Wednesday, October 09, 2013

The gospel genie and compassion fatigue

I recently attended the Victorian TEAR Gathering, hearing some amazing stories of people getting their hands dirty in the lives of others in the name of the gospel. I also had the opportunity to address how addressing climate change was doing gospel work, kingdom work.

If we have a very narrow view of the gospel which reduces to Jesus dying for my sins so I get to go to heaven and not hell when I die, then none of the above really makes sense. But, if the gospel is the proclamation that Jesus fulfills all of the promises of the Old Testament to put the world right (channeling here much Tom Wright and also Scott McKnight in his The King Jesus Gospel) then all of a sudden the gap between the so-called gospel of salvation and the so-called social gospel collapses into the gospel. Jesus is Lord, all Caesars are not. Jesus died for sins, so repent and believe. Jesus will bring the kingdom, so start living as kingdom citizens.

Once the true gospel genie has been released from its bottle, it is very hard to shove back. All of a sudden, where you buy your coffee, how often you upgrade your mobile, when and if you fly, and so many other issues become gospel issues because they are justice issues. The gospel is about peace and justice - peace with God, peace with each other, peace with creation. Justice is love exercised in public.

Now this introduces the idea of compassion fatigue - how can I tell people they need Jesus in their lives, and try and deal with all of the world's problems? Well I don' think you can do the former without the later because genuine people aren't simply interested in some privatised religious experience they think they don't need. It needs to be shown to address the real problems of the world, and then when we work out we are part of that problem, the loop is closed. So private morality and spirituality and public justice are part of a seamless whole.

More than this, do we burn out in 5 seconds, thinking we can't cope with it all, wondering is it time to join a commune to unplug from systematic evil? I think we need to remember a couple of things. Firstly, it is God who saves and makes right. We are not the Messiah, just naughty boys and girls called to live out this new life, achieving what we can. Some of us are called to emphasise and work on different issues - be it climate change, refugees, worker's rights, etc. We all can't focus equal attention on all of these issues, but find the one or two that speak to us most and try to live as best as we can with all of the others.

The world is full of evil things - starting with our hearts is always best as Solzhenitsyn advised, but never ending there and not letting evil have the last say in our lives with our eyes on the hope that we have.

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