Listening recently to a YouTube video of discussion on the kingdom of God I discovered that others had similar questions to mine. That was refreshing in and of itself. Among the questions I listened to, answers were being given, not in a dogmatic fashion but from a perspective of experience. For one, currently, Americans are prioritizing adult Christian education more than most places in the world. We have seminars and lectureships, theatrics and such, devoted to learning the Biblical story. This was said to be more unusual elsewhere. Another insight was given about the difficulty of conveying the sweeping narratives and sweeping grand narrative of Scripture. This, too, is also perceived to be a very difficult task, yet essential. One statement that resounded to me was a description of the first century world and the lack of health care. According to the speaker, Seneca (and likely others such as Cicero) were “miles away” from the concept of what we would call common sense….taking care of the poor and those in need. Apparently, there were no health care programs offered from the republic of Rome. There were no state run welfare programs to meet the needs of many starving. The Roman world at the time (I have read) was 90% agrarian. It definitely had large cities like Rome and Ephesus but these were tiny compared to many today such as Shanghai, New York, or Bombay. The reason this struck me was the realization that Christians were the originators of common sense health care. They saw a need and were compelled to meet that need if possible.
The Western world we live in today has obviously been influenced by Christian grace. This is not new to us. What is new to me is how God created such enormous influence from the smallest (local) seeds. Apparently, the clamouring of Christians about the common sense idea we’ve all been taking for granted, love your neighbor, had the potency, not only to make disciples of Jesus, but the potency to change the entire known world (up to a point).
Today, we’re confused in many American locales. The state claims that it’s responsibility is to look after the poor and needy. Churches often gladly allow that perspective to remain. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the notion of a secular entity wanting to do this. Benefit is benefit. However, Christian influence is jeopardized.
Christians should be encouraged that God is more gracious than they can imagine. Christians should also be concerned, though, that Christianity can be lost in the fog of benefits. Long term realities might well be at stake if the church relaxes its grip on genuine poverty. The secular hand that helps feed the poor and clothe the needy may not have scars from the wounds of ancient nails.
I remember (correct me if I’m wrong) a story about a dictator who wanted to illustrate what his power was like. He had a small, frail, and hungry dog come near to his feet. He kicked the dog and it wimpered in fear as to what to expect next. The dictator then pretended to be sympathetic. He spoke tenderly to the dog and then gave it some scraps of food. The dog accepted the food. It had to do it would continue hungering. “That’s power!” The dictator smugly made his point.
Jesus came to show the world true power. Jesus allowed Himself to be kicked just like the tiny dog yet He only allowed God to feed Him. God is no dictator. God is much more gracious than we may think. It’s no wonder so many love Him! It’s no wonder so many cling to Him in faith. The Jesus of the Gospels and of the New Testament is the God who came to earth in a time of many brutal and shrewd dictators. It was this Jesus who demonstrated the difference between worldly power and heavenly power, power that destroys humanity and power that resurrects humanity to its rightly role God’s sacred, not secular, world.
What a mighty God we serve!!