For quite a while now I have been reading a book by Mark Labberton called The Dangerous Act of Worship. It has been a hard read because I had a few other projects going at the same time. I am just about finished wit it now and I came across this section that I found particularly insightful.
The poverty of imagination in the body of Christ causes many to continue suffering in the world. That poverty is not just in others, but also in me.
The aspect of the ‘problem of evil’ that I struggle with most is not the generalized suffering of the innocent, as big as that issue is. Rather, for me it is this conundrum: if God is all-powerful and all-good, why are God’s people so unchanged? This issue is worthy of far longer treatment than I can give it here, but I mention it to express the seriousness and difficulty of the church being God’s agent of justice and mercy in the world when we show need of such transformation ourselves.
Perhaps that is the point. God’s work of re-creating all things, especially the church, is a necessary and difficult work. It’s beyond my imagination. Scripture tells us that God in Christ has done on the cross what is the most decisive action necessary to secure that transformation. However, it is a work that goes on in God’s people–and we see just how virulent, resistant and free we are in rejecting God’s work in our lives. If this is true among those in whom Christ dwells by the power of the Holy Spirit and who now dwell in Christ in God, then let’s abandon any naivete about what it will take to live and do the work of justice in this world.
We are not called to be idealists about the church. That’s fantasy, not sanctified imagination. That’s a false, distorted, immature imagination. Instead we are to practice hope for the church. We cannot say, ‘Look at Christ, not the church,” when Jesus says, “I want people to look at you and see me. The family of God’s people is neither a utopian society nor a negligible witness. Again, this is what makes the church a living school within the heart of God: a place to vigorously, profoundly and slowly grow into the likeness of Jesus as we seek (and don’t seek) God, as we love (and don’t love) each other, as we do (and don’t do) justice in the world. God is in the mess that is the church, and the mess that is the church is in God.” –156-157
This is probably the best four paragraphs I have read in the entire book. I think these paragraphs alone make the price of the book worthwhile. You might not agree with everything Labberton writes, but it is hard to escape the truth of what he is saying here. The church is not place of pristine fairy tales or utopian fantasy. The church is real. And loved. And it is the church that God calls to be His witness in this broken world. Within this witness is evidence of God’s grace: If God can love the scarred, egocentric, and corrupt church then surely he can love the scarred, egocentric, and corrupt world.
I appreciate these words from Labberton very much.
Soli Deo Gloria!