I’m beginning to think it really isn’t much fun to work alongside God’s mission in the world. Many of us Christians and Baptists have never quite grasped this—we think it makes life fun and easy and God works everything out for us. All we have to do is believe certain doctrinal formulations about Jesus, and we are “saved.” Faith becomes mental assent to doctrine and thus is twisted and distorted. Mission becomes convincing others to make a similar mental assent. Over time, we lose our way. We believe ideas about Jesus instead of following in the way of Jesus.
I had a couple of smart-alecky students during my years at Shorter College in Rome, Georgia when I taught religion there. You know the ones. They would raise a hand in class and say something like, “Dr. Nash, but what do you think about what Paul says in Romans 5:6?” (As if I had any idea what Paul says in Romans 5:6).
So I started responding like this—“You must think I read the Bible.”
And the student would say, “You don’t read the Bible?” (confirming what he already thought).
And I would say, “I try to read it—but every time I do, it scares me to death. You better be careful with it because if you read it and do what it says, then it is going to kill you.”
And the class would laugh and we would get back to the subject at hand.
Contrary to public perception among many Baptists and Christians, the mission of God is not about personal salvation and heaven and pie in the sky by and by. The mission of God is about here and now. It is about expressing the love of God like Jesus expressed it—in the daily grind—with hurting and broken people who need some sense of meaning and purpose in life and who have no earthly idea where to find it.
I spent this past weekend in New York City in the fourth worst snowstorm in NYC history and with some of our field personnel who work there. A group of folks living with HIV/Aids met us for dinner on Thursday night. They are part of a Bible Study held over at Harmony House where they live. They’d suspended their study so I could take them to dinner. I watched a group of them get out of a cab in the snow and make their way into the restaurant. They were leaning on each other. Some were too weak to really be out in the mess. A couple of them had canes. One guy had been in Attica prison for 40 of his 59 years. One was hooked on crystal meth. Another couldn’t even say what he’d done to get himself into whatever mess he had been in. They were broken.
I don’t know what I expected to feel as I listened to them. Previously, I would have assumed that I would feel a bit superior to them. My life is certainly in better shape than theirs at this point.
Or is it? I must confess that their honest sharing of their pain and brokenness transported me to the broken places in my own life. For them, it was the love of God that was saving them, expressed not in some heaven yet to be, but on an earth that had once been hell and that had now become hope. They talked of God . . . but more than that, they clung to God. God’s love had somehow reached through all the haze and dark to find them and hold them. Somehow, the light had gotten through. And, for them, that light had to do with God and with the meaning and purpose that God had somehow brought into their lives in the midst of shattered circumstances.
This is the mission of God. To walk alongside each other in the context of enormous pain and suffering. To follow in the footsteps of Jesus wherever those steps lead us. To recognize that the way of Jesus is never the easy way, but the company is pretty good even if the road isn’t.