Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A Whole New World

The brokenness of our world is always a challenge that sits before the person of faith. Even the philosophers of ancient Greece wrestled with how their ethics aligned them with a world of struggle, dysfunction and suffering. The question is even more demanding to those who hold a belief in a personal, all-powerful god. In general, we tend to see two major ways people envision their spirituality relating to the surrounding world.

The first is conflict. Through this lens, the believer is driven by the conviction that God's ways are to imposed on a rebellious planet. The evils of society are to be confronted directly. In its most dramatic forms, you end up with all types of theocratic totalitarianism, ranging from the inquisition to Saudi Arabia. In its more democratic forms, you get political campaigns and zealous drives to legislate evil into a corner.

The second approach is escape. The world is evil, true, and therefore distracting. It keeps you from having the type of pure spirituality that you feel a pure God would want for you. Stepping into the world's mess introduces all types of difficult ethical dilemmas, and it's much cleaner just to stay out of the ring. This we see clearly in those who would establish various types of monasteries or communes on the outskirts of society, communities ranging from the Essenes of the ancient world to the hippies of recent times. Yet the approach is equally present in those who would call their spirituality a merely private affair- who would withdraw not to the edge of the city but behind the closed walls of their inner sanctum.

Both of these approaches, conflict and escape, ultimately do nothing for the world (if not make it much worse). And neither of them look anything like Jesus and what God was clearly up to in the world through him.

Jesus challenged the world, certainly (the religious world most pointedly). But challenging the world and its brokenness was not his mission. He in fact said that he came not as judge, but as rescuer (John 3:17). He sought no political power by which to enforce his values on society from a position of governmental authority (he refused any such position when the people wanted to make him king). He condemned the violent resistance of his followers against their enemies. He did clean the merchants out of the temple as a prophetic act, but this event stands out precisely because it was an exception-Jesus did not advance his Kingdom by conflict and the pursuit of power.

And who could accuse him of modeling some form of escape? Sure, he withdrew for times to pray and fast, but even then he let the needs of the crowds draw him back into engagement. The hands of Christ were deep in the mud and blood of the human condition. Compassion moved him into one town after another, into one broken life after another. Escape was not an option on the table.

So what was Christ's orientation to the broken world?

"The Kingdom of God is like a little leaven, which the baker took and worked into the flour until it permeated all of the dough." Matthew 13:33

Jesus neither escaped the world nor created a conflict with it. He just started a new world right in the middle of the old one. This new world, this new Kingdom, this new way to be a human being, would then, as it rubbed shoulders with the world we know, transform and renew it.

Imagine a world full of human beings dominated by fear and anger. Who when wronged return an eye for an eye. Who seek power and control. In the midst of that world (our world, we of course recognize) Jesus declares a perfect love that casts out fear, that overflows from within us towards even our enemies, that drives us not to rule, but to serve. Unlikely, is it not? Yet history would bear out that it happened.

The early Christ followers did what they were told: they transformed society by creating an entirely new type of world right in the middle of the old one. In the midst of a hierarchical pagan society, they reoriented as a new family: a family in which old and young, man and woman, slave and free, Jew and Greek, were united in Christ their King. No weapons necessary. No drive to escape the evil Roman Empire. No political campaigns or power plays. Just a little kingdom leaven working its way through Caesar's domain. The result-the transformation of the Roman Empire, culminating with Constantine bowing to King Jesus a few hundred years down the road.

But it didn't come cheap. In many cases their love cost them their lives, along with jobs, family members, and reputations. It cost them financially, as they gave to whoever was in need. In cost them pride, as they accepted as brothers and sisters those they previously looked down upon. Heaven on Earth, the great prayer of Jesus, always comes at the cost of the cross.

And that is probably why we see it so rarely today. To be frank, conflict and escape are easier. A spirituality that finds it's mission at the ballot box, or in the quiet security of the garden with an open book of theology, is much easier to swallow than one marked by an uncompromising love for the broken world. It just has little to do with following Jesus.

So let us take up our cross and follow him. Let us dive into the heart of the brokenness around us and start a new world, a new story, right in the midst of it. Oh certainly there will be a measure of death involved; we must expect it. But there will be a great deal of resurrection as well.


Blogger Mr. Shillow said...

Yes. Yes.

1:59 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home