The course will look at some of the components of Practical Christianity, sometimes described as the art of Christian living. It will begin examining how Christianity offers a way to overcome suffering, whether this is from natural disaster, social injustice, or personal problems.
God obviously does not promise to shield us from the suffering caused by evil. His people are always oppressed and persecuted in the Bible. But God does promise to overcome the evil that causes suffering. The history of salvation in the Bible is a record of how God is doing this. God calls us to share this mission and offers some very specific ways we are to do this.
Before laying these out, we should examine the often overlooked premise underlying salvation: Evil can be overcome. That hope is based on an assumption that marks our difference from paganism: If God created all “good”– even if creation is corrupted, it can be corrected.
Pagans, ancient and modern, do not offer this hope. The ancient pagans believed the world is made of evil material, so the best we can do is to learn how to live with it. From a Christian perspective this is using evil to fight evil.
Modern paganism comes at this from a somewhat difference angle, but ends up with the same result. It believes the evil of this world is so overwhelming, we are forced to use evil means to survive. The best we can do is to choose between the lesser of two evils.
When Christians fail to appreciate the hope that evil can be overcome, they end up acting just like pagans. Too often the confession that we are totally depraved, sinful and unclean, is used to excuse us from God’s call to repent and believe the Gospel. Rather than living according to the Way, changing our actions as well as our minds, we continue coveting rather than sharing, competing rather than co-operating, striking out in violence rather than loving, seeking vengeance rather than forgiving, and on and on. We rationalize that our evil actions are acceptable, because we are good people.
When we do understand the hope underlying salvation, we have the faith to participate in God’s healing of creation. We do that by following the way of love that overcomes the suffering of the world and our own as well. The Bible lays these out very clearly: loving rather than hating, not insisting on our own way, returning good for evil, forgiving those who sin against us, praying, witnessing, and if necessary accepting martyrdom. It doesn’t take long to remember these regard following God’s will not our personal survival as the ultimate value. We’ll look at how these provide a way for overcoming evil in the next lessons.
Christian hope still believes our children can have it better than we did. This is not hope as a form of progress in which they will make more money and have more material goods. It is a hope that evil can be overcome if we trust God’s promises and follow his ways.