I believe that God wants the world to be full of people in His image, both in their characteristics and behavior. This is a world where Jesus is King and the clearest example of the image of God. I believe this is the plan, the mission, the goal.
A world like this is a world where love is the spirit of the law.
It is a world where a person will freely give of their property, their rights, and even their own life if it means the promotion and protection of another.
It is a world where justice seeks first reconciliation, repair, and recompense over retribution or destruction. It is a world where justice is given equally to all and is not contingent on belonging to a favored group or having enough wealth to win a legal battle with someone who is poor.
It is a world where a person’s word is as good as a binding contract.
It is a world where a person takes responsibility for their wrongdoing, is honest about it to God, to themselves, and to others, and endeavors to turn away from it and make amends for the damage they have done. It is a world where this is rewarded.
It is a world that promotes and rewards the active pursuit of good works where each person tries to outdo the others in showing honor to others – not out of pride, but out of a desire to reduce suffering and increase joy.
The pursuits of power, wealth, and fame, rage, aggression, dissipation – all things that exalt the self over others are discouraged, unrewarded, and lovingly corrected.
This vision has appeared in the world in various forms. It is told as the story of our earliest ancestors. It has appeared as a family making their way through foreign lands. It has appeared as a nation. It has appeared as an exiled and dispersed people. It has appeared as small, embattled communities of faith in a larger Empire. It has appeared as that very same Empire. It now appears as communities throughout the globe whose experiences and conduct seem as varied as the regions they are in.
At no point has this vision been perfectly realized, or even realized very well at all depending on what point in history we’re talking about. Yet, it remains the vision.
This vision claims all areas of life. There is no area of life that goes untouched by this vision. Family, work, finances, recreation, worship, how we spend our time, priorities, and how we go about everything from the thoughts in our head to eating and drinking.
Like many on this mission before me, there is no area in which I am fully pursuing the mission and not a few areas where I am working against it, seeking my own selfish comfort or reward regardless of the expense to others – either as a direct consequence or indirectly due to what I am not doing that I could or should. This is sin. I do not need a long list that spells out what is a sin and what isn’t; sin’s nature and principles are clear and can manifest in a multitude of ways. What might be acceptable or even commendable in one circumstance could be a sin in another circumstance. It all comes back to the vision – where am I working to promote it, where am I working against it, and where am I indifferent to it?
This vision transcends doctrinal differences, even severe ones. We could disagree on baptism, Hell, or the divinity of Jesus, but we can work together to be the world God wants.
We may disagree on the particulars of what that looks like, but how different those discussions are! How can we best show love? How can we best make this broken situation right? How can we best take care of the people involved?
This vision even transcends religious affiliation. There are others outside the fold who want a world like this and are working to be this world. In Jesus’ day, they were the Gentiles who feared God or did by nature what the Law requires. In our day, they might be the Muslims who embody a religion of peace regardless of what the rhetoric says they must “truly” believe. Their actions show what they truly believe. Perhaps even atheists, who do not want to tear Christians down, but want a just and loving world and have dedicated themselves to being people like that – people who profess that they do not believe in God, and yet carry His name in their actions.
Perhaps it might sound that such a vision embraces everyone, and it potentially could embrace everyone. It is big enough to embrace every human being and all the world to be saved.
But the reality is that it does not. There are countless people who believe in the pursuit of wealth and power for their own welfare and will do violence to protect and advance that pursuit. There are many who would place their own pleasure as the chief end of their life. There are many who have defined themselves exclusively in terms of what they can get, achieve, and experience even if the world has to burn while they do it. Many such people end up ostensibly rewarded for this with the riches or power they crave or idolized by our media because they draw our attention and admiration.
A fairly good-sized chunk of such people claim the name of Christ for their own and call him Lord and even point to the great things they have done in his name.
The vision is something that is divisive, not because the vision itself sets one group against another, but because of the responses. For there are many who embrace such a world as God envisions. It sings within their hearts and gives them hope. The people who are most drawn to this vision are the ones to whom it is gospel – the poor, the oppressed, the weak, the needy, the sinners – all who want a new world.
But the rich, the powerful, the comfortable, the “righteous” – these people stand to lose. If they do not get to use their money for their own exaltation, of what use is it? Why should they have to be less prosperous so that the less worthy might benefit? If they do not get to use their power to get what they want, why have power? Why should they labor to put someone else in the spotlight when the spotlight is just as easily theirs for the taking along with the accolades and benefits that come with it?
No, such people do not want a world like what I’ve described, and they will oppress, suppress, persecute, ridicule, demonize, undermine, and sometimes flat out kill any incarnations of that world.
How, then, in the face of such opposition, is God’s dream to survive?
If the Bible tells us anything it all, it tells us that God will ensure that His dream survives. Not even death can stop it.