Crisis? What crisis?

Tags: crisis, jesus, mercy, new testament, old testament, reign of god, solidarity

In our world the word “crisis” has become a talking point. It refers to the tremendous fiasco of national and European political structures and its terrible social and economic consequences. In Greece, as in so many other places, the state of prosperity is collapsing and millions of people are pushed into poverty.

In vain will we search for the term “crisis” in modern translations of the Bible. We would rather have to search for expressions such as “hunger” which, in fact, runs through the experience of the people of God from the times of the patriarch Abraham (who because of famine had to emigrate to Egypt (cf. Gn.12.10) until the situation of the New Testament communities which were also exposed to the periodic famines of antiquity (Acts 11:28-29).

However, the Greek term krisis, does appear in the New Testament, although translated in two fundamental ways. On the one hand, “crisis” can designate, in rather juridical language, a “trial” or a “sentence”. On the other hand, “crisis” can also have the meaning of “discernment” or “decision” - a sign that the crisis could also be an opportunity.

In the Greek version of the Old Testament (the Septuagint) the krisis refers to the “judgments” (shfatim) of God on the gods of Egypt (Ex 6:6; 7:2-5; 12:12). The Egyptian Empire is the paradigm of a closed system, in which the natural order (centered on the floods of the Nile), the socio-political order (with the Pharaoh at its head) and the divine order complement each other to assure the millennial stability of institutions. 

The “great judgments” or major crises (megale krisei) of God are preferably expressed in the ten plagues, in which the gods of Egypt (the god of the Nile, the goddess of fertility, the god of the earth, the goddess of cattle, etc., etc.,) are shown as unable to maintain the system. It is not a “punishment” but a “judgment”, that is, a new perspective on human history, in which the liberating power of God radically questions the powers of this world. 

Precisely for this reason crisis also means decision. The story of the Exodus also recognizes that together with the Israelites, a crowd of people that were not descendants of Jacob (Ex 12:37) also left Egypt.

For many people the crisis was the time to decide whether to remain with the collapsing powers of the system, or join the adventure of starting something radically new in history.

It’s not a matter of mere memories. Also present social and political systems are organized around more or less divinized powers, serving the function of guaranteeing the correspondence between human action and its results, as I have shown in “The Kingdom of God and Empire”. They are the gods of money and power, the gods of pleasure and addictions, the gods of consumption and fashion, the gods of sport and entertainment, etc., etc.

Already Paul of Tarsus, while he radically professed monotheism, recognized the presence of other gods and lords (1Cor 8:4-6). It is what an artist like Clemente Orozco, an unbeliever, conveyed in his famous mural on “the gods of the modern world.”

The crisis calls into question the gods we believe in: the god of the euro and its promises of prosperity; the god of Europe or of some other particular socio-cultural reality as a guarantee of a secure life; the god of the West as the end point of history and as an illusion of superiority; the gods of democracies empty of any ethical content. The crisis is, therefore, an occasion for us to review our naïve “beliefs” and our loyalties to the powers of a system which, in difficult times, reveal their true face. 

In Psalm 82 the God of Israel enters the divine Assembly (v.1) and accuses the gods of having favored the powerful, while marginalizing the poor and legitimizing oppression (vv. 2-4). Then the crisis (“all the foundations of the earth are shaken” v.5) is shown as a judgment of the gods, to those whose destiny is announced: precisely because they have allied themselves with the system, they will fall as their rulers fall (vv. 6-8).

The apparent advantage of the gods of this world is that precisely because they are part of the system, their power is obvious and manifest. That is precisely its idolatrous character: they are visible realities. But that visibility is its weakness: they are a part of the system and perish with it. The living God, the Revolutionary, is not a visible god, and precisely because of that, he is not part of any system and can claim freedom. Every crisis, whether personal or social, involves a choice between what is seen and what is not seen, between what makes us part of the system, and what gets us started in building something new.

For this reason, the crisis is an opportunity. The opportunity of believing in the power of God and not in the powers of the system. Every vital choice implies trust in something or someone in whom we believe. The crisis offers us the opportunity of reviewing the fundamental orientations of our life, in order to ask ourselves for what or for whom we truly live. The crisis is an opportunity not to enclose ourselves in our own flesh, to help or be helped, and ultimately to reorganize the values that structure our lives.

In reality, the crisis is an opportunity to be Church, a true Christian assembly. The intense sharing of assets among Christians did not end in the first century. And this sharing has been a characteristic of every renewal movement within Christianity. Models of sharing may change, but its basic principle, equality among Christians and among Christian communities (2 Co 8:12-14), is the fundamental content of the opportunity offered to us Christians. The crisis, as judgment and opportunity is an occasion of hope. 

by Antonio Gonzalez

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