People are overwhelmed with panic, and our culture is exploding with outrage and crusading for change. This has become the “new normal” for today’s world. However, with amplified problems comes the revealing of the only solution: God. “But what can God do?” the world asks.
The source of this response is the common misconception among unbelievers that God, should He exist, is not relevant or helpful in the present circumstances. Culture pushes the message that we (the people) are the vehicles of change, not some higher power. Is this true? No, it is not. Let me explain in light of the two main issues our world is facing: COVID-19 and racism.
In terms of the pandemic that for so long has crippled our world to a halt, many look to science for the answer. People are looking to science for a cure or vaccine. But what comfort would a cure have to those who have been personally affected? Do those who mourn loss find genuine peace knowing that there is hope of a vaccine for others? What was the use of the pain? This seems hardly the time to tell people that they will be stronger if they just believe in themselves. Those who have been affected by the virus need greater help than man provides.
In 2 Corinthians 1:5, Paul writes these words: “For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” There will be no wasted pain for the one who trusts in the Lord, for He can use these things to increase our reliance on Him as we flee to God for refuge. With increased anxiety should come increased prayer, and with increased struggles should come increased leaning on God’s unchanging promises. Furthermore, it is through pain that we are reminded of our desperate need for God’s provision and His mercy on us, as well as His sustaining hand to preserve us (see Psalm 3:5). If we are to be more like our Creator, we should cherish the opportunities we are given to understand Him better, though the greatest lessons are reinforced by a painful context. Through loss, we can relate to Jesus weeping for Lazarus or God the Father watching the world murder His Son. Through conflict and betrayal, we access the heart of God where Jesus’ disciples fled and denied Him. How merciful our God is that He would work all things together for the good of those who love Him (see Romans 8:28); how gracious our God is that He would leverage our suffering for our growth and His glory!
Why do we trust in medicine with such great faith, while our trust in God wavers? Is God not capable to heal? And what good is an earthly treatment if the soul remains ill? Our concern should dwell primarily on bringing hope and peace to a world that is experiencing fear and loss, for this is where true healing lies.
What about racism? What can God do about racism? God can do what He has always been in the business of doing: changing hearts. Culture is embracing the current empowerment movement with great fervor, but there is only so much that man can do. The movement has done some incredible things: more people now than ever are aware of injustice, and people have been inspired to educate themselves before they act further. These things are wonderful, and opening our eyes to the perspectives that we do not have is a great step.
So where does God come in? It seems like man has it under control, right? Many people adopt this view, but it is not correct. What we often forget in the nationwide fight for equality is that the very culture that is spreading educational information and encouraging all people to take a stand is the same culture that has been subtly feeding the population the racist suggestions that form the foundations for the very mentality that the movement is trying to eradicate. This was the norm, and many people that have been immersed in popular culture – whether that be movies, television shows, social media, music, or any other medium – have been gently lured into developing a mindset that separates people into categories by race because that is simply what they knew. What the movement has done well is expanding awareness and resources so that people have the opportunity to learn and to give. What the movement has done well is providing unfamiliar perspectives so that people can be more sensitive and change their behavior. What the movement cannot do is change hearts; that is the work of God. Without a heart change, progress is only marked by better behavior and not a true inward repentance.
The answer to completely destroying racism is love. God is love, so why are we hesitant to go to Him for help? For us to love people as God has loved us is to see people in their fullness and value them as God does; after all, we only love because we were first loved by God (see 1 John 4:19). One of the deepest-rooted problems that contributes to racism is fear, but perfect love casts out fear (see 1 John 4:18). Perfect love is not something that we can muster up on our own strength; rather, it is from God. When we experience God’s love towards us, it is from that point that we can share and show that love as an overflow of what is inside of us. Defining terms and exchanging perspectives do not solve the problem of racism, and sadly, neither do behavioral changes. Though these things will create progress, the heart of the problem is the sinful heart of man, and it is only through the redeeming and renewing work of the Holy Spirit that the heart can truly and fundamentally be changed. What does this look like? We can study the Scriptures to learn how God defines our identity and recognize that these truths go for all of mankind, and we can pray that God would rid our hearts and minds of worldly influences. From these starting points, we can begin to apply our knowledge into action and treat all people with dignity, seeing them as image-bearers of the Creator. Starting with behavioral change will yield some progress, but starting with heart transformation will lead to a renewed lifestyle that includes right living in dealing with people of different races.
For believers, the claims made to this point make sense and could be inspiring or motivating. However, there is still a world out there that needs to be shown its need for God. How can we hold them to our standards if they do not believe and have not been taught (see Romans 10:14)? Let us conclude by analyzing where the disconnect is between Christians bringing the gospel message and a world skeptical to receive it.
One massive reason that the world is blind to its need for God is the manner in which the Church has witnessed to the lost. First of all, many are scared to speak out, but this excuse holds no water, for having God on our side eliminates the need for any fear of any other power or being (see Romans 8:31). Excuses aside, there lies a large gap in the way we present the gospel to other people (and perhaps a gap in our understanding of the good news we carry). We are quick to talk about eternal life and the need to be saved from sins so that we go to heaven, and all these things are true and fundamental to the understanding of Christianity. That being said, we often miss (in our understanding and in our evangelical endeavors) the concept that God offers us a better life than we currently have. Yes, it is true that the devout Christian will suffer persecution and hardship (see John 16:33), but we are still missing a huge point. While the false teaching of prosperity gospel promises a good life without a true need and desperation for God and salvation, it seems that the Church today recognizes the need for salvation without reaping all the benefits that it holds for this lifetime.
What is it that we as believers are missing? What is it that would be attractive to the unbeliever? In short, the missing piece of the puzzle is that those who are saved can be transformed to be more like Jesus and become the people that God designed them to be. It stands to reason that a human would be happiest and most fulfilled living as he or she was made to live, just as a tool works best as it was intended to be used by the maker. What does this look like for us? For one thing, Scripture is clear that we were created to glorify God (see 1 Peter 2:9). Without a relationship with Christ, how are we to fulfill our purpose? How are we to experience satisfaction for completing the tasks prepared for us by God to do (see Ephesians 2:10)?
The idea of satisfaction leads to another big component of what a Christian’s life should look like. Colossians 2:10 reads, “And in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.” This means that in Christ we are made whole. No one else can do this for us because no human resource is unfailing like God is. It is significant that Paul adds that Jesus is the head over every power and authority, as it marks the previous statement as unchallengeable. If Jesus claims that He can make us whole, then the claims that a car or a job or a house or riches or a significant other or a family or a friend or a church family or an addiction will make us whole are all lies! None of these things will satisfy.
This leads to the third concept of which the Church needs reminding. If we are whole in Christ, then we should depend solely on Him for our needs. We cannot depend on our fellow humans in this way because fellow humans are imperfect like us – that is why we were designed for this dependence. If I am relying on my girlfriend for my worth and my sustenance, I will be disappointed the moment she has a bad day. On the contrary, if I am whole in Christ and seek my contentment in my relationship with Him, I will not live my days trying to get things from people; rather, I live my days looking to give because I already have all I need. Do not misunderstand me and interpret this as a diminishing of the community God has established – we are to support each other and remind each other of these things; additionally, the joy found in the presence of God (see Psalm 16:11) will overflow into our interactions with the people in our community to encourage them. If we are operating from a state of joy and freedom, content and secure in God’s hands and God’s plans, we will be living happier lives and sharing the joy we have welling up inside of us.
What can God do in today’s world? He can do what He has always done: transform hearts. Of course God has the power to wipe out the pandemic, and of course God can find a way to erase racism, but a survey of the Scriptures reveals that His most common method of creating change is the transformation of individuals, meaning that people who come to God and submit to His authority are renewed internally (see 2 Corinthians 4:16). It is from this stance of being conformed to the likeness of Christ that an individual causes change in his or her circle. If every member of the global Church were to live in this way, we truly would be Jesus’ witnesses to the ends of the earth (see Acts 1:8) with a message that not only saves souls for eternity but salvages broken lives for purposes of eternal significance and joy that comes from the presence of God available to us even now. This is what the world needs.