“Not the Way it’s supposed to be…”
In the 1991 film Grand Canyon, an immigration attorney breaks out of a traffic jam and tries to drive around it. He doesn’t know where he’s going and he’s alarmed to note that each street seems darker and more deserted than the last. Then, a nightmare. His fancy sports car stalls. He manages to call for a tow truck, but before it arrives, five local toughs surround his car and threaten him. Just in time, the tow truck shows up and its driver—an earnest, genial man – begins to hook up to the sports car. The toughs protest. So the driver takes the group leader aside and gives him a five-sentence introduction to sin:
Man, the world ain’t supposed to work like this. Maybe you don’t know that, but this ain’t the way it’s supposed to be. I’m supposed to be able to do my job without asking you if I can. And that dude is supposed to be able to wait with his car without you ripping him off. Everything’s supposed to be different than what it is here.
The driver’s summary of the human predicament is just about perfect. He understands the way things are supposed to be. They are supposed to include friendly streets that are safe for strangers. They are supposed to include justice that fosters peace, mutual respect and goodwill, deliberate and widespread attention to the public good. Of course, things are not that way at all. Human wrongdoing or the threat of it mars every adult’s workday, every child’s school day, every vacationer’s holiday. The news online, the news from our friends, and our own experience give us all the examples we need.
Cornelius Plantinga Jr.
It’s Sunday afternoon and I’ve just heard the news that three more police officers have been ambushed and killed, this time in Louisiana, and this on the heels of the episode of truck terrorism in Nice last Thursday night that left more than 80 people dead, which came on the heels of the shooting of the police officers a week ago Thursday right here in Dallas, which came on the heels of the shooting deaths of Philando Castile at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis and Alton Sterling at the hands of police officers in Baton Rouge earlier that same week, which came on the heels of…
On and on it goes.
Some people hear the news and wonder what’s happened to the world? They act as if just a moment ago everything was all sweetness and light, and then, all of a sudden, something went terribly wrong and disrupted that equilibrium. But when has the world ever been all sweetness and light in your actual experience of it? I don’t think that the world has gotten any worse than it’s ever been, instead I think that we’ve just gotten so much better at reporting on what’s going on in it. Oh, I think that I have a memory of a world of sweetness and light it in my soul. In fact, sometimes I can hear the soft echoes of Eden in my heart and catch glimpses of it in scenes of beauty and moments of harmony. But the truth of the matter is that I have no actual, firsthand, sustained experience of the world in perfect shalom that Genesis 1 and 2 reports. No, the only world that I read about in history and experience in my own life is the world of Genesis 3, a world where nothing is the way that it’s supposed to be.
I cut my theological teeth on the writings of Francis Schaeffer, and Jerram Barr in a lecture from his course “Francis Schaeffer: The Later Years” at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis captured one of the things that Francis Schaeffer characteristically emphasized in his teachings –
God is not responsible for the brokenness of the world. The world is not the way God created it, and human beings are not the way God created them. Everything now is abnormal and is distorted by sin. Do not blame God for the way things are. Human sin has made things the way they are.
The assumption behind this statement is a conceptual frame that comes from a particular reading of Scripture. And while it is not the only way to read the Bible, it is the conceptual frame that that I find helps me make the most sense of this painful world in which we live. David Kelsey called it the “health-disease-healing plot structure.” The basic “gist” of the Christian message according to this understanding of the Bible’s “plot-structure” is “a single narrative history having three temporally successive moments.”
First, in love, God created humankind as part of a good world of finite creatures. Then, when some creatures sinned against God, the world as a whole was corrupted. At the right time, the same God, in love, took the initiative to save the fallen world by way of the election of a particular people, among whom God became incarnate and among whom the incarnate one was then crucified and raised in order to restore finite creatures to wholeness.
For me, this “Created – Fallen – Redeemed” cycle is the Biblically determined frame for both understanding and experiencing Christianity. Jack Rogers in his intellectual “coming of age” book, Confessions of a Conservative Evangelical, said that the “main theme in Scripture” that he found was the threefold message of “God’s creation, man’s fall into sin, and Christ’s redemptive work.” Me too. And this frames my thoughts this afternoon at the news of the shooting deaths of those three police officers over in Louisiana this morning.
As we were in worship this morning at the 8:30 am service, sitting under the Word and gathering at the Lord’s Table, over in Baton Rouge those three police officers were bleeding and dying, as was the young man who shot them, and that’s not the only violence that tore at people’s hearts this morning, it’s just the episode that made the front page. What seizes my spiritual imagination so powerfully this afternoon is that as the world was being shattered once again so violently over in Louisiana this morning, we were right here in church in Dallas at exactly the same moment celebrating with thanksgiving the saving acts and presence of Christ. Somehow these two things have just got to touch. That’s our only hope. The brokenness of the world and the saving work of God in Jesus Christ have just got to touch. In a memorable turn of phrase, Calvin Miller once wrote about the urgent necessity of what he called “Christifying the world.”
I generally think of Christifying my world as painting the face of the Savior on the anxious, hurried faces about me. I write “I.N.R.I.” (the letters “I.N.R.I.” are initials for the Latin title that Pontius Pilate had written over the head of Jesus Christ on the cross (John 19:19). The words were “Iesvs Nazarenvs Rex Ivdaeorvm.” The English translation is “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews“). As soon as they are autographed with His name, they yield to meaning and to life. A priest in our town, some years ago, happened on an accident where a wrecked gasoline transport trapped a family in a small car while the engulfing flames burned them alive. The priest “Christified” the crisis. He knelt by the intense heat, his small dark frame silhouetted against the flames, and prayed. “What good did it do?” That is not the issue. His prayer “Christified” the event. It called to mind the nature of true reality. Here is a world more real than this where God watches, and cares, and loves, (and saves).
That’s the world we touched in church this morning, and it urgently needs to intersect with the world where people hate, and curse, and bleed, and die. The Gospel is the message that God in Jesus Christ has entered into the fullness of this world with all of its suffering and sadness, and that He has confronted, and is even right now in the process of defeating all of the forces that are in it that seek to work us woe. Apart from the first coming of Christ as that little baby in Bethlehem’s manger, His atoning death on Calvary’s cross, His triumphant resurrection on the third day, His glorious ascension as Lord of all, His purposeful sending of the Holy Spirit and His promised Second Coming in final victory to finish the work of salvation at the close of the age, I don’t have anything particularly helpful to say to, or anything especially constructive to do about the abnormality of the world other than to curse and cry. But because of who Jesus Christ is, and because of what Jesus Christ has done, is doing, and has yet to do, I find that I do have something helpful to say to, and I do have something constructive to do about the abnormality of the world.
- Because Jesus Christ became flesh and dwelt among us, Christians and the church have got to get off the sidelines and into the world for an active engagement with people’s deepest hurts and highest hopes.
- Because Jesus Christ died on the cross in His contest with evil, Christians and the Church have got to fearlessly face the evil that they see, and because it was on the cross that Jesus Christ did the work of mercy, Christians and the Church have got to be about the work of forgiveness.
- Because Jesus Christ was raised on the third day, Christians and the Church have got to embrace the newness of life that Christ offers to all of creation. We have got to find ways to live the shalom that we seek.
- Because Jesus Christ is now seated at the right hand of the Father in Glory, Christians and the Church have got to give active expression to the Lordship of Christ over every sphere of life.
- Because Jesus Christ sent the Holy Spirit, Christians and the Church have got to become more conscious of the Spirit’s indwelling presence and more reliant upon the Spirit’s empowering resources for the work that God has laid on our hearts and placed in our hands.
- And because Jesus Christ will come again in glory to establish His Kingdom that has no end, Christians and the Church have got to not only pray for that Kingdom to come, they have also got to lean into it right now by doing whatever they can to give concrete expression to God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven.
Christians are fallen people who live in a fallen world, to be sure. We are part of the problem. But Christians are also people who believe that in Jesus Christ God is busy fixing what’s gone wrong in the world and is actively repairing the damage that’s been done to the world. And this means that Christians themselves are projects of restoration and reconciliation – we ourselves are numbered among the broken things that God is making whole. And Christians are agents of restoration and reconciliation – we are the vanguard of the future that God is bringing.
So, yes, the world is broken. Things are not the way they’re supposed to be. And the abnormality of the world as we experience it is both frightening and painful. But in Jesus Christ God is at hard at work setting right what’s gone wrong and healing what’s been wounded, and as Christians we are called to be God’s collaborators in this work of grace. And so, when the brokenness of the world knocks the wind out of you and drops you to your knees, look for Christ – see where He is, listen to what He is saying, watch what He is doing, and then take your lead from Him. This moment is just too critical for Christians to forget who God is in Jesus Christ, or to get fuzzy about what it is that God in Jesus Christ is doing. Christians… church… it’s time to “Christify the world!” DBS +