Agony, Evil, and the Ministry of the Church

I’m thinking about Tim’s post from last week and what the Church would look like if we embraced the ideas he expressed there. Three thoughts stand out:

1. God is not interested in destroying His creation in its mess. We all know people who are caught up in messes and we are all caught up in some degree of mess ourselves. The gospel message to the lives of messy people is “your Father in heaven is going to untangle your messiness from the inside out.” How? By sending his Son into the middle of your mess.

This means that we in the Church cannot run away from messiness and expect to find Jesus close behind us, running away with us. If we want to see Jesus in the world the Church must run towards the messiness of individuals and society as a whole.

2. God draws near to His creation and creatures in their agony, evil, and suffering in order to vanquish it. This is the message of the Easter Season we are celebrating. Our evil and its consequent suffering does not send the Father running away from us – instead, like any good Father, he comes running towards us when he sees us entangled in evil. Through his Son he immerses himself in our sin and liberates us from it through the Son’s resurrection.

This means that we in the Church cannot simply stand by and point our fingers at sin and expect to find the Father standing next to us, pointing and condemning alongside us. If we want to see the Father in the world we must sit down at the table of life and dine with sinners.

3. Maybe the stories of the Bible are not so much about the transformation of the characters in the stories as they are about the untangling of the evil one. Tim asked us to think about the book of Job. It is often presented as a morality lesson about patience or faith but the book begins with God seeking to prove to Satan the nature of his relationship with humanity. In a sense everything that happens in the story is about demonstrating the faithful love of God to Satan.

This means that we in the Church cannot simply use the Bible as an “instruction manual” to tell people how we think they ought to be living. If we want to see the Holy Spirit in the world we must hear what the Spirit is telling everyone through the pages of the Scripture. He is telling us of the undying, passionate love that he, the Father, and the Son have always had – and will always have – for humanity and the creation.

In short, the Church must allow itself to be sent as the Father sent the Son : to live and die among sinners, bearing their pain and alienation as our own even as Christ has born our pain and alienation as his own (John 20:21). In this way, as we share in his sufferings, we will also share in the glory of  his resurrection (Phil. 3:10-11).

~ Jonathan Stepp

4 comments so far

  1. janehinrichs on

    This is so good — the church I attend are having issues (as so many do) and my children want to cut and run. I tell them we need to be part of the solution not part of the problem. We do need to run to the mess — God is there…>Thank you for this great post.

  2. Pastor Jonathan on

    Thanks, Jane. I will be praying for you, your family, and your church as you work through the issues you are facing.

  3. Boyd Merriman on

    This is very important because often, young people are given the misconception that the leaders in the church are supposed to be sin free and perfect. What they do not realize is that the church was built under the assumption that humanity is a mess and that messy humanity is what was invited to come to church. The only One who is perfect is Jesus Christ, who sent the perfect holy spirit to help us all through this mess.

    Welcome to church.


    • Pastor Jonathan on

      Very well said, as usual, Boyd. Thanks for commenting! I believe that young people really long to see us older people admit the messes and be authentic about who we really are. The Church is at its most effective when it is being the most real.

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