By no means do we currently live in the era of God’s Kingdom of Shalom, of justice and peace for all. Day in and day out, if we have the courage to take note and witness to the pain of our neighbors, to explore the traumas that we continuously spend our efforts to suppress, with a plethora of ways to distract and self-medicate, we would come to some pretty disheartening conclusions or questions. “Does God see?” “Does God care?”
On a broad based level, does God see how addictions and crime permeate some communities? Does God care about the web of poverty that entraps vulnerable children, youth, women and men into untapped potential for thriving? How come some people are preyed upon by others for financial gain? Does God see the ways we hurt each other through violence, of body and word? Does God care about how consumerism is taking away people’s ability to enjoy the simple goodness of human connection to one another and to Creation in other-honoring ways?
On personal levels, God, do you care about my family member’s struggle with addictions? What about cancer? And what about the mental health journey of my family member? How about the impacts of emotional trauma on my spouse and how it affects our relationship? Do you care about my neighbor’s struggle as a single parent to raise their children, with increasing rent and costs of living? How do I respond to the ongoing faith crisis I notice in my circle of friends? So many people are grateful for the opportunity to work but are also struggling with burnout and a lack of motivation to continue. How will we make rent/mortgage when our jobs are hurting us? How are we to navigate brokenness in our relationships, in the church, in our families? Do you care about our pain? Do you see us?
Prophets who also struggled to believe
What I love about scripture is that it in fact documents the struggles of everyday people who are faced with tough questions around God’s goodness. These people somehow end up as chosen leaders by God, to communicate God’s heart and intent to others.
The prophet Jeremiah is faced with the task of pastoring the people of God through a devastating season of disorientation, disappointment, and loss. They find themselves a people in exile, oppressed by their enemies, dislocated from their homes and every marker they have ever known to live out their faith. Instead of promising swift rescue, God asks of the Israelites to seek the shalom peace of the place where they are exiled into. To set down roots and to be an engaged force for good for the next few generations. During this season, many false prophets are telling the people the opposite, that there will be a fast end to this season of exile. These voices are being lifted up and heeded rather than Jeremiah’s message and God’s invitation for God’s people to practice being a blessing to the nation that has them in exile.
Jeremiah calls out to God in complaint that many who speak as if they are of God are in fact wicked, and they seem to be the ones to prosper instead of those who in actuality try to live and seek God’s ways.
God’s response is somewhat maddening. “If you’re tired of competing with men on foot, then how will you compete with the horses?” (paraphrased Jeremiah 12:5)
“If you have raced with men on foot
and they have worn you out,
how can you compete with horses?”
The answer is yes, and then some
As God’s people, we are called to live intentionally Jesus’ Kingdom ways, to love neighbors as ourselves and to love God with the wholeness of who we are, created as beloved children of God. We are to love justice, and believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to empower us to heal what is broken. Together as we live into radical generosity, we are to experience an abundance as we focus on the things that truly matter, rather than those things that attempt to distract us from the goals of love of neighbor and God. The attempt is the Kingdom, and the Kingdom is both here now and in fact coming in greater fullness, with its completion found only in the day of Christ Jesus.
Can the journey itself be joyful? Perhaps the question is not if God cares, because God does see and care. Rather, are we willing to commit to the journey from start to finish? When we know the joy of being people who attempt justice and stay on the pathway of practicing generous love, we are those who will in this lifetime and into eternity reap the fruits of joy and peace.
If today, I commit to practicing nonviolent communication, healthy rhythms of rest and work, lament and emotional intelligence, if I develop empathy and practice presence with my community and welcome the stranger into my home as a neighbor, perhaps I might see the goodness of this Kingdom Jesus calls us to live out. If we act in tandem and unity around justice and call institutions to transformation, we might reap the fruits of a little more justice than the generations before us, as those who have gone before us also believed and attempted.
By the power of God, our hearts, our bodies and our minds recover and grow stronger with every attempt, every working out of our muscles of joy, forgiveness, generosity and belief. And for all things we are unable to control, we trust in the promises of God to comfort and care, we utilize as motivation to not give up or give in, but to continue on the journey until all are able to experience shalom peace. This is a work that God is the initiator of, and will bring into completion.
Promises of God
Isaiah 58 has some of the most striking images of God’s promises to, when, and if the people of God would live out the values of justice, anti-oppression, and generous community. It says that if we are to do away with oppression and maliciousness on a societal level:
“The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
Will this be enough for us to press on?
My prayer is that the same Spirit of God who anointed Jesus’ ministry at the time of his baptism, who spoke belonging into God’s family and belovedness before any action or attempt was undertaken, would continue to inspire us on the pathway of resilience and belief in shalom, justice and peace for all.
Let us be committed to learning and committed to the journey.
How will you commit to the journey?
- What is one way you can develop emotional intelligence this season in order to stay engaged with the people in your life in a healthy and hopeful way?
- What is one way you can commit to a work of justice in your community and context?
- Who might be a person that you could share this journey with, in encouragement and accountability?
- What is one idea you can put into practice to be present to neighbors in your life who are also struggling this season? How can you be of support to them?
- What will help you stay aware of God’s love for you and those in your community?