This is my second summer working as a Collegiate Congregational Intern, a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship program giving young students the opportunity to experience church work in all its forms. This summer I’m working at my home church, where I’ve been asked to help lead a program called Conflict Kitchen. We’re spending the summer talking about areas in which the U.S. is at war, the history of the conflict, peacekeeping strategies, and so on, and discussing how all these things affect the church.
Well I’m all about the church and all about peace, so this sounded like a job handpicked for me. As we began planning for the summer, my pastors and I discussed the way this whole thing came about, with questions a young child in our church had been asking about why bad things happen in our world. And when I sat down to write an introduction to the program for worship this Sunday, instead of words pouring out (I’m very good at rambling about things I’m passionate about) I was suddenly stuck by how much of this topic I don’t understand either. What right do I have to teach anybody why and how evil things happen in our world? What right does anybody have, seeing as, unless you are God, no one understands these things?
I think that’s one of the bigger problems with being a 21st century Christian. We live in a world of instant gratification, where everything we ever wanted to know is a few clicks away on the laptop or iPad. So we think we need to be able to provide that same kind of security in the presentation of our faith. That seems to be what leads to so many of the conflicts that happen among members of the faith community. We’ve decided that we need to have an answer about everything, so we decide what we think the answer is and stand by it. When our faith becomes a list of all the right answers to all the right questions, then, inevitably, there is someone else who’s wrong. The church becomes a group of people who are right and a group of people who are wrong, instead of loving, unified community.
Paul’s description of the church found in I Corinthians 12 can’t be achieved if we’re fighting over the right answers: “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.” When our faith becomes a divisive question of who’s right and who’s wrong, it’s no longer the faith we were designed for at all.
More importantly, our desire to have all the answers causes our faith to lose the mystery that I think is one of the more beautiful things about being a Christian. If we knew everything there was to know about God, would that really be God anymore? One of my favorite quotes from Rob Bell is, “The moment God is figured out with nice neat lines and definitions, we are no longer dealing with God.” It’s not all supposed to make sense right now. Every single detail about the decisions God made in creating our world and designing our lives is not supposed to be as easy to access as search results on Google. That’s the beauty of it. It’s hard to explain how there can be beauty in the unknown to a world that wants to know everything, but the beauty is there if you take a moment to see it.
There are some really tough questions we wish we could know the answer to: why do people spend so much time trying to hurt each other, why do young people die before they get the chance to really live, why does a country founded on the premise of freedom to be oneself so quickly forget that purpose. No matter how much we try, we’re not going to fully understand God’s hand in those situations or any other.
What we have control over is our hand, our work, our life. What if we spent less time trying to decide why God lets evil happen in the first place, and more time pursuing what God would have us do in the face of this evil? See, I think God provided part of the answer already; it’s just so obvious we usually miss it. The answer is us. We are the body of Christ. We are the kingdom of God coming to Earth. We are God’s response to the evil in the world, if we’ll let God shape us for that purpose. What is that going to look like?
Well……maybe soon we’ll find out.