Note from CM: Today, I was at a place I hadn’t expected to be, in a situation I hadn’t anticipated and would not have sought for myself or anyone else. After my time there was over, I took a walk to clear my head, and some words came to my mind.
I’m not a big one for slogans but a few years ago I came to appreciate a phrase that, for me, effectively counters the triumphalist, prosperity teaching that pervades so much religious teaching today. I wrote the following post about it several years ago.
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“…he is not far from any one of us.”
(Acts 17.27, NLT)
As I have talked with friends throughout this year, I’ve noted that we’ve been using a phrase regularly: “This is the life God is in.” OK, it could be better grammatically, but it’s punchy and makes a clear point.
So many of us think our life and circumstances must change in order for God to inhabit them. We think we must purge out all sin to make a place for God to dwell in our midst. And we certainly can’t imagine God being there when we have to deal with people who deny him, habitually act in ways that transgress his laws, and generally make a mess of their lives.
Or when we make a mess of our lives. Especially then.
A friend recently told me he had been struggling with what was truly happening when he was having a rough time of things. Somehow, he could not get past interpreting trials and difficulties in terms of something being wrong in his life, causing God to turn his back on him. That led my friend to think he must do something to work himself out of the mess into which he had gotten himself so that God and his blessing would return to his life. Thankfully, he said he was beginning to realize that God might actually be present, right there in the middle of the mess and the pain, and that his calling is to trust in the God who is there rather than to do cartwheels to attract God back to him.
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
• Ps 46.1, NRSV
This is the life God is in. There is no other.
Christians have a real advantage here — or we should. We confess a Savior who became incarnate, took on our flesh and blood, and walked among us. Born in humble circumstances to an unwed mother, persecuted by the powerful and forced to flee from his land, his family returned and settled in a place not known for its piety. He received his certification for ministry at the hands of a kooky prophet standing in the middle of the Jordan River, and began calling ordinary working-class people to travel with him as disciples. He made a special effort to go to the sick, the demon-possessed, the poor, and those with tarnished moral and religious reputations. He was mocked as a “friend of sinners.” When he did get opportunities to dine with the elite, he usually offended them and got in trouble because he pulled back the curtain on the messes in their lives and exposed them for being sinners just like everyone else. He just couldn’t get away from the mess. He spent nearly all his time smack dab in the midst of it.
That is Jesus — the God/Man in the midst of sinners.
He has always been in the midst of sinners. He remains in the midst of sinners. If he is present in this world, where else would he be?
So, maybe you are beset by problems and troubles right now. God has not abandoned you. He is there. This is the life he is in.
Perhaps you are having conflicts in your marriage that seem unresolvable, or children who are breaking your heart. You don’t need to straighten it all out first in order to find God. He’s right there, available to you in the midst of it all.
You don’t need to create a spotless space for Jesus to inhabit. You don’t need to dust and sweep the room before he will walk through the door. He’s not put out because you’re so angry you can’t think straight. He won’t slam down the phone if you yell and scream and curse. He’s not waiting for you to make your heart pure, to stop worrying, or to start jumping through the right religious hoops.
Jesus is there — in the midst of your messy, sinful, out of control life. This is the life he’s in. You don’t have to leave that life to find him. You don’t have clean it up or dress it up for him to be attracted to you.
The ultimate evidence of this is the Cross. Luther called Jesus, “The Crucified God.” There he hung, between two guilty, convicted thieves, in the midst of all the ugliness, corruption, injustice, and hatred the world, flesh, and devil could muster. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” was what he said.
This is the life God is in. Right here, in the midst of the mess, and right now, at what may seem like the most hopeless moment, you can be sure he is here, for “he is not far from any one of us.”