God meets us where we are—in the human condition.
“For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14 NKJV).
“We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves” (Romans 15:1).
You may wonder how with the world collapsing around them, Christians go to sleep at night. But they do. They have their comfortable jobs, salary, house, car, TV, and internet. They’re insulated against the cries of the needy. As a matter of fact, if the needy asked for help, they’d toss a few coins or dollars in sympathy (pay to get them off their hands), but they wouldn’t really help (take them in to live with them). They wouldn’t lift so much as a finger to fix the frayed infrastructure of a fallen life.
Seemingly immune to adversity, affluent American Christians wouldn’t even notice that kind of pain unless it happened to them personally. If you lost your job, they’d say, “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that,” perhaps pat your arm, smile, and say, “But don’t worry. You’ll find another one. Soon. And it’ll be even better than the one you lost.” But if they lost their job, they’d panic. Because most Americans are so dependent on a steady income that they couldn’t go a month without one. If they lost their house, and had nowhere to go, then they’d know what it felt like to be homeless and, perhaps, destitute. If their child was pregnant out of wedlock, abusing substances, or imprisoned, then they’d know how parents can grieve over a wayward child. If they lost their reputation or their health, then they’d know what it felt like to walk in another’s shoes … because most of the time people have to learn the hard way. They can’t feel your pain until they’re in pain.
Masses of people, through no fault of their own, can find themselves in awful circumstances and situations—like Job sitting in the ashes of a broken life (Job 1:1—2:13)… or Joseph wasting his youth in an Egyptian prison (Genesis 37:1-36; 39:1—41:45) … Ruth and Naomi relying on charity (Ruth) … David, the giant-killer, fleeing from his deranged father-in-law (1 Samuel 19:1-24) … Jonathan, a prince of man, trapped between father and best friend (1 Samuel 20:1-42) … Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, in the miry dungeon (Jeremiah 38:1-28) … Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:1-30) … Daniel in the lions’ den (Daniel 6:1-28) … Peter in prison, on deathrow, chained between guards (Acts 12:1-19) … Paul and Silas bruised and bleeding in Philippi (Acts 16:1-40) …. Not one was guilty. Not one had done anything to warrant the deep waters through which he was passing. Yet can’t you just see him in the office of the pastor or the church counselor? “What did you do to get yourself into this mess?”
If we are not careful, we are all Job’s comforters. We assume people have choice and free will and when they find themselves in ugly situations, why, naturally, they are the victims of bad decisions.
Folk, we don’t have nigh the control we think we do.
Our call is to alleviate suffering. Not to meddle. Not to iron out the details.
When David was fleeing from Saul, Abigail of Carmel provided sustenance (1 Samuel 25:4-35); when David was fleeing from Absalom, Barzillai of Regolim befriended him (2 Samuel 17:27-29; 19:31-40; cf 1 Kings 2:7). When Jeremiah was sinking in miry clay, Ebedmelech the Ethiopian took pity and came to his rescue (Jeremiah 38:7-13). God noticed. He sent word by Jeremiah that because of what he had done, Ebedmelech would be spared (39:15-18). When Jesus stumbled and fell, Simon of Cyrene came alongside and carried His cross (Luke 23:26). When Paul was endangered in Damascus, and enemies were lying in wait to kill him, believers came by night and let him down over the wall in a basket (Acts 9:23-25).
Some people think God has no hands but our hands. I don’t know about that. An angel prepared food for Elijah (1 Kings 19:4-8). God can dispatch an angel if He wants to. I’ve heard of deliverances where the hero suddenly disappeared—could’ve been an angel.
What we are called to do, and must do, is help one another. We can feed the hungry in a soup kitchen, hand out groceries through a church pantry, put people up in a shelter, clothe them, transport them to church, provide daycare or after-school care, visit people in nursing homes, hospitals, or prisons, counsel or just listen. These things are good, but we may be challenged to do more.
British missionary William Carey, after being forced to stand helplessly by and watch a woman be burned alive with her dead husband, campaigned to outlaw the practice of sati in India. British statesman William Wilberforce fought long and hard to end the practice of slavery in England. British missionary Amy Carmichael was inspired to rescue young children from temple prostitution in India. British missionary Gladys Aylward was asked by the government to help end the practice of foot-binding in China, and was made official foot inspector. British missionary CT Studd was emboldened to give the last twenty years of his life to rescuing the pygmies of the Congo from cannibalism, through the preaching of the gospel.
Our proclamation of the gospel knows no boundary. It is not confined to a church building. It doesn’t end when we exit. It goes straight into the marketplace, the courthouse, and the legislature.
Perhaps you think “Christian” America—rapidly becoming godless Amerika—or Western civilization, the European Union, is more sophisticated than ancient empires or heathen India, China, and Africa. We don’t throw people into miry dungeons, fiery furnaces, or lions’ dens, do we? We don’t practice sati, foot-binding, cannibalism, temple prostitution, or genital mutilation, do we? Maybe not, but we practice adultery, covetousness, drugs, drunkenness, fornication, fraud, idolatry, immorality, incest, infanticide, intoxication, kidnapping, larceny, lying, rape, secret sin, sexual abuse, spousal abuse, sodomy, sorcery, theft, violence, witchcraft, and more. Are our sins any less heavy than theirs?
Where do we begin to lift the burden?
We say we want infants to live, and we speak out against abortion, but what kind of world are we bringing children into? Many children saved from abortion will grow up in unchristian America and go to hell. Then what have we accomplished?
The culture may change. The devil may wear a different face. The call to rescue goes on. We cannot turn a deaf ear to the cry of the hurting or look the other way against injustice.
When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, He will sit on the throne of His glory. All people groups will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left.
The King will say to those on His right hand, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food. I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink. I was a stranger, and you took Me in. I was naked, and you clothed Me. I was sick, and you visited Me. I was in prison, and you came to Me.”
Then the righteous will answer Him, “Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You? or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in? or naked and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?”
And the King will answer them, “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”
Then He will say to those on the left hand, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food. I was thirsty, and you gave Me no drink. I was a stranger, and you did not take Me in … naked, and you did not clothe Me … sick and in prison, and you did not visit Me.”
Then they will answer Him, “Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger, or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?”
Then He will answer them, “Inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.” And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life (Matthew 25:31-46).
We have to stop pleasing only ourselves and start thinking of others—if we were dead to self, as we should be (John 12:24-26), we wouldn’t be so egocentric anyway, would we? We must bear one another’s burdens. “For none of us lives to himself and no man dies to himself” (Romans 14:7). We are our “brother’s keeper” (Genesis 4:9). “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, especially to them who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).
“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.” ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Copyright © 2014 Alexandra Lee