From time to time, the messiness of Christianity strikes me. It’s easy to imagine God, transcendent over the world, powerfully ordering things as and when he pleases to outwork His perfect plan. But then the messiness of reality sets in.
For instance, the Christian life contains both wonderful experiences of answered prayer, miracles and breakthroughs at the same time as despairing experiences of seeming unanswered prayer, pain and tragedy. It’s messy.
World affairs include the vibrant expansion of the Church, people and communities brought into wholeness and justice. And yet the world is continually afflicted with disaster, war and injustice. It’s very messy.
Christian history contains accounts of courageous and godly people, leaders and churches pursuing Christ’s mission faithfully, and accounts of the scoundrel, the bigot and the corrupted. The Church’s own story is messy.
Even the Bible is messy – its heroes often have a dark side, God’s people are routinely unfaithful, and evil often seems to be ascendant, renewals are soon beset with lethargy. Messy people in messy situations.
Why all this mess? Can’t a good, powerful and wise God, enthroned in Heaven with absolute authority just “sort it out”? It would be so much nicer, cleaner and orderly if he did.
Now, rest assured, God is indeed working out His plan to bring His kingdom to this world, redeeming humanity and redeeming creation. But His method is remarkable. Instead of standing outside the world, distant, untouched and controlling, He incarnates Himself in the world. He chooses to get involved down at our level, working with us and through us, surrounded by our mess. Incarnation instead of domination.
Yes, there have been times when He has intervened spectacularly in human affairs as one “stepping in from the outside” – creation, the flood and the exodus, for example. But mostly He works from the inside. Calling, empowering and using flawed people. And when He Himself comes to earth, clothed in flesh, He comes not as an all-powerful emperor, but as a humble servant, betrayed and crucified. Yet in the midst of that mess – resurrection! In the midst of our mess – the Spirit!
God is changing our world – from the inside. It is a messy incarnation. But since He wants to love, win and heal this humanity rather than dominate it, there is no other way.
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