The God of the modern evangelical rarely astonishes anybody. He manages to stay pretty much within the constitution. Never breaks our bylaws. He’s a very well-behaved God and very denominational and very much one of us, and we ask Him to help us when we’re in trouble and look to Him to watch over us when we’re asleep. The God of the modern evangelical isn’t a God I could have much respect for. But when the Holy Ghost shows us God as He is, we admire Him to the point of wonder and delight.
“For as long as I can remember, there has been suffering on this earth. And for as long as I can remember, that suffering has been judged and opposed by force, which has only brought more suffering. Using the sword must have its place, but now we see that to live by it is to die by it, just as to live by wealth is to pay the price of that wealth. Both are cycles without end.”
I am reading a historical novel called AD 33, by Ted Dekker. It is the second of two novels (the first is AD 30) that follows the journey of a Bedouin woman named Mavia. She has a warrior companion, Saba, who speaks the words above. I am finding a fair amount of inspiration from this fictionalized account of the gospel. Undoubtedly, I’ll have more to say in the days ahead, but this excerpt speaks to me. As a follower of The Way, I have grieved over the cycle of violence and avarice that is increasing the more years I live. God grant me the grace to reject mammon and vengeance as my Master did.
In the 48 years since I was first ambushed by Jesus, in a little chapel in the Allegheny Mountains of Western Pennsylvania, and in literally thousands of hours of prayers, meditation, silence and solitude over those years, I am now utterly convinced that on Judgment Day the Lord Jesus is going to ask each of us one question and only one question,
“Did you believe that I loved you? That I desired you? That I waited for you day after day? That I longed to hear the sound of your voice?”
The real believers there will answer, “Yes, Jesus, I believed in your love and I tried to shape my life as a response to it.”
But many of us who are so faithful in our ministry, in our practice, in our churchgoing, are gonna have to reply, “Well frankly, no, sir. I mean I never really believed it. I mean I heard a lot of wonderful sermons and teachings about it. In fact, I gave quite a few myself. But I always thought that was just a way of speaking, a kindly lie, some Christian’s pious pat on the back to cheer me on.”
And there’s the difference between the real believers and the nominal Christians that are found in our churches across the land.
No one can measure like a believer the depth and the intensity of God’s love, but at the same time no one can measure like a believer the effectiveness of our gloom, pessimism, low self-esteem, self-hatred and despair that block God’s way to us.
Do you see why it is so important to lay hold of this basic truth of our faith? Because you’re only going to be as big as your own concept of God.
Screwtape, a chief tempter, imparts wisdom to his apprentice devil, Wormwood:
…[T]he prayers offered in a state of dryness are those which please Him best … Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
~ Abraham Lincoln
Once again Honest Abe shows his wisdom. Power, the ability to do or act, can be a dangerous commodity, particularly in a church congregation. I have observed many times over the years how people gravitate to little pockets of power within the church. There is something attractive about a prominent office that empowers its holder to exert control over others. These little territories — Sunday school, worship, elders board, even maintaining the building — are often jealously guarded and ruthlessly administered.
Lincoln is right. A position of power is a great revealer of character. Anyone who occupies such positions in the church must do their work as Jesus demonstrated: with a basin and towel, kneeling at the feet of the people.
The forgotten lesson of Bonhoeffer is … that we should strive to be a church that wouldn’t need him! I worry that people will either look for the next Bonheoffer or try to be the next Bonhoeffer in some heroic protest, rather than entering the more humble protests of daily life. I worry that people will think that large gestures of protest are the way to change the world, rather than entering on the difficult daily path of ordinary resistance. You see, Bonhoeffer had to be Bonhoeffer because the national church in Germany failed to be the church at all.
This is the forgotten lesson of Bonhoeffer: The Church in Germany had failed!