Ruined Castles

It had been a long day of travel as we toured the coast of Northern Ireland. We’d seen the famous Giant’s Causeway, walked the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and had even seen a half dozen filming locations from Game of Thrones, ironically a show we’ve never even seen. (Please reserve all judgement on that point) But the final stop of our day-long trip was to see Dunluce Castle, a famous medieval Irish castle on the Antrim Coast, situated on high cliffs overlooking the sea. As we came around a corner in the road, through the mist and the rain we could see the tall stone walls and remains towering in the distance, an amazing sight to see.
While a few castles in Ireland have been well preserved, the majority have fallen into disrepair, and Dunluce is one of the latter. Yet even in its ruinous state, it is still a sight to behold, a thing of beauty to take in. Its high walls and remaining tower still seem to command the green hills and the tall basalt cliffs upon which it is perched. Long gone are the roofs, the windows, and the gates, and a section which used to contain the galley has actually fallen into the sea. Its glory certainly is not what it once was, what it was created to be, but even in its broken state you can’t help but marvel at the sliver of beauty it still retains. It is still awe inspiring yet slightly melancholy. It is broken but beautiful.
In my life, I have come to realize that we are much like the Dunluce Castle: Broken but beautiful.
When I was in college, I spent a lot of time talking with classmates and other students about matters of faith and one of the common topics was whether humankind is by nature good or evil. Students were greatly divided in their answers, their responses often reflecting their own life experiences.
It is no stretch to imagine that those who have witnessed atrocities and abuse, who have been the victims of cruelty and malice would think humanity is generally evil at the core. Likewise, it isn’t surprising that even in spite of the darkness and the pain, many would point to goodness shining through and claim the opposite, that at our core we as humans are truly good.
And a person’s answer to this question is no small matter. It directly affects how we relate to others, whether we trust them, whether we feel we have moral obligations to uphold, and how we treat others in general. Things like generosity, charity, and kindness are expected as the norm by those who see humanity as essentially good, while selfishness, greed, and vanity all seem completely justifiable in a world where everyone is rotten at the core.
As a Christian and as someone who has experienced both the beauty and the misery people can bring to one another, I understand both viewpoints well.
But I propose a third option as an alternative: That humanity is broken.
If we look to the Bible, the big picture painted throughout the 66 books found there is that God created humanity, and everything in the cosmos, for good. But, both humanity and the world in which we dwell are what the Bible calls “fallen”, in a state of brokenness, out of line with God’s original intent. This explains why we see both the good in the world and the bad, and also why we recognize the bad as bad, for if the whole world was truly evil, how should we ever know it? It would seem completely normal to us. Yet, it is the offensive nature of evil that gets our attention and reminds us that this is not how the world was made to be. People frequently say their highest aspiration is “to change the world.” Why? Because we all know the world needs change, and for the better.
In sum, we as humans are much like the ruins of those castles, like Dunluce. We are but a shadow of who God truly intended us to be. Genesis 1:28 says God created humanity in his own image at the pinnacle of creation to bear his own glory and reflect it to the world. Yet, we are ravaged by the brokenness of sin. Sin has made a ruin of us and of our world.
We should all remember this.
We should remember the immense value God has placed on all of us, the innate value and beauty we each have because we are image bearers of the divine. We should also remember that image and beauty is marred. Who we are now is not who we were made to be. We shouldn’t pretend we are perfect as we are, in our inclinations or actions. To do so would be like a person living in the ruins of Dunluce Castle and pretending it is just as it was in 1648.
In an article written for Christianity Today on the topic of depression, Dan Blazer said it well when he wrote:
“Christian teaching about sin and its reverberating effects frees the church from surprise about the disordered state of human affairs. We can acknowledge the effects of sin both within and without. We can look at wrecked reality squarely in the eye and call it what it is. And thanks be to God, who raised the One who entered fully into our condition, breaking the power of sin, death, and hell, that we not only can name wrecked reality, but also lean into it on the promise that Christ is making all things new.”
We are ruins, but the wonderful news is that God loves us even as the ruins that we are and offers to restore us to our former glory, to a glory we haven’t ever actually known ourselves during our lifetimes. He offers to restore us to the state he intended when he created it all. This is why Jesus came. He came that we might be forgiven our sins, yes, but that is only the beginning. Forgiveness is followed by healing and new life, renewing us. The New Testament reminds us that God’s mission of restoring, renewing and redeeming includes us, his most prized creations, but ultimately includes everything.
Again, Blazer said it well as he closed his article, “This sin-riddled reality does not have the last word. Christ, as embodied in his church, is the last word.”
He will restore the ruins to their full beauty.
– Seth

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