July 11, 2007

Between "Now" and "Not Yet"

2007 1519 page5 capver since Jesus taught His followers to pray to the Father: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10), Christians have been reminded that we live and serve in two realms: the “now” and the “not yet.” Our hope is in the future, but our responsibilities are in the present. Since Jesus modeled these memorable words, the challenge to His followers is to translate God’s kingdom principles of love, justice, mercy, grace, and beauty into actions that serve the real world affected by sin, suffering, heartache, and tragedy.
When we think about heaven we focus on the absence of the things that cause us misery here on earth: pain, sickness, insecurity, suffering, violence, death. And it’s often only when life’s tragedies hammer us into submission we say, “Oh, when will Jesus return and rescue us from the terrible conditions here on earth?”
Yet for many Adventists, especially here in North America, our lives are rather comfortable, especially compared to our fellow believers in other countries. With our emphasis on education and its resulting upward mobility, we may find ourselves unconsciously trying to insulate ourselves from the threats of this life, and create for ourselves something of a “heaven on earth.”
We look forward to heaven because we want to live where crime is nonexistent. In an attempt to reproduce that now, we move farther away from those places and people we believe threaten us. Thus, rather than staying to serve our communities and reflect the power of the gospel, we abandon them.
2007 1519 page5We’ve been told about our “mansions” in heaven, yet somehow we can’t resist equipping our earthly homes with all the latest creature comforts afforded us by today’s technology. Televisions become “entertainment centers”; “fitness rooms” preempt walks in the neighborhood. Safely ensconced behind security doors and double-paned windows we can practice our spirituality in splendid isolation.
And our churches—so much stained glass, polished wood and stone, carpeting, air-conditioning, expensive musical instruments. . . .
Hear me: There’s nothing wrong with any of these, unless they act as a barrier to serving others “now” and reduce our anticipation of the “not yet.”
You see, while Christians of every denomination try to minimize the sinful environment in which they live and create (literally) a little “heaven on earth,” the really important values of God’s kingdom are modeled barely adequately to those who need them most; “they” being the underprivileged, the disenfranchised, the marginalized, the victimized, the unbelievers.
When Jesus taught His followers to pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” He was inviting us to be part of a process in which the values prized in His heavenly kingdom are communicated to others here on earth now—where love takes the place of hatred; where, in the face of injustice, God’s people work for justice; where God’s mercy and grace transform those lost in guilt, greed, and oppression; where truth and beauty take the place of deceit and ugliness.
It’s an uphill battle, to be sure. But make no mistake, Jesus wants us to be His agents in shining the light of His love among those with whom we share this planet; to use the “now” to prepare people spiritually, emotionally, and spiritually for the “not yet.” And that often requires us to make sacrifices to our own comfort and security.
Perhaps you’ve seen the cartoon in which one guy says, “I wish I could ask God why He doesn’t do anything to stop all the suffering in the world.”
To which his friend replies, “Why don’t you?”
The first guy says, “I’m afraid.”
"Afraid of what?”
“Afraid He might ask me the same question.”
Ironically, being absorbed by the “now” prevents us from working effectively for the “not yet.” There will soon come a time when the curse of sin will be finally ended and we can fully enjoy life. But that time is not yet.

Stephen Chavez is managing editor of the Adventist Review.