|Written by Toby Sumpter|
|Monday, 25 January 2010 11:04|
I am an interventionist. Call me an imperialist if you like. Call me any name. I’m rubber and you’re glue. You know what that means. I’m not an isolationist. I refuse to mind my own business. Let the cards fall. I love fifty-two card pick up.
I am an interventionist because God is, because the Father will not stay out of the Son’s business, and the Spirit refuses to be the third wheel in this relationship. And even more astonishing, is the fact that this intervening God is not content with His own inter-Trinitarian meddling. He will not stop there. He must keep up this original, eternal colonialism. God is the neighbor who keeps coming over, keeps saying hi, keeps making suggestions about the lawn. He wants to be your best friend. He wants to move in.
God meddles with history. He messes with human lives, and He breaks into situations virtually unannounced. He interrupts Noah’s life, interrupts Abram in Ur, interrupts Moses in Egypt. We serve the interrupting God.
He doesn’t raise His hand to speak; He doesn’t wait patiently for a lull in the conversation. He just bursts in. And this bursting in, this interrupting characteristic is most gloriously obvious in the incarnation. And Jesus knows He’s interrupting; He knows He’s intervening in a major way. And He doesn’t apologize. He’s come to shake the world down. He’s come to undo the way things are done. And He realizes that this will mean broken families, upset markets, fractured communities, and political upheaval. He didn’t come to bring peace but the sword.
We celebrate the center of the Great Interruption every week. We celebrate the gospel of the kingdom declared and eaten. We celebrate the Good News that God interrupts, that God has interrupted and that God will keep interrupting. We sing about it, we confess it, we shout “Amen!” to this, we eat the body broken, the blood shed for the interruption of sins, for us and for the world. And the Lord blesses us in His name and sends us out into the world to interrupt the status quo, to intervene, to barge into conversations and communities and families with the message that Jesus is King.
The name of this weekly call to intervene, to interrupt is the Great Commission. This Commission is the authorization and duty we have to apply the message that Jesus is King to every area of life in word and in deed. This means that we should expect to be misunderstood, to be thought rude, and to be considered trouble makers. We love our God; we love our interrupting God. We have the rowdy Spirit who drives the Son into the center, into the center of every story. There is no story where God is not jealous for the signs of His interruption, glorious tampering, evidence that He has been there, books scattered from the shelves, mud on the carpet.
Generally, this Commission goes under the twin titles mercy ministry and evangelism: the gospel declared to the poor. These are the two sides of the one blade of the Word. And John Piper has helpfully said that the way we keep these two sides together, the way we ensure that this sword remains unified is through a robust doctrine of Hell. He says in a round table discussion with D.A. Carson and Tim Keller, “We exist to relieve all suffering, especially eternal suffering.” He goes on to describe how a ministry of so-called “mercy” that neglects the reality of the possibility of Hell after this life is an enormous failure. In other words, like Jesus, the urgency of our intervention is authorized by the reality of final judgment and eternal torment. I hereby resolve to increase my use of the words “damn” and “hell.” Jesus interrupts every conversation, every story with a good damn.
A good damn consists of condemning the brokenness, condemning the sin, and pointing to the reality of final judgment. It intervenes to pull, drag, and beg the slaves of sin and brokenness out of the fire that is already kindled in their lives. It offers grace and freedom to every form of poverty. Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett define poverty as a complex breakdown in relationships. “Poverty is the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable. Poverty is the absence of shalom in all its meanings.” (When Helping Hurts, 62) And that seems right. When interviewed, some of the most poverty stricken are aware enough to even realize this. They don’t define their own poverty in terms of comfort of living, income levels, or health care. They tend to describe themselves as powerless, humiliated, fearful, and lonely. These are ailments that clean water, regular income, and medicine do not directly treat. They are cut off from family, from community, and we know they are ultimately cut off from God their creator and redeemer.
Their hell has already begun in the brokenness of the relationships around them. But where this becomes even more difficult and challenging is when we, faithful to our commission, burst into that broken world. How do we barge in like Jesus, messing with all the furniture, undoing the brokenness of sin, seeking to restore the “shalom” of the Trinity? And how do we do it knowing our own fallibility and recognizing that simply rearranging the furniture is not the same thing as bringing the peace of God?
No mind blowing breakthrough answers are forthcoming from me, I assure you. But this: we cannot hold back, stand back and watch, or take shots at other Christians who faithfully plunge into the deep jungles of sin and hell. Fikkert and Corbett describe how certain kinds of intervention actually result in more brokenness. Certain kinds of mercy are not really merciful, but harsh and cruel, albeit frequently done in ignorance. But these cautions should not be received as cautions in moving forward; they are cautions that ought to drive us to imitate Jesus even more faithfully, the center of which I would suggest is loving people, really loving people. This means knowing their names, eating with them, praying with them, crying with them, and dying for them. The Church is the womb of the new world, the mother of us all. And therefore we are called to be the family, the state, even the economy in utero, breathing through the contractions as they come faster and closer together, as the Lord Jesus shakes down those things which are not permanent, looking expectantly for this new creation, this New Jerusalem descending out of heaven. The Church is called to snatch the lost from the fire and be the Fallout Shelter of the world as the structures of unbelief collapse into rubble around them.
That’s Christian intervention, that’s the imperialism of the gospel, the colonialism of the Trinity. And we cannot ignore the fact that this will necessarily mess with the culture in big ways. We cannot go into a situation and try to “put things back.” There’s no going back to the old ways, even old “Christian” ways. Jesus makes all things new. There is no return. We can’t give “nature time to heal the wounds” or the “market mechanism” time to correct abuse. There’s only repentance which breaks us open, cuts us up like an animal in Abram’s dream. This will topple oppressive socialist regimes; this will break the back of capitalistic greed. There is no “system” or “program” that is safe. There is no family that may stay the hand of Yahweh. The Spirit is rowdy and free, and He will not be a third wheel.