Today's guest post comes from Bradley - a graduate of George Mason University’s School of Conflict Analysis & Resolution, who currently works for the government and volunteers in his community. Bradley is also a proud member of St. Timothy & St. Athanasius church in Arlington, VA who has guest posted before. You can follow him on Facebook as well. If you too are interested in guest posting on my blog, please visit my Guest Post guidelines for more info.
“By day the banished sun circles the earth like a grieving mother with a lamp.”
Even for those of us that seek to avoid it, these days it seems the brokenness of the world is inescapable. We are divided in our nations, our communities, and even our families. Old wounds reopen, buried grievances resurface, hidden tragedies are revealed. The way we communicate and engage with each other is changing faster than we can process.
Every debate seems like a matter of survival, everyone who sees the world differently can seem like the enemy, every fight must be won decisively and in an instant, and we feel tasked with defending what is good, just, and right. And often, in the momentum and noise of such things, I don’t stop to ask, “Lord, what would You have me do?”
Cormac McCarthy, writer of the words above, is known for imagining beautiful, but bleak landscapes. The quote is pulled from a book depicting a father and son trying to survive in an American wasteland after some catastrophic event. McCarthy is known for trying to capture our most dark parts, but often leaves his readers with little hope when his narratives end. We as Christians are called to see this darkness, and, armed with justice and mercy, to walk into real stories like these, humbly, beside our God (Micah 6:8).
When God writes, like McCarthy, He doesn't ignore brokenness; but instead, using ordinary and broken, He finishes the story with redemption. When God writes the story the sun is not banished, it is His rejoicing champion (Psalm 19:5). When God writes the story he reminds us our grieving mother is not only holding a lamp, but interceding for us, each day. And more than that, he reminds us that we too are His champions; we too are given light (Matthew 5:14-16).
It is easy to live like Saul's trip to Damascus was just a nice story. I consider how few times I have prayed for individuals, candidates, neighbors I like—much less those I find myself in conflict with—I wonder, “Do I really believe God changed Saul or can change me? Do I really believe that Christ was light at the beginning, that light humbled Saul, and that light was entrusted to him and to me?” Do I really believe 22 verses: a flash of light, a question, and a second chance, the world forever changed (Acts 9:1-22).
This change does not come easy. We need only look to the Apostles themselves to see that, even full of the Spirit, they still faced disagreements, still had to confront each other’s humanness. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have to listen to Saul—because I can’t bring myself to call him Paul—as he tells me how I should live when I know he gave the blessing for my cousin to be murdered.
As a black man, I imagine it would be similar to hearing a homily on stewardship from a former Neo-Nazi—why should I, have to listen to him. But as the Body of Christ, we are not given a choice in believing in the redemptive power of God’s love or new creations (Ephesians 4:20-24).
I lose sight of the big, world changing—often less tangible, less visible—miracles God has given us. I take for granted Christ calling us the Body (1 Corinthians 12:12); that among all the gifts, miracles, God has entrusted us with, the greatest is love (1 Corinthians 13:1-13). I read love is patient and kind, and imagine how romantic this is to hear recited at engagements or in Nicholas Sparks novels, and I lose sight of its power.
But it is powerful. As a black man that has spent much of his life in parts of the world and country where being a black man is not always a great thing, I have learned to love—and be loved—by those I once thought were my enemies. It is scary, because it does not always “work” predictably. If I only curse someone, I know how that will turn out. But love opens up an entire universe of possibilities that can end in heartbreak, pain, or things more beautiful than we can imagine.
To conclude, a challenge and question to myself and the reader: Who is your “Saul/Paul?”
Pick someone from Facebook, someone delusional, someone hate-filled, someone your dumb neighbor voted for, and pray for them. Don’t pray for their worldview, but pray for them. For their child with cancer, for their dog they have to put down, for their anxiety and depression, for their abusive father, for them to see the light—not as you see it, but as God would have them see it; and then, if we're feeling really bold: how can we be love and light to them?