As Christians, we know that we are not called to an easy life. The Bible makes no such promises and indeed repeatedly talks of challenges ahead. Whatever our context, we have all experienced them.
Do you ever notice yourself shying away from these challenges? Sometimes in our human nature we are persuaded that it is preferable to avoid the difficult, to seek a comfortable route, and to ignore or selectively choose situations in order to pave a simple path. Stepping up to the tests presented to us doesn’t always work out; in fact, it may more often than not leave us feeling unsettled, and we can be stung and put off. We are only human, after all.
But I have come to love the moments when I am shaken from my self-centredness with stark reminders of the race we are running and why it is so very worthwhile. When my own burdens start to weigh heavy, God makes me aware that I am forgetting the grace and freedom that he offers and am not living the life of fullness available for me. What’s more, I am reminded that I can share such promises with others, and when my focus shifts outwards my load is immediately lightened.
Here, more challenges are raised. What if, for example, the person I try to share my time/advice/money/friendship/experiences with is not as wholeheartedly grateful as they darned well should be? I have sacrificed myself in some way after all, and thus surely should receive unlimited thanks. What if, Heaven forbid, the recipient is actually rude, or abuses my help, or ignores it altogether? They certainly won’t receive any in the future.
This is a common attitude discussed by Tim Keller in his often-uncomfortable book “Generous Justice”. He pointedly demonstrates how we put up barriers when considering how much to love our neighbours, deciding that they aren’t that badly off (“All the poor people in my part of town have nice TV sets. They aren’t starving”). But we wouldn’t wait until our own situation was desperate and extreme before setting about making a change, so “why should we wait until our neighbour is literally starving before we help?”
When we start to understand with more clarity that if God withdrew his love on the basis of not receiving gratitude, we, as individuals, would be just as much implicated as our ungrateful neighbours, then our perspective begins to shift. We are all utterly undeserving of the love that is lavished upon us, but this can spur us on in our determination to reach out to our community. Tim Keller explains that “only if you see that you have been saved graciously by someone who owes you the opposite will you go out into the world looking to help absolutely anyone in need”.
Later, Keller talks about the impossibility of separating word and deed ministry from each other: “When a city perceives a church as existing strictly and only for itself and its own members, the preaching of that church will not resonate with outsiders. But if neighbours see church members loving their city through astonishing, sacrificial deeds of compassion, they will be much more open to the church’s message.” This is a message that I strongly feel must be shared in our church communities across the world. The church’s impact in the fight for justice – “taking up the care and cause of widows, orphans, immigrants, and the poor” – is undermined when it tries to delineate between evangelising and building up believers, and effecting social justice. The two causes need not be separated.
“Generous Justice” outlines an unshakable Biblical basis for assertively addressing the justice needs of our world and for not backing away from an inevitably difficult task. Let us embrace the challenge!