I usually listen to NPR in the mornings when I’m driving to work, but this summer it was difficult to keep listening because of all of the awful things going on in the world. My empathetic heart broke at the reports of Syrian school children who were gassed to death, a 1-year-old baby who was fatally shot in New Orleans, a little boy in Beijing whose eyes were gouged out, and several high-profile suicides. Some mornings the news reports were so terrible, all I could do was swear and cry. A lot.
I decided that walking around all day swearing like a sailor, with mascara running down my face, was not helpful (or attractive), so I stopped listening to the radio for a while, and instead used my silent morning commute to pray for the world and all of its brokenness.
In the silences, I also started thinking about God’s plan to redeem all of this brokenness. And then my imagination got the best of me, and I started wondering what would’ve happened if God had taken his cues from us when trying to save the world.
If God were a politician, he might have sent Jesus knocking door-to-door, asking people to vote for his Father’s platform of love and peace and mercy. And, if it wasn’t too much trouble, maybe a small donation – because everyone knows how deep the Devil’s pockets are.
If God kept the world afloat like NPR stays on the air, he may have had a fundraising drive. There’d be different levels of giving and a cheesy gift depending on how big your donation was. A fridge magnet for $50, a mug for $100, and maybe a tote bag for anyone who gave more than that.
If God solved the world’s problems like musicians do, he might’ve organized a concert where performers who used to compete with each other for top Billboard spots now stood together on stage, their arms around each others’ shoulders, swaying to an emotive song. Millions of people around the world would be moved by this beautiful demonstration of solidarity, and would text a keyword to a shortcode to contribute to God’s Save the World fund.
But when God wanted to save the world, he didn’t use a ballot measure or a give-a-thon or a shortcode or a ridiculously large Styrofoam check. Instead, he sent his son, who was named Emmanuel, God with us. God didn’t give a check; he gave a person. Love incarnate moved into the neighborhood and lived next door to us for 33 years. And before he left the earth, he promised that eventually we’ll all get to move into his neighborhood and live next door to him without ever having to move away.
This week I’ve been wondering what would happen if we took our cues from God when it comes to loving the world instead of the other way around. To be sure, raising money to love the world in tangible ways – like providing clean drinking water and medical equipment and shoes – is important. But God doesn’t want us to just give money and then retreat back to our safe, comfortable and isolated neighborhoods.
He wants us to be generous not only with our resources, but also with ourselves. Not to practice drive-by charity, but to dwell in the brokenness and senselessness and pain of the world until he comes back and finally redeems it.
Loving the world this way isn’t cheap — it comes at a high personal cost — but it’s simple. It doesn’t require celebrity status or a transatlantic flight or foreign language classes. It just requires us to be present where we are.
If each of us took the time to know and unconditionally love the people living next door to us…
If we didn’t run away from the brokenness but lived in it…
If we didn’t try to protect ourselves from the messiness but embraced it…
And if everyone we came in contact with did the same…
… well, that kind of thing could change the world.