Now and Not Yet
In 1993 I was pulled out of bed a 3am by gunmen who had broken into our team house in Somalia. As the cold steel of one of their guns touched my forehead I would have liked to say I had some amazing spiritual experience, but instead two thoughts flashed through my mind:
1) I hope it does not hurt
2) I have not done enough
The first thought is understandable – we all fear pain. The second revealed a poor theology of grace and a dualistic way of approaching life.
Divisions, dualisms and dichotomies
Our way of approaching life creates polarisations in our theology and practice. We separate believing from living, prayer from service, work from rest and this life from the next. When under duress, such as the story above, this fragmented life is uncovered.
I would have argued that we are saved by grace alone not by works (Ephesians 2:8), yet when I thought I was going to die I was fearful that my works were insufficient to earn my salvation.
It was as if I felt that this earthly life was a testing ground, a place to earn spiritual points for heavenly gain. This way of thinking can be found in many theological reflections. The more we serve others, the greater our reward. The more we suffer now, the more holy we will become. The more we sacrifice now, the greater the gain in heaven. We place our hope and we invest in the life to come. This sounds sensible.
However, this also reveals a dualistic way of thinking. What do I mean by this?
Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom of God had come now in Him. His death on the cross removed the barriers of sin and separation from God. Even though we will know God more fully when Jesus returns, the truth is he is with us now. His presence and power are here now, not just at the end of the journey. We live in the new Kingdom now. We experience it, we reflect it, we demonstrate it, we proclaim the Good News of it now. It is in the midst of the pain and struggles of this world that God’s Shalom breaks in. Our worship and celebration is that we are already tasting the new life now, we are together with God now.
As we know God more and more each day, he helps us to see the world through his eyes. We love our neighbour because we sense God’s love for them. We love our community because God longs for our community. We love our nation because God seeks to redeem every aspect of it. We care for our planet because it is God’s gift and call to us. Love is therefore the motivation for service.
Of course the tension between the now and the not yet means we live in the present with the ongoing revelation of Kingdom of God inspiring us onward. We are strengthened and guided by the truth that Jesus is already in us and with us. Our service may at times be out of duty but our hope is that as we know Christ more and more each day it becomes a labour of love and joy.
Lord, without you our works will lack transformational power. Without love, works will seek rewards. Fill us with your Spirit and open our hearts and our eyes to see each person, each family, each community with you heart of love.