Sacred History and the Joy of Obscurity

“Changing the world” is an idea that gets North American Christians, evangelicals in particular, fired up.  We talk about winning the world for Jesus (with no clue what that would look like or what we shall do when it is so won); we talk about taking a city for the kingdom (with no clue what that would look like or what we shall do when it is so taken); we rant and rave about getting our country back from “them”, whoever “they” are (with no clue what that would look like or what we shall do once we have gotten it back).  We will change the world.  It is our prerogative.  Our task.  Our calling.  Our DESTINY.

When I was in college (I went to a Christian college), much was made of this idea.  In chapel we were told that if we had great faith we would do great things for God, and in so doing we would change the world.  Perhaps by next semester–if we had enough faith of course.  This had the effect of making me feel as though something was wrong with me, for I was not doing “great things for God”, nor did I have the time to do so.  Changing the world, after all, is a heavy burden to bear when you’re a college freshmen struggling to keep up good grades.

One afternoon, while out for a jog, I found my soul swimming in a sea of anxiety about this whole matter of “doing great things for God” and “changing the world.”  Was it because I didn’t have enough faith that I was not doing those things?  To add to the perplexity, at that time, some clever persons had reversed the maxim from “Do you have faith to do great things for God?” to “Do you have to fail?”  After all, if you didn’t have faith to fail, to take a big risk for God and not see it come through, you couldn’t possibly have faith to succeed.  But of course, I was a nineteen year old with a pile of new responsibilities on my plate.  No “big risks” were forthcoming for me.  I was just trying to survive.

And so, awash in confusion, I ran.  And as I ran, I listened.  And as I listened, I heard the Lord.  His words bubbled up from my soul and wrapped around me like a warm blanket:

Andrew, maybe it’s not so much “do you have faith to succeed?”; and maybe it’s not so much “do you have faith to fail?”; maybe it’s more about “Do you have the faith to be completely and totally obscure?”  To live a life of ordinary devotion to me in the trenches of faithfulness.  To be born, to walk with me – unknown, to do works of love and mercy, and then to die.  Do you have that kind of faith?  If you never led conferences or wrote books or had your name in the headlines, would I be enough for you?

Gladly, the answer that erupted in response was, “Yes, of course.”

We are constantly deceived into believing that “real” history is what’s happening “out there” – in the public square, in the headlines, on the playbills.  And so we desecrate and demean the importance of our (beautifully!) obscure lives.  How long will it take us to realize that SACRED HISTORY IS THE REAL HISTORY, and it is, more often than not, NOT TELEVISED.  In the words of Gil Scott Heron – the revolution will not be televised.

In one noteworthy scene in the Gospels (John 14), Jesus is talking cryptically about his coming death and resurrection, and one of his disciples explodes:

22 Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”

23 Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.

How fascinating.  Judas wants a public spectacle.  A public revolution.  A demonstration that will answer all doubts and settle the matter publicly once for all, shutting every mouth.  And how does Jesus respond?  By bringing Judas back to the essence of his calling, his first task – “Love and obey me.  And me and my Father will come and make a home with you.”

Jesus seems to think that Judas’ first task to change the world.  It is his task to be faithful to and love Jesus and his Father.  They will take care of all the other stuff.

Back when the Rob Bell controversy was in full swing, a gal from the church we served at back in Oklahoma messaged me to ask my “opinion” on the book.  I hadn’t read the book, and hadn’t planned to.  Nothing against Rob, mind you.  I just thought the whole spectacle was unhealthy and wanted to distance myself as much as possible from it.  With that in mind, I responded thus:

My opinion is that when the history books are rewritten 150 years from now – and no offense intended here – but when they rewrite history, neither Rob Bell nor John Piper nor any of the current bigwigs in the debate are likely to get even an honorable mention.  Further, I can almost guarantee that this morning, the Vatican is not commissioning a task force to investigate this incredibly serious controversy currently raging among a bunch of all-too-excitable evangelicals.  My advice to you is to read it if you like, and ponder it… and then go back to your post and keep walking with Jesus.  There are more important matters at hand for you and for me than having an “opinion” on Rob Bell or John Piper.

Our little, ordinary, obscure lives matter.  And they matter not “with reference to” the things that make the headlines, whether within or without the Christian world.  They matter because they are part of God’s Sacred History – which is of course the REAL history.  The history that neither Rome nor Babylon nor the Pentagon nor Madison Avenue nor Orange County nor Colorado Springs nor the Vatican tends to pay much attention to.  After all, while Rome thought that what it was doing was the most important thing in the world, a virgin was being visited by an angel… and the REAL HISTORY was underway, God’s victory was moving forward, in ways that Rome would only realize quite late – several centuries later.

This is not to say, of course, that part of our task is not to “change the world.”  Jesus’ parable of the leaven and his teaching that we shall be “salt and light”, among other things, run decisively in the other direction.  We are agents of change.  It is just to say that the WAY we change the world is not the WAY the world conceives of “changing the world.”  It is crucial we see this, lest we eviscerate our lives of the dignity afforded them by the God who really does “hold the whole world in his hands.”

Your life has dignity.  So walk with Jesus.  Humbly, faithfully, fully.  You are part of a sacred revolution that will not be televised or co-opted by the media.  Believe it.  Live it.  ENJOY it.

Grace and peace.

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