Today's post is written by Dr. Arun Jones, Dan and Lillian Hankey Associate Professor of World Evangelism at Candler School of Theology.
I woke up the other morning earlier than I would have wanted, and immediately realized that it was a bad dream that had jolted me out of my sleep. The dream had to do with the political situation in our country, which is causing me and millions of my fellow citizens a great deal of anguish and pain. But the dream was distressing not simply because of the condition of our country, but because I felt helpless to do anything about it. Indeed, in my nightmare no one seemed to be able to do anything about it – not even the combined efforts of all the living past presidents of the United States.
My feeling of helplessness in the face of a powerful combination of immorality and amorality is not new; it has plagued me for some time now. And I have often wondered, what does it mean to be engaged in mission in a world that one feels is falling apart? And it is falling apart not just politically, but in so many other ways – socially, religiously, environmentally . . . the list goes on and on. As a historian, so many of the missionaries I read about went into service because they were optimistic about the future – God’s mission was plain for them to see. But what does that missio Dei look like now, in a world falling apart? Where is it? How can I join it?
Providentially (or serendipitously, depending upon your theology), I am slowly reading through the book of Revelation these days. The slow reading is due to the fact that I am reading it in English and in two translations of Hindi, a language which I grew up speaking but which, because I don’t use it every day, I easily forget. Reading the Bible in Hindi keeps reminding me of my mother tongue, and it also offers insights into different ways of reading scripture. And the book of Revelation (mostly) addresses Christians whose world is falling apart. So, following are my three takeaways from the book of Revelation about engaging in mission in a world that is falling apart.
First, faithfully keep doing good. This “good” applies to both religious and social practice. Don’t give into despair or apathy in a world gone morally awry. I am so conditioned to looking for the heroic person (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the ‘60s; the living past presidents in my nightmare) to follow – in fact, so much of the theological rhetoric around me urges me to become the heroic person who others follow – that I count small gestures of faithful goodness as not worthy of the true missio Dei. The book of Revelation reminds me that we are not all able or even called to be a Bonhoeffer, or a Miep Gies who, with others, hid the Frank family in her attic during the Nazi occupation of Holland. But we are all called to continue doing good faithfully in our world falling apart, until the day of reckoning comes and our faithfulness is rewarded.
Second, stay in fellowship with others who are faithfully trying to do good. There is a reason that Revelation was written as a letter to seven churches, and not seven letters to seven churches. The author, John, wanted the churches to know how the others were doing, and what they were doing (and not doing). One of the dangers of the current political scene (not only in the country but also in our churches) is that those who are calling for moral action are judging not simply whether others are good or not, but whether they are good enough to pass our high standards of goodness. Super-morality seems to be the call of the day, to counteract the super immorality and amorality of our world. Revelation reminds us to stay in fellowship with all who are trying to engage in goodness, even those who we judge are not doing enough to measure up to God’s high standards. God is gracious and forgiving; are we to be greater than God? The blood of the Lamb, in Revelation, washes away the sins of all the saints.
Finally, do not lose hope that things will change, and we shall witness the victory of God. It’s pretty amazing that so much of the vision of John in the book of Revelation is devoted to the extremely difficult process of arriving at chapters 21 and 22, when a new heaven, a new earth, and a new city fashioned by God are revealed. John’s vision is realistic – the hard part is getting to the new creation. But, the vision says, the reward for faithfully cleaving to God’s mission through the current travails is participation in the new creation that is to come. And our work, and the work of so many around us – as insignificant as that work may currently seem – is part of God’s great plan to restore goodness, truth and beauty to creation – even fallen humanity!