I was challenged by a recent conversation I had with a friend concerning my writing. He mentioned that he could see how I got from point A to point B to point C, but he wondered about some of the assumptions I made on the way there. I’ve thought a lot about that, not just in my writing, but also in my speaking and preaching and communicating via other means. What assumptions do I make? Are they good assumptions, bad assumptions! Am I proving the old adage true: When you assume you are making an ass out of u and me?
The truth is, no one could write, speak, communicate – in any way, really – without making some assumptions. So, I don’t apologize for that. But it did make me curious about what assumptions I am making and if I can identify them more clearly. In my reflection, I’ve found that I make a lot of assumptions about the world that are tied to my faith as a follower of Jesus. Some of them are pretty basic: God is real, Jesus lived, died and rose again, the Holy Spirit is with us today, God has a desire for the world, and so on. However, the biggest assumption I think I make, concerning my writing and speaking, is this: I assume that the world is as it is, in part, because Jesus’ followers don’t do as He did.
As a student of the Bible, I recognize that assumption! It’s the same underlying assumption the Pharisees had in Jesus day. Of course, they weren’t Jesus followers, but they did believe that their world was the way it was because God’s people (the Israelites) didn’t live God’s way (at least not closely enough). They believed that their current situation, living under Roman occupation, was God’s punishment for their lack of faithfulness. That led them to believe that the way out of their current prediciment was following God’s law more strictly. That’s why some of them were mean jerks to people they thought weren’t keeping the law closely enough (like Jesus) and they were quite pious and proud (i.e. they weren’t the cause of the problem). I don’t believe that stuff. But why do I assume, like the Pharisees, that our current reality is our fault?
Some would say it’s a western, American, addiction to control. We don’t like to be out of control. We want to control things. This assumption carries the possibility that we can control the world through our behavior. We made the mess, so we can clean it up. That’s possible. But let me float this possibility, based upon other key beliefs I hold.
- God’s desire is for the entire world to live in shalom (peace with justice). Currently, that’s not happening.
- God sent Jesus into the world to move the world towards the shalom God desired. Currently, that is happening – even if in small ways.
- The way Jesus moves the world towards shalom is through redemption/re-creation which involves things like forgiveness, repentance, re-creation and Holy Spirit empowerment.
- Jesus’ path, which leads the way towards shalom, is found in his life and teaching. He quite literally shows us the way. [Incidentally, the first name given to Jesus’ followers as a group was not “Christians” it was “followers of the way”.]
- Pragmatically, the more people follow the way of Jesus the more God’s shalom is made real in the world.
- The best way to discern Jesus’ way is to know the gospels inside and out – both a mile wide and a mile deep – and to surround yourself with people who are following Jesus already.
Given that set of assumptions, I have an optimistic anthropology. I believe that the world is moving towards God’s good end and that God is using us – the church – as co-laborers under the power of the Spirit as we walk as Jesus did (to quote 1 John). I think the world can get better – more hope, more life, more light, more justice, more equality and so on! (I know that puts me at odds with some forms of dispensationalist theology – perhaps in another post).
What leads me to believe that the world is as it is, in part, because Jesus followers don’t do as He did is not that I believe there are not faithful followers of Jesus in the world. It’s that I believe in the God-given potential and power of the church. To say that we all are walking faithfully, but the world remains largely unchanged, is to say that walking in Jesus’ way doesn’t change things in the world. Some would say that I misunderstand the kind of change that Jesus brings. They would say that Jesus brings forgiveness from sins so that those who believe can to go heaven when they die. Therefore, there is no expectation that faithful followers equates to the world changing. I am with them, until the last part. I do believe the Bible teaches that the church makes a difference in the world that goes beyond saving souls for the age to come. God’s shalom is holistic – encompassing every area of life. Jesus teaches quite clearly about the way following Him should impact the way you treat the poor, outcast, vulnerable and marginalized. The early church understood that their faith in Jesus transformed the way they viewed things like wealth, material possessions and the needs of those who are suffering. James makes it clear that sentiment and good wishes for those who are suffering are not all that is expected, but helping with bread, clothing and meeting tangible needs is expected. For me, it boils down to this conclusion; If what the world is experiencing now is the best the world can expect now than the good news of the kingdom of God is not all that good. It’s supposed to be good news for all, not some. I can’t believe that God sent Jesus into the world to live and die and be resurrected, just so some people can thrive and others can languish! Especially in light of God’s tremendous love for people.
What my BIGGEST assumption leads to, at times, is a near allergic reaction to superficial expressions of God’s goodness that fail to take into account the reality of the state of God’s world as a whole. God’s work goes well beyond my conditions. God’s goal isn’t just that things would go well for me and mine. God’s goal is that things would go well for all. God’s plan is to use Jesus’ people – the church – to work at making things well for all. Somewhere in the midst of all this, we have to find a way to celebrate God’s victories, to mourn that God’s world isn’t as it should be, and to focus our lives – not just our Sunday morning worship – on continuing to move towards God’s shalom using the means God has placed in us as his people (this requires a much deeper understanding of vocation which is a longer discussion).
What assumptions do you make about God, the world and your place in it?