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responding to evil: cynicism, stoicism, content with “proximate good”

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I grabbed this off the shelf of McKays and recently became very absorbed in it. I didn’t know what the book was about when I grabbed it, but it addresses deep questions I’ve had from my experiences of working in birth and missions (and observing politics).

Visions of Vocations: Common Grace for the Common Good by Steven Garber

This book is basically about how we respond, as Christians, to evil and injustice that exist in the world.


I won’t restate everything, just two main ideas that really helped me personally.

First, his key idea is about knowing/seeing the world, and still loving it. Why is this hard? Because when we see evil, wrong, injustice, we have two natural reactions:

  1. Cynicism–disillusionment; “this is the way the world is, so stop imagining a world that doesn’t exist;” this is a way of protecting our hearts from being wounded again; **key insight: that in cynicism, we are learning from nature, from life, how we are to live (not learning from God).
  2. Stoicism–apathy; intentional indifference; we can know about evil but not respond; look away from the problems we see.

Both are ways of protecting ourselves from hurt and involvement. God, with all the evil He sees, doesn’t react with cynicism or stoicism. He sees the world the way it is, and He still loves it. And loves mean staying involved in a good way.

The second idea that really helped me was his chapter on “proximate good.” That we need to learn the humility of being content with our efforts not totally “fixing” the wrong. We can’t make things perfect. We have to be content with doing “proximate” good.

In birth, my experiences made me both stoical and cynical, and I was very frustrated that I couldn’t “save” everyone.  So this book gave me some good insights, and not just for birth work, but for all work and how to respond to evil in the world.