Systems Theory and The Gospel

The Gospel at church today was Mt16:21-27. It’s the one where Jesus says to Peter “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Pretty strong words, especially given that all Peter said was that he didn’t want Jesus to suffer and die! Who in their right mind would want their friend to be tortured to death?! One way to understand what is going on here (there are obviously many!) is to look through the lens of systems theory.


Systems theory, in a nutshell, is the acknowledgement that there is a bigger picture. Sometimes we can feel trapped, like we are fighting a losing battle with no way out. Our lives and our problems seem completely unique and of the utmost importance. When we ‘zoom out’ and see the part we play in the larger story it allows us to put things into perspective. According to our view of the world it would be unthinkable for a person, let alone a righteous person, to suffer and die. Surely we should do everything in our power to stop it! But this is not God’s way. Understanding the system changes the focus away from the immediate toward working to fix the system itself. This can potentially allow us to modify our conditioned pattern of behaviour and break out of the vicious cycle.

Jesus was sent to “proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God” (Lk 4:43). This message is the ‘truth’ that we often cannot see when we get swept up in our everyday lives. Jesus reveals to us the bigger picture, the larger story, God’s story, spanning over all of space and all of time. He models for us how this divine realisation that God loves us, created us, and has come to save us, allows us to transcend our immediate surroundings and tap into what is ‘beyond’. Without this gift of faith it’s like we are prisoners to this life, playing by its rules, trying to survive, managing work, family, and money, and hopefully finding some time left over to eat and sleep.

In God’s eyes, wealth, fame, possessions, success, prestige, and privilege, are all fleeting things, here today, gone tomorrow, and of no serious significance to the larger story. Jesus warns us that it is unwise to invest in these things. Instead we are to invest in the Kingdom, the larger system, focus on what is eternal, and store up ‘treasure in heaven’ (Mt 6:20).

In this way Jesus saves us from all the distractions of this world that get in the way of our relationship with God, in other words, our sin. We can effectively die to this world, leave it behind, and have new life in him. With this bigger picture, the motivations for our actions are no longer constrained to our immediate reality, but instead become focused on working for the Kingdom.

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