When the early Christians wrote about Jesus, this was the story they believed themselves to be telling. They didn’t see him as simply a teacher, a moral example, or even as one who saved people from a doomed world. They told his story as the point where the dark forces of chaos converged, in the cynical politics of Herod and Pilate, the bitter fanaticism of the Pharisees, the wild shrieks of diseased souls, the sudden storms on the lake. They invite us to see his death on the analogy of Jonah’s being thrown into the sea, there to be swallowed by the monster called Death. They insist that in this death God has taken upon Himself the full force of the world’s evil. As a sign of that, the final book of the Bible declares that in the new world, now already begun with his resurrection, there will be no more sea.
Saying this precisely does not give Christian theology an easy explanation (“Oh, that’s all right then”) for the continuing presence of evil in the world. On the contrary, it tells a story about Jesus’s own sense of abandonment, and thereby encourages us to embrace the same sense of helpless involvement in the sorrow of the world, as the means by which the world is to be healed. Those who work for justice, reconciliation and peace will know that sense, and perhaps, occasionally, that healing.
This isn’t the kind of answer that the Enlightenment wanted. But maybe, as we launch into the deep waters of another new year, it is the kind of vocation we ought to embrace in place of shallow analysis and shrill reaction.