Christian Virtues

Wicked problems aren’t solved with more information alone. They’re solved by staying in the game, by continuing to address them even when answers seem a long way off. But addressing wicked problems takes practice. It takes Christian virtue because love is the best way to truth.

Wicked problems are not evil, but evil is a wicked problem. And why is that? Because the problem of evil is a question that cannot be tamed. How could a good, all-powerful God allow evil? The Christian tradition responds indirectly: the cross. On the cross, Jesus took suffering and evil into his very heart. Sacrificial love swallowed up death in victory. It’s powerful stuff, love. It swallowed up death, and it conquers fear. And when we face divisive issues like origins or sexuality, we respond as Christ did: self-sacrificial love.

 

“His mercy consists in the fact that He took this conflict to heart, indeed, that He bore it in His heart.”


– Karl Barth


 

But what does that mean? What does it mean to take conflict to heart, to bear it in our heart?

It means that wicked problems belong in the body of Christ, that worship trains us to love and that love is the best way to truth.

Wicked Problems Belong in the Body of Christ
Social fragmentation resulting from divisions caused by wicked problems has led to increased polarization with the result that we have no public space to tackle difficult issues. Each side tames the problem in its own way, and so fails to make progress on the problem. And the Church is not immune. But if we can’t talk about these things in Church, then where can they be addressed? Wicked problems belong in the body of Christ. Why? Because they reveal our malformation – we’re not the kinds of people we need to be – and present an opportunity for practice and formation. These wicked problems are, in other words, God’s gifts to us. And though we may well fail in our early attempts to address them, we have the resources of confession and forgiveness and so can try again. We’ve been given everything we need for life and godliness, not least, the Church.

Worship Trains Us to Love
We lack the capacity – the habits and character – to deal with wicked problems. Put differently: we lack the requisite virtues. We’re malformed. We’ve lost sight of the good. And what is the good? Jesus answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” The Church and its liturgies – aka worship practices – train us to love God and neighbor, to live the good life. The Christian virtue equivalent of Couch to 5K, worship orients, directs and shapes us. It trains us toward love, and it trains us to love.

Love is the Best Way to Truth
While it may well seem like a good idea to pursue truth at all costs, pursuing truth at the expense of love is a strategy guaranteed to fail. Truth is emphatically not all we need, but neither is love. Love, while necessary, is not sufficient. It must lead to truth. We want truth and love, and love is the best way to truth. In fact, it enables our pursuit of the truth, especially when it comes to divisive issues and conflict because it’s patient and kind. It does not envy or boast. It is not proud. It does not dishonor others. It is not self-seeking or easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. You know the rest.

 

“So if it seems to you that you have understood the divine scriptures, or any part of them, in such a way that by this understanding you do not build up this twin love of God and neighbor, then you have not yet understood them.”


 


“But any who understand a passage in the scriptures to mean something which the writer did not mean are mistaken, though the scriptures are not deceiving them. But all the same … if they are mistaken in a judgment which is intended to build up charity, which is the end of the law (1 Tm 1:5), they are mistaken in the same sort of way as people who go astray off the road, but still proceed by rough paths to the same place as the road was taking them to. Still, they must be put right, and shown how much more useful it is not to leave the road, in case they get into the habit of deviating from it, and are eventually driven to take the wrong direction altogether.”


– Augustine