I just got back with my students from a week at Engage, our annual youth conference. Incredible week; three days later, I am still amazed and humbled at how God worked in students’ lives.
Our theme was ‘IKON,’ unpacking what it means to be made in the image of God and what it means that we are being re-made in the image of Christ. Our speakers did a great job making the concepts understandable and applicable, and students were embracing it!
We, the church, are the image-bearers of Christ to the world. We are to live as He lived and be the place where heaven kisses earth. This is the mission He gave us; this is why the Spirit of God has been sent, that the power and presence of God goes where we go.
But last Friday, as we ended the last session and went our separate ways, was bittersweet. Early that morning, I had received a text from my wife asking if I had heard about the shooting in Aurora. The bubble we had lived in all week suddenly burst. The reality of life in this world was a cruel slap across the face.
We stopped at an Arby’s for lunch on our way back home, and there were televisions on reporting what had taken place in that movie theater in Colorado. I couldn’t take my eyes from the screen, and I couldn’t keep my mind from spinning.
A thought flashed through my mind. And not the typical, “Where’s God?” thought we have when we come face-to-face with evil and horror of this magnitude. We ask how God could allow this to happen. We wrestle with the problem of evil and a good God who is supposedly in charge of this world.
But what flashed through my mind was a different thought:
This is my fault.
This is our fault.
Where was the church?
If the church was being who the church has been called by God to be, this could have been avoided.
What if someone had come alongside James Holmes at some point in his life, and God had gotten ahold of him?
What if at the tipping point of his life, the people of God had been walking beside him, sticking with him and being God-in-the-flesh for him?
Where was the church? It’s the same question we should ask ourselves as we hear about the ripple effect taking place at Penn State.
I know it’s all speculation, and at the end of the day people choose to reject or follow God of their own accord, but I also believe it’s the right question for us to be asking at times like this.
And I believe we can see that this is the right question as we trace the storyline of Scripture and look at God’s history with the earth and His plan for mankind.
We must begin by stating the obvious: heaven is not earth.
The differences between heaven and earth are not simply due to the Fall in Genesis 3. From the very beginning, how God ruled in heaven was different from how God planned to rule on earth (Genesis 1:26-28). God created humanity to rule on earth for Him.
It was the responsibility He gave to Adam and Eve that they subsequently rejected in their rebellious act of spurning God’s headship over them and choosing their own path.
It was the responsibility He gave to the people of Israel (Exodus 19:3-6) that they also failed to fulfill and led to their exile to Babylon.
It was the responsibility that Jesus the Christ perfectly fulfilled, fulfilling perfectly the covenant God made with Abraham and announcing to all who would listen that finally in Him the Kingdom of God was here.
It was the responsibility Jesus passed on to His disciples, breathing into them the Spirit of God, re-making them to carry out this mission (John 20:22-23).
Today, it is still the responsibility of the church to fulfill to the best of her ability until the day Jesus comes back and makes all things new (Revelation 21:1-5).
When we ask the question, “Where’s God?”, we are putting at least some of the responsibility on God for allowing this to happen. I would contend that as the people of God we should be taking responsibility for not preventing it from happening. We need to realize the heavy urgency of the mission we have been given, and maybe we need an act of evil of this magnitude to rouse us from our slumber of complacency.
Not to beat ourselves up for our past failures or to wonder what might have been, but to humbly recognize what God has asked of us and rise up out of these ashes and become at last who we have been called to be.
May it be through the church that God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.