“Why can we trust God, no matter what happens?”
I’m reading The God of Promise and the Life of Faith by Scott J. Hafemann for my biblical theology class, and that question is the title of one of his chapters. (The next couple chapters are “Why does God wait so long to make things right?” “Why is there so much pain and evil in the world?” and “Why do God’s people suffer?” Nice, light reading there. I’ll keep you posted.)
But the chapter on WHY we can trust God was really interesting, and impacted the way I’ve been praying about the famine in the Horn of Africa.
The famine in the Horn of Africa is the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. The lives and livelihood of over 12 million people are at stake, and it’s estimated that there are well over half a million children on the brink of starvation right now. The stories coming out of Somalia, in particular, are harrowing.
I have no doubt that this situation is breaking God’s heart. He knows when the sparrow falls, and he must shudder as the precious people he created suffer and die in circumstances created by creation gone rogue and human hearts gone awry. We also know that Jesus clearly identifies himself with the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, and the suffering. Read Matthew 25:31-46 if you need a reminder of how serious Jesus is about people who call themselves his followers caring for the poor.
So what does this have to do with my biblical theology textbook?
See, I’ve been praying that God will have mercy on the people of East Africa–that he will rain down water and provision from heaven, that he will comfort them, that he will save them. (And when I say that I’m asking God to have mercy, it DOESN’T mean that I think he is punishing them and I am asking him to stop–it means that I am asking God for a miraculous intervention, because he IS merciful.) It’s a good prayer, and I’m going to keep asking for it!
However, Hafemann points out that throughout the Bible, the people who seemed to most in tune with God always combined their plea for mercy with an appeal to God’s glory. To have mercy for the sake of his name.
Hafemann says that there is “one guiding motive behind all God’s activity in the Bible: his desire to portray and preserve the glory of his reputation as the God who is sovereign Creator, gracious Provider, merciful Redeemer, and just Ruler of the world.” This doesn’t mean that God is an egoist–looking at the life and humiliating death of Jesus should smash that misconception. No–to put it another way, the one thing that God wants from humanity, more than anything else, is for them to recognize him for who he is, their loving, gracious, and merciful father, and respond by trusting him and loving him back.
I thought about this in the context of the famine. If I lifted my eyes from the human suffering for just a moment, and thought about it from an eternal perspective, how would I pray? How could God’s glory, magnificent love, and merciful character could be displayed in these horrible circumstances?
I found a bigger prayer.
There is no doubt that God cares about human suffering. There is no doubt that God aligns himself with the cause of the poor, the hungry, the sick, and the oppressed. There is also no doubt that God has called his followers to engage in working out his purposes here in this world, to strive toward “on earth as it is in heaven.”
There aren’t any babies starving in heaven. If there are babies starving here, it means the church has a job to do.
So, my prayer changed. I am still praying that God will miraculously intervene in the Horn of Africa, that he will send rain, that he will end the violence in Somalia, that he will put his hand on children who are dying and preserve them, that he will comfort those who mourn.
But my MAIN prayer has become that God will spur his people into action, and that God’s name will be glorified in all the world because of the way Christians respond to the suffering. That we will be the body of Christ in a way that is faithful to how Christ actually lived–that Christ’s body will be out there feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and giving itself sacrificially for the good of others.
What if the church really mobilized? What if every single one of us gave ourselves completely to God’s call on our lives, not only spiritually but materially, too? What if we truly went “all-in?”
Would God be glorified?
So I am praying that God would empower us through the Holy Spirit to not only hear but heed God’s call on our lives. To not only read about what Jesus did, but get out and do what Jesus did.
To follow him.
Jesus went out through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send you workers into his harvest field. -Matthew 9:35-38