Just as through one transgression condemnation came upon all, so through one righteous act acquittal and life came to all. —Romans 5:18
Have you ever asked someone, “What’s wrong?” when it was obvious something was upsetting them, only to receive a reply of “Oh, . . . nothing”? Chances are you’ve experienced being on both sides of this little dialogue, and more than once.
Why is this such a common experience? Why do we so often say, “Nothing’s wrong” when we know that’s just not true? Sometimes we might simply need to know that the person asking us really cares to know what’s wrong. Sometimes it’s because our real answer is “I’m not sure. I don’t exactly know.”
When we come up against that question—“What’s wrong?”—our default response is either denial (“nothing”) or distraction, because in the quiet, in honest moments—you might have to admit that something’s wrong. Maybe in nights when you can’t fall asleep, you lie there in the dark and acknowledge what you can’t avoid: something is broken in the world. Something is broken in me.
A New Normal?
We’ve become so used to brokenness being normal in this world that we have forgotten that it’s broken. We see relationships fail, people hurting each other, pain and suffering of every kind. We forget that things are not actually as they are meant to be. We live in a world that has come undone. And there are hearts in our chests that have come undone.
Acknowledging our brokenness flies in the face of the message the culture gives us. When the culture asks the question “What’s wrong with you?” it always answers, “Nothing. Nothing is wrong with you. You are perfect just the way you are.” And if you’re honest, you probably think, Really? Have you spent time with me? I’ve spent time with me, and I know that the mantra “You are perfect just the way you are” is simply not true. It’s not even close to being true!
One of the most obvious truths in life is “I am not OK.” The message of the culture—“I’m OK, you’re OK”—is what you have to say when you don’t know what to do with a heart and a world that have come undone.
Here is the great news about being a Catholic Christian: we know what to do with a world that has come undone. Our faith teaches us not only how our world was supposed to be in the beginning and what went wrong but also how to trust God to undo what has come undone. Because that’s what God is up to. It all starts with acknowledging that the world as we know it is not how it was meant to be.
In the Beginning
In the first three chapters of Genesis, we see that God made this world whole, complete, and hospitable. The world was not hostile to us, and we were not hostile to each other. Man and woman were united with God, with each other, and with nature.
So why did God give those first human beings the one rule, not to eat of that one tree? Why not just leave that tree out of the garden? Because God made these human beings like him, in his image and likeness. Who is God at his very core? God is love. God made us for love, and love necessitates the possibility of rejection. If I can’t say no, my yes doesn’t mean anything. God had to have a rule.
We now have thousands of rules because we are broken into thousands of pieces, but in the beginning, we were whole. There was just one rule: “Love me, and don’t eat of the fruit of that tree. All the rest is yours.” Can you imagine what that was like?
Scripture says that “God did not make death. . . . But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world” (Wisdom 1:13; 2:24). Envy is different from jealousy. Jealousy can be bad, but it isn’t always bad. If I become overly possessive of something and if I want more and more of something just for myself, that is a bad kind of jealousy. But jealousy can also be good. God is jealous. Spouses who love each other are jealous: they want to guard the heart of their true love. God put us in the garden and said, “I’m jealous for you, not because I want to be greedy or possessive, but because I want to guard you.”
Satan has envy. If jealousy says, “I want that to be mine,” envy says, “I don’t care whether or not it’s mine; I just don’t want you to have it.” The devil has already said to God, “I don’t want your love.” And then he sees God pouring out his love on this man and this woman, and he doesn’t want them to have it either. That’s envy: I don’t want it back. I just don’t want you to have it.
So Satan tells the woman that if she eats of the forbidden fruit, she certainly will not die, for God knows well that the moment they eat it, they’ll be like him. Satan implies that God is lying to Adam and Eve, holding something good back from them because he doesn’t want them to be like him. This is a devastating deception in two ways.
The first deception is that God doesn’t want us to be like him. The truth is, we already are: we are already made in his image and likeness. But the second deception is even worse. The implication of Satan’s words is that God doesn’t love us.
Accepting as truth this tragic deception—that we’re unloved and unlovable—is a choice that didn’t just break a rule; it broke the world. That’s why it’s called “original sin.” It’s the first sin, and we all have inherited the effects of a world that has come undone under this lie.
This sin has come down to us in thousands of ways. It’s not just that humans broke one little rule but that trust in God has come undone. It’s not just that some men are now willing to dominate women but that relationships have come undone. It doesn’t only mean that now we die but that life has come undone.
On one of his first days of class, a Catholic high school teacher went up to the chalkboard and wrote, “I believe God exists” on one end of the chalkboard, and on the other end, he wrote, “I don’t believe God exists.” He said, “I just want to know where you are coming from, so go stand underneath that section.” Ninety percent of the kids stood under the phrase “I believe God exists.”
The teacher then erased the two statements and put two new ones up: “I believe God loves me” and “I don’t believe God loves me.” And he waited. A couple of students got up and stood under “I don’t believe God loves me.” And he waited some more. In the end, his entire classroom of students in this Catholic high school, 90 percent of whom believed God existed, ended up standing under “I don’t believe God loves me.”
Jesus Comes to Undo What Has Come Undone
Just prior to his public ministry, Jesus spent forty days fasting and praying in the desert. These forty days recall the forty years that Israel spent wandering in the desert because of their failure to follow God’s guidance. Even more specifically, the three temptations of Satan that Jesus overcame in the desert out of pure obedience to the Father were the very same tests the Israelites had failed: to trust in God’s provision, to obey God alone, and to worship God alone. In Jesus’ threefold obedience to the Father, he began to undo all the undoing in the world.
Jesus even undoes the enemy’s envy. Whereas Satan would say to us, “I don’t care to have the good; I just don’t want it to be yours,” Jesus, in the wilderness and on the cross, says to us, “You are made for the good, and I don’t need to hold on to it. I just want you to have it. You are made for the Father, and I can be in his shadow; I just want you to have him.”
Yes, in everything Jesus came to accomplish for us, he says to us and to this broken world,
“No, you are not perfect, but I’m going to fight for you to make you mine.”
“No, you’re not perfect, but you’re worth laying down my life for you in your imperfection.”
“Yes, this world has come undone. I’m stepping into this world to undo what has been undone.”
This world is not perfect. And we are not perfect. But “imperfect” does not mean unloved.
This week be especially attentive to seeing what’s come undone—in the world and in you—and to note it. Each day spend a few minutes in quiet reflection, asking yourself, What evidence can I find from the last twenty-four hours that the world has come undone? Where is there brokenness around me? What is broken in me?
Don’t be shocked by the brokenness you see. Don’t shame yourself or others about it. Just see it, note it, and bring it to Jesus. If you look out at the world and think, Gosh, there is so much pain and so many problems, just say, “Oh, that’s right: the world has come undone.”
If you see someone else’s behavior and think, Why are they such a jerk? What’s wrong with them? remember this: “That’s right; they are a person who has come undone.” If you witness a relationship that is supposed to be filled with love but seems strained by division and hurt, there it is again. “I see it: a love that has come undone.”
Trust Jesus with all the brokenness you see in the world, in others, and in yourself. Thank him for loving you just as you are and for the lengths to which he will go to undo everything that has come undone. Ask him today to undo the undone in your life.
This is a selection from A World Undone by Fr Mike Schmitz (The Word Among Us Press 2020), available at www.wau.org/books.