It’s Becoming a Wonderful World

I wrote this for the 10th Anniversary of 9/11. I think it bears repeating.

Christians know and will sometimes actually say that Jesus won. But I don’t think many people fully appreciate how true that is. 2000 years ago, Jesus preached a radical message to turn the world upside down. In God’s Kingdom, the first would be last and the last would be first. Oppression would loose its grip, the suffering would be comforted, and we would be servants to the least. Jesus was speaking this into a world where power was absolute, life was cheap, illnesses could not be treated or cured and women had no rights or respect. In order to appreciate the victory that Jesus won, let’s just take a look at the world we live in today.

We now live in a world where the most powerful feel an obligation towards those most in need. The most powerful people in the world actually sit down together and make plans to relieve the suffering of impoverished people all over the world. The Romans barely gave a thought to the poor in their own empire much less starving people beyond their borders. The idea itself would have been absurd. Right now, Bill Gates – one of the most powerful, wealthy men in all of human existence has dedicated his life and wealth towards helping to alleviate suffering around the world. Do you realize how astounding that it? That is a victory for the kingdom way!

In the most powerful parts of the world today, human rights are seen as a non-negotiable good. In Jesus’ day, there was no freedom of speech. All of the apostles were martyred for practicing freedom of religion. Property rights existed only for the wealthy and powerful – no one else had much property to take! There were no laws in place to protect people from exploitation and fraud – these were normal ways of doing business. Slavery was accepted and the economy depended on forced labor. Today, we have not solved the problem of human rights, but we are working on it. Those who have freedom are not likely to return to slavery or sit by quietly while other human beings suffer atrocities in the name of money or religion or politics. Yes, it still happens, but the trajectory of the fight is clear and the powerful are committed. This is a kingdom victory!

At the time of Jesus, half of children died by their 5th birthday. Life expectancy was short due to disease and injuries which had no treatment. People of 2000 years ago would be astounded to see what modern medicine can do. It would be no less remarkable to them than Jesus’ healing miracles. A child dying today is no longer viewed as a regrettable, but common event, it is seen as a tragedy with few comparisons. This is a kingdom victory!

At the time of Jesus, a person’s suffering was seen as their own fault. Even a man born blind was presumed to have been stricken due to someone’s sin. When people died in an accident, others went looking for ways to blame them or theirs for their bad fate. Today, we have Oprah, support groups, counseling, a multi-billion dollar self-help industry – all devoted to offering comfort and healing to the suffering. Those suffering from mental illnesses are offered (ideally) sympathy and treatment. The fact that our usual response to suffering is to try and figure out how to offer solace and healing is a kingdom victory as well.

When Jesus was crucified – supposedly for sedition, he was put to death alongside a thief. Today, in much of the world, putting a person to death for anything is either prohibited or limited to the crime of murder. If a man died while working 2000 years ago, there was no compensation for the family. Today we have worker’s comp for injuries and employers can think of virtually nothing worse than having an employee die on the job. This is a kingdom victory!

Women today live with more freedom and dignity than they have in all of recorded history. And the day WILL come that we will have a female president. This would have been less than a fairy tale in the past. And this is a kingdom victory.

In my area, there are billboards peppering the roads promoting volunteering, services for those in need of treatment for substance abuse and values like kindness, courage and sacrifice. When tragedy strikes anywhere in the world, money pours in like water to help those affected. As has often been pointed out, as the events of 9/11 played out, people weren’t reaching out to demand money owed them or shoot off one last curse for their enemies. They were praying and telling loved ones that they loved them. The entire world has become concerned with and involved in trying to find ways to live in better balance with the planet (which is a gift from God for us).

Someone coming from 2000 years ago would be appalled at the evil which is still present in the world, but also completely astounded to see so much of humanity living in dignity and luxury. The simple fact that so much time, energy and money is being expended to address the needs of people who are poor, infirmed, mistreated, hungry and sick would seem like a miracle. The kingdom of God truly is at hand. And it is no co-incidence that the places on this planet where the powerful feel an obligation to a starving child on the other side of the world and where people are free and women are respected are all places where Christianity took root. Not only is what we see going on an unfolding victory for the kingdom of God, it was put into motion by Christ.

Of course, there is no instruction manual for how to feed starving kids in Africa, how to free the oppressed from a dictator or how to heal a warrior’s trauma. Just as each human must learn how to live, it also take time and trial and error for humanity to learn to do what it wants to do. So, yes, there has been a lot of foolishness done in service to these very good goals. But we humans have an amazing capacity to self-correct. The direction has been struck and now we’re working out the details.

So many people can’t see how amazing this world is becoming because good is being done without the stamp of the name of Christ on it. However, the bible says that who ever loves knows God and Jesus said that whoever serves someone in need is serving him. The day will come when the world will know that the victories we enjoy belong to Christ, but in the meantime, just because he’s not named doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the victory. We breathed air for a long, long time before learning that there was something called oxygen in the air that was sustaining our life. Something doesn’t have to be named or known to be true and life-giving. (Although the bible does say that there is reward for knowing Christ as well.) Those of us who know Christ well enough to recognize his ongoing, miraculous work in the world should be out front claiming the victory rather than dismissing it because Jesus’ name hasn’t yet been attached to it!

The Kingdom of God is unfolding in exciting in promising ways, but a lot of the church can’t see it because it is married to the idea that God works by snapping his fingers and going *poof*! But God didn’t create the world by turning on the lights like a janitor. We have a God who creates over the course of enormous amounts of time in ways that are astounding, mysterious and beautiful beyond measure. It does God no honor to refuse to recognize his hand in the normal unfolding of life. God doesn’t have to step outside the normal rules (which He put in place) of the physical world (which He created according to His good purposes) to accomplish anything! Isn’t that amazing?

So as we remember the terrible events of 9/11, lets not fail to look with spiritual eyes at the amazing victories – some of which were inspired in response to 9/11 or given greater priority due to 9/11 – that are unfolding around us. For all the evil that still exists in the world, we are so, so blessed to be living in the age of the coming of a wonderful world.

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14 thoughts on “It’s Becoming a Wonderful World

  1. I don’t think the Devil is getting enough credit here… Yes, the little rooting-penants everyone is waving read “Goodstuff-Goodstuff!” But the folks making off with the loot — Gates’ depredations & hobbling of the computer industry being one of the more defensible examples — would be more help if they just didn’t steal it in the first place. Most of the so-called ‘wealthy’ are just hard at work keeping the chips on their end of the table, making sure that nobody deals a new hand, keeping the game rigged against the public good.

    I like to think there’s some serious collective wake-up going on… but hard to convince myself of that while all the political true-believers are preparing for erections. (Whoever wins, it’s still our day in the barrel!)

    The sooner the Powers & Principalities — still very much in control on a major-headline level — finish destroying the civilization we’re still horribly addicted to — the sooner God can get to repairing the ongoing harm due to our customary way of life.

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    • Well, there are reasons I said “it’s becoming” rather than “it is”, right? From where I sit, we’re giving the devil far too much credit. “The gates of hades will not prevail” isn’t just a promise that the church will survive – it’s also a warning that on the way the gates of hell will come out full force. Here’s my understanding: what is evil can be used by God and by those who are following his way to learn, grow, evolve and become the turning points that point us back to God.

      We’re far too worried about what we’re getting wrong along the way. Mistakes will be made. The idea is that we would learn from our mistakes, continually adjusting and refining along the way. Scriptures tell us “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” It’s a little “law of attraction-ish”, but what we concentrate on, we create more of.

      When we concentrate on what’s going wrong, we fight and argue and move forward with pain and great resistance. When we concentrate on what’s good we are figuring out what works and change comes about as our undestanding of what works grows, evolves and changes. Think of how it is with kids – praise is the most effective way to bring about more of the good behavior you want. Criticism tends to have very limited effects on behavior and can have a lot of unwanted side-effects.

      I agree that we are on the cusp of – if not already in the middle of – a great upheaval. But I think it’s going to be a lot like in Jesus’ time. Those in the know were waiting for the day that God would come and set everything right; overthrow the Romans. Put the Israelites in their proper place of power. Punish sinners. etc, etc, etc. I don’t know if you’ve read NT Wright’s The Challenge of Jesus, but he makes a very persuasive case that Jesus made a third way and warned those who wanted to play the game of rulers and powers and punishment and authority were going to bring destruction on themselves. I think we’re in a similar place today. There are those who are waiting for God to come down from the clouds, kick ass and set the whole place straight. There are those who are waiting for people to wake up and take power back from those who currently have it and remake the system to be more just and moral. I think that the call of Jesus today is the same as it was 2000 years ago: “follow God. Love and serve. Be light and salt.” I think this is the challenge for our day – to trust that the way Kingdom way really works the way we’ve been promised it does. That these simple practices of love, service and being redeemed are the cure for what ails us. Yes, it’s naive, but as we were told – “be cunning as foxes and innocent as doves.”

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      • Hmm, you’d have to classify me as “waiting for God to jump out from inside us and use us to help set the whole place straight.” We’re agreed that ‘kicking ass’ isn’t the way to do that, but that trying to fix things that way is a major part of the problem.

        Jesus was saying some harsh stuff about Pharisees — not because he didn’t think they were good people, but that their approach to doing good was winning more points for the other side. The same needs to be said, for much the same reason, about the way people’s good intentions typically get diverted in the present day. Different suits, same game.

        Criticism, well, I’d be a much better person if I could take criticism constructively. All I can say for it is: preferable to flattery or self-deception.

        I continue to love your pieces and mostly agree with most of them.

        Meanwhile, if God doesn’t leap out of the cake & kick something loose soon, the sky really is falling, you know…

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      • Well here, let me ask you this – what if God doesn’t jump out and set things straight? What if we flail around for a while making things worse and worse? Romans 1:20-25 talks about God’s judgment being that he hands people over to their sinful desires, depraved minds, makes their thinking becomes futile, etc . . . Things could get very much worse before they get better.

        My opinion is that the only security, peace and hope when things go really bad is God. Everything else fails. And the longer and harder you’ve been depending on whatever it is that you’re depending on that’s not God, the harder and more painfully it’s going to fail for you. “It” could be almost anything – money, government, hyper-individualism, greed, fear, self-righteousness, good ideas, force of will.

        There’s no such thing as a good “it” for us to depend on or believe in – nothing but God is God. In God there is safety. In God there is promise of a better age to come. In God we have our portion – what we need. But it takes trust. I know for a fact that you could write a book explaining exactly what’s wrong and things we should be doing to fix it and maybe even some strategies to jump-start the whole thing. But I think our marching orders are the same as when Jesus was here: love. forgive. be gentle. Serve your enemies. Be humble. Even when it costs you everything to do it. And the question for those of us who call ourselves Christians is do we trust God enough to actually do it? Can we discipline ourselves to step out of the fight and the anger and the fear and just focus on love – whatever the problems and challenges are and however hopeless it seems?

        Sometimes I think there is a different sort of election going on spiritually than the political one. In the spiritual election, we either vote for Kingdom rules or some permutation of all the other ways we’ve tried to get things to work ourselves. We vote with our hearts, our minds, our physical being, our soul and will. It’s a leap of faith to really change your vote. We’ve never tried it God’s way before.

        I think the spiritual election ends when enough people have taken that leap of faith to start to turn the tide. It doesn’t take much – Jesus left behind just a couple dozen faithful followers and the entire world was changed.

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  2. If God doesn’t leap out & do the deus ex machina thing in some sense… then we-all, as God’s offspring/avatar/images, should be just fine in the long run; but we won’t get to have this world to kick around any more. Since it’s a pretty nice world, by my standards, I’d rather see ‘Him’ pull it off. While will be more of a challenge than letting it crash with fireworks, so that’s how I’m betting…

    Right now, I’d say we’re seeing the failure of everything people have been accustomed to depending on… putting us already as far into your “letting us flail” scenario as I can imagine. The only thing lacking being total collapse. It doesn’t look to me like Jesus has “won”, not so far — but if this is what it takes to turn us toward God; well, as you say that’s our only stable happiness.

    I may be a harder case to awaken than I like to think, myself! (I seem to need to keep remembering to turn back that direction, over & over… like they suggest in meditation practice.)

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    • My perspective is wildly unrealistic, but true, I think. A couple of years ago while struggling to come out of a bout of severe depression I asked God to help me see what is good about this world. Because so far as I could see the answer was pretty much nothing. In time life did start looking a bit different. One of these days maybe I’ll write about it, but maybe you could ask God to show you what’s good too! 😉

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      • I’m wanting to see “good” and “bad” both… and not being ‘depressed’ that I know of, just occasionally sad and/or discouraged. Dwelling on the badstuff gets ucky, so I too try not to!!!

        It exists. But if your perspective sees God eventually pulling wonderful results even out of the toilet bowl, that’s not “wildly unrealistic” but “simply accurate.” (I’m just not going to wear that bowl on my head meanwhile, that’s all!)

        Sometimes I think we’re “a pair of ignorant armies that clashed in the night or something” but we aren’t as much on different pages as it sometimes looks!

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  3. Interesting discussion… kind of takes the “six-day creation vs. the obvious eons” struggle to a way more challenging level. I remember telling my mom when I was a teen way back in the 60’s that I really didn’t see Jesus (or God) as a magic-wand kind of guy, nor did I buy the dispensational view that the world of now is somehow different than the world described in the Bible, therefore those old patriarchs couldn’t have gotten audible instructions any more than we do. Poor preacher-wife mom, she didn’t know what to do with me. So maybe I was on to something, but doesn’t mean it’s been an easy faith to live with… decades of discovery of the implications. Helluva a challenge, you might say!
    Have either of you read ‘The Promise of Despair: The Way of the Cross as The Way of the Church’ by Andrew Root?

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    • I think that one of the real challenges for our age – and the church seems to struggle with this more than most – is adjusting our thinking based on how life actually works rather than how we’ve always thought it works. I can never find the reference, but years ago I read that in the ancient Hebrew tradition meditation was done by holding two seemingly opposing ideas in one’s head at the same time until the connections between each and the truth of each became clear. I have found that this form of meditative thinking is particularly well suited to the challenge of belief in a post-modern world.

      I haven’t read the book, but I’m always willing to accept donated books! ;p

      It look like it might have some synchronicity with a previous post of mine:
      https://theupsidedownworld.com/2012/07/31/the-feel-good-church-vs-the-church-of-blessed-suffering/

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    • Googling, I find an excerpt at http://www.elca.org/Growing-In-Faith/Vocation/Lutheran-Partners/Complete-Issue/100304/100304_03.aspx .

      I’m glad we’ve been ‘challenging’ because the whole issue leaves me feeling ‘challenged’!

      Root looks like another one of those eager young folks who “thinks too much” — could maybe see better with a few lenses out of the way. (I’m just going by that exerpt; I wouldn’t mind either of you on the Bible study I’ve been sporadically attempting to carry, by the way)

      Reading the gospels, I have to see Jesus as very much “a magic wand kind of guy” — except that one has to provide one’s own wand. No faith, no output. That is, when people come to Jesus for healing, he doesn’t say: “You know, you really can’t expect God to fix that pesky brain cancer, now can you?” If they’re prepared to believe it possible, it happens.

      Jesus himself knows that he can’t carry out his own mission via any attempt to protect himself. So he ends up having to accept some truly unpleasant experiences. But it isn’t out of believing he couldn’t, if he’d so desired, have ten legions of angels out there kicking butt on his behalf. He could have, but that just wasn’t the program.

      I’m thinking we need a ‘two-eyes’ perspective: “It can really get ugly out there; and nothing contained in this world can protect us from that ugliness” vs “Everything we see and know and are is the imagination of God at work.” Or the Zen version of that: “Everything is perfect, but some things could use a little improvement.”

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  4. The mature person of faith, whether of optimistic or pessimistic temperament, should be a pragmatic visionary; neither a romantic idealist, nor a prophet of doom.

    I appreciate the nuance of the “Becoming” in the title of this post. Scripture proclaims that “without a VISION the people perish, not without an ideal. I, too, sense that we are headed in the right direction; but, yes, we still have “miles to go.”

    A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. ~Winston Churchill

    When pessimists think they’re taking a chance, optimists feel they’re grasping a great opportunity. –Anonymous

    The pessimist complains about the wind, the optimist expects it to change and the realist adjusts his sails. –Unknown

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