideology of another and adopt an ideology that must be demonized. Becoming human is lived out in the presence of monsters.
Imagine a person who refuses to work even a janitor’s job at a nuclear missile facility. I tend to believe there have been some unnamed persons who of good conscience who have rejected such employment. Unfortunately, most persons are so captured in the madness that we have lost the inner fortitude and courage to resist and call others to resistance. That the Christian church does not address very practical issues of moral living compromised by the power of institutional normalization is a dis-service to both God and humanity. The immorality, the crime against both God and humanity existent in building a nuclear arsenal is the most life threatening reality ever devised by any group of people, it is the monster of self-destruction. Like the shadow of death it looms over us all - this ominous power that so many do not believe will ever be used. Nuclear weapons are not an impotent deterrent, they are kept launch ready so that they can be used.
 Rene Girard’s theory of violence as a contagion built upon desire and mimetic behavior addresses the monster as a parasitical tension in the reality of relationships on every level. A parasitical beast who doesn’t know forgiveness or one might say the repercussions of forgiven sin.