The World in Broken
My apologies, I realize this musing has been some time in coming. My thoughts just were not giving birth to words. But I believe that what is now finally emerging is more formed and greater in scope than I first envisioned it would be. My initial thoughts have been expanded upon and one musing has become at least four more. The focus of my musings over the next few months will be the interplay between the Christian and the world. This interplay is complex and paradoxical with a tinge of duality and a dash of ambiguity thrown in for good measure.
As I consider the interplay of the Christian and the world, two hymns spring to my mind: This World Is Not My Home and This Is My Father's World. These two hymns point to the ambiguity and paradoxical realities of this interplay. And when we add to the sentiments of these two hymns the words of Jesus, “You're in the world but not of the world” and “In the world you will have tribulation”, as well as Paul's assertion that “we are sojourners and our citizenship is heaven”, and finally Peter’s statements that we are “strangers and aliens”, we soon see that this topic is somewhat enigmatic, complex and worthy of further consideration.
However, let me assure you that this is not some kind of philosophical exercise entered into for entertainment. Rather, understanding the interplay between a Christian and the world is a critical truth we need to embrace so we can rightly be prepared to partner with God and live in this world. We will therefore explore this for the next few months.
So, without further ado, let’s commence on the first in this series of musings.
The World Is Broken
I imagine anyone who watches the news or has been alive for a significant number of years would have to agree that the world in which we live is a broken world; children die, bodies are ravaged by disease, storms wreak havoc, people go to bed hungry and homeless, sons and daughters die before their time…sometimes at the hands of parents, likewise parents die before their time…and are sometimes killed by their children, child abuse, genocide, rape, robbery and murder are common occurrences. Indeed the world is broken.
And yet it seems to me that many Christians do not fully realize, embrace and wrestle with this truth in a way that impacts how they think, live and interact with the world. Now before moving on, I want to point out that I do not think this is true for every Christian. But I do believe it is true for an alarming number of Christians, especially western, evangelical Christians of which I am one. The resistance in some Christians to naming the brokenness of the world I find confusing. In the very beginning of the Bible it bears witness, not only to the creator God speaking our world into existence and proclaiming it as good, but also, a couple of chapters later, to the horrific choices of Adam and Eve that introduced sin into the world (Paradise) with it thorns, thistles, pain and death. And a little later jealousy, rage, hatred and murder manifested themselves. The Bible does not deny the brokenness of the world but rather, from the beginning, clearly articulates that the world is broken and is not what it was intended to be.
So, why is it that Christians often struggle with proactively embracing this seemingly obvious truth, allowing it to shape their expectation of the world and interactions with the world? As I pondered this in light of my own experience as a Christian I realized that it is not that Christians do not believe the world is broken but rather that at some level we have come to believe, at least in part, that the world's brokenness does not exert power over us. We have somehow come to believe that by being a Christian we are immune to the consequences that flow from living in a broken world. Now in our defense I must say that I do not believe we have made this up but rather it has been implicitly and in some circles explicitly taught to us as a corollary benefit of our salvation. We were led to believe that to be a Christian is to enter into a life filled with blessing, the abundant life, as defined not by Jesus but by our culture and station in life, which fortunately for me as a white middle class male had a huge upside. So why would I or anyone else ever question such an assertion. Since this is my Father's world and I am now a child of God, one known intimately by the loving and all-powerful God, how could any significant harm befall a Christian? We may get a canker sore or paper cut but the real tragedies of life are visited upon the wicked and godless who say there is no God.
This type of uncritical and uniformed thinking is dangerous to the health and welfare of our faith. Yet it is exactly this type of thinking that is reflected by how we, western evangelical Christians, tend to view the cross. The cross, which was an instrument of humiliation and death, is not used to declare the reality of the brokenness of the world and the truth that were we are not immune to the violence of the world but instead has been transformed into a magical charm used to keep us safe and free to pursue the American dream. And God forbid that there be any mention of the crucifix in the evangelical church, for this would raise more questions than it answered. I believe that the evangelical churches, by ignoring and silencing the implicit and explicit truths of the cross, are in a large way responsible for creating an atmosphere that leaves us believing that even if the world is broken, we are in a plastic bubble of God's protection and all things will work out for our personal good (an abuse of Romans 8:28) and support our general well being and that is all that matters.
But the truth is that the world in which we live is broken and we are not immune to the implications of living in such a world. In fact, as Christians we are in some sense more at risk. That is why this truth is so important to embrace and internalize. You see, being in Christ does not guarantee our protection from the painful realities of living in the brokenness of this world. As Christians we have been reconciled through Christ with a God who journeys with us, a loving presence who strengthens, encourages, empowers and partners with us as we live life in a broken world. But because we have to some degree been bamboozled into thinking that we will be protected from the awful realities that flow from the brokenness of this world, we are ill prepared to partner with God in order to endure and persevere through the harsh realities we do encounter.
Now you may say you do not agree, that you believe that as a Christian you are immune to the consequences of living in a broken world. If that is the case I would urge you to take a look deep inside…when your life or the life of those you love hits a very difficult time, or bad things begin to loom on the horizon of your life, how do you internally react? When the harsh realities of the world cascade over you, are you left wondering where God is and/or what you did wrong, or how it is that this is happening to you?” Those type of questions are disheartening and possibly devastating repercussions of this false teaching and can lead to a crisis of faith at the very moment when you might be able to experience the sustaining grace, power and presence of God in a significantly transforming way or in the least know that God is with us and gain the ability to get through the next minute of our existence and then the next and the next. Bad things do happen to those who God has embraced through the death and resurrection of Christ but God is with us.
Thus it is vitally important for Christians to acknowledge that this world is neither our home nor is it a welcoming, inviting place (more about this in the next musing), but rather it is a broken place that necessitates our internal preparation in order to be able to endure, be steadfast (I Corinthians 15:58) and not lose heart (Galatians 6:9-10). It is only as we embrace and internalize the truth of the brokenness of the world and our lack of immunity from that reality that we will proactively prepare ourselves to partner with God to withstand the onslaught of the world and be equipped to proceed through the Valley of the Shadow of Death or journey down our own Via Delarosa.
As we begin to own the twin truths of the world's brokenness and our living in the midst of this brokenness without a carte blanch guarantee of protection by God, we will be propelled to proactively prepare ourselves to partner with God in order to be prepared to live in this broken world.
Questions for Reflection
Below are a number of questions designed to help you personally explore your thoughts and feelings on this important topic. Please do not rush through the questions but instead ponder them, giving yourself plenty of time to explore your head and heart. By “explore your head and heart” I mean that as you ponder the questions below you may think one way about this topic (head), but as you contemplate how you actually react and respond in various situations (heart), you may realize that your responses show that you ‘live’ something other than what you ‘think’ (that your head and heart may believe two different things). If you realize this is the case, I encourage you to spend time pondering what it is that you really believe. As you begin your reflection on the questions below purpose to be honest and open with yourself and God.
1. What is your view regarding the brokenness of this world and your exemption from the realities of that brokenness? Why?
2. What are your reactions and feelings to the words of Jesus, “In this world you will have tribulation?”
3. How does this truth of the world's brokenness impact how you…?
- view the world
- prepare to live life in this world
- shape your expectations relating to the pain and struggles in your life and the lives of those you love
- view and deal with the hard realities of life
4. How does the truth of the world's brokenness and the fact that there is not a guarantee by God of your deliverance, or the deliverance of your loved ones, from the consequences of this brokenness impact your….?
- feelings toward God
- trust of God
- concept of God's love for you
- concept of God's protection of you
5. What questions arise within you as you focus on the sovereignty, power and love of God and the fact that bad things do happen to those who know and love God?
6. What can the cross and the empty tomb teach you about the power of God, living in a broken world, and what deliverance might look like? What may God be drawing you into or inviting you into as you reflect on the above questions?
7. Given the truth that the world is broken, along with Jesus’ declaration that “In the world you will have tribulation”, what may God be inviting you to do to better prepare yourself to live in a broken world and draw upon the resources of God to endure, be steadfast and not lose heart?
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