Jonah’s abhorrence for going to Ninevah was so strong he thumbed his nose at God and ran the other way. And, just like Jonah, we often want to run the other way when we’re called by God to go someplace that makes us uncomfortable. I think this is especially true when God invites us to step into the suffering life of a friend or acquaintance.
Why do we want to hide our heads in the sand when someone close to us is going through a time of intense suffering? Why do we avert our eyes and look (run) the other way? Are we afraid their pain will rub off on us? Maybe we’re uneasy with such strong emotions—not only of our suffering friend, but also of our own emotions and allowing others to see them. Or maybe we’re simply afraid of saying the wrong thing and adding to their sorrow.
As much as we would like, we can’t simply take ourselves out of the world and cloister ourselves in utopia (as if there were such a place). We live in a broken world; one marked by sin and disease and mental illness and devastating storms and sexual abuse and the misuse and abuse of power… the list can go on and on.
So how do we love, and live, and work in the midst of such life? What is our response to be, as Christ-followers?
Ephesians 6:10-20 focuses on the armor of God. You’re probably familiar with this armor—the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, the belt of truth, the shield of faith, the sword of the Spirit, and for shoes…the gospel of peace.
It is only after we buckle the gospel of peace to our feet that we are prepared to enter the world of suffering and chaos. Then, as we step into our world, we bring with us the Good News, ready to share the hope and love of Christ to a broken and sinful world. We bring His peace by loving and listening and encouraging and praying for those who are broken and shattered.
I saw this played out the other night. A couple of my friends were made aware of a young lady who had threatened to commit suicide. They immediately went to the hospital and offered hope and encouragement to her friend in the waiting room. They were equipped with “the peace that comes from the Good News” and they were “fully prepared” to offer hope in the best possible way.
Every day we splash around in the muck of this world. Some days are better than others, and we don’t encounter anything too stinky. But other days, we know we’ve stepped into something rotten. The phone rings and your friend on the other end is sobbing and in shock because her precious dad suddenly died. Or you listen to a friend recount horrific details of a sexual assault that took place years ago. Or someone close to you accuses you of something of which you are innocent. Or your family member who struggles with mental health issues comes unglued over an insignificant matter. Or you simply read the paper or turn on the news and hear about famines, and storms, and starving children, and genocide, and human trafficking…atrocities of every color and stripe…the stinky muck of this sinful world. In our human nature we want to avoid it at all costs.
But God calls us out. He tells us that even though we are not “of this world,” we do live in this world, and it is our responsibility and privilege to show others the goodness of God.
“You are chosen…royal…holy. You are God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for He called you out of the darkness into His wonderful light.” I Peter 2:9