To save or not to save?

the world is not ours to save coverThe World is Not Ours to Save, T Wigg-Stevenson, InterVarsity press, 2013.

Review by Cath James

As someone who works for justice, I confess to entertaining the thought that I might contribute a little to making the world a better place. But this book has challenged my thoughts on this.

The first part of this book draws on Wigg-Stevenson’s personal journey as an evangelical Christian and nuclear weapons activist. He explores the gritty questions: “How do I make a difference in the world?”, “What is worth doing?” and “How do I keep doing it without burning out?”

The second part of the book draws on the vision of the prophet Micah (4:1-5) and what it means for us to live out that vision.
The author weaves a fine line between concluding only God can ‘fix the world’ and the idea that we should continue to do all we can to bring about foretastes of God’s Kingdom here and now.

We know the world does not reflect God’s love for all when there are people living in abject poverty, experiencing violence, or being treated in a way that denies their humanity. But does this mean the world itself is inherently evil?

If this is always going to be the case, why should we do anything at all?


In response to this, the most valuable thing the author offers is an honest appraisal about what we can realistically hope to achieve.

The actions I take as an individual, though meaningful and intrinsically worthwhile on a personal level are meaningless to the system of injustice unless they are channelled strategically through a strategy of collective action.”

He concludes, “The challenge then is how to perceive both the magnitude of the world’s brokenness and the smallness of our own capacity without retreating into paralysed apathy.” Exactly!

I know this dilemma of telling the truth. The problem is so big, so hard, so overwhelming and what we can do about it is small in comparison. We want people to care and not shrink into apathy, so we are tempted to paint the actions people can take as being more significant than they are. The hope he offers on this front is that it is not up to us. The question is not “How do I fix this?” but “How can we live out the love of God in the midst of such brokenness?”

I cannot dispute the brokenness of the world and the part we play in this.

“The desire to save the world is perhaps nowhere near so enshrined as in the basic conviction that everything could be made right if only we could stop bad people doing bad things. If only everyone realised the dangers of climate change, if only everyone were vegetarian, if only everyone would give up their nuclear weapons. But this fails to realise our own complicitness in the problem – the human condition.”

However, I cannot arrive at the author’s conclusion that, “our intrinsic willingness to choose wickedness and selfishness corrupts even the best systems we can design”.

I find this leaves me with no hope and therefore the idea that we should still work tirelessly for justice seems empty. It comes back to faith – the human condition unfortunately means I must make a choice.

Do I work for justice and hope it does some good, or not and know that it does no good? The odds seem to be with the former.

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