We now live in a world where the most powerful feel an obligation towards those most in need. The most powerful people in the world actually sit down together and make plans to relieve the suffering of impoverished people all over the world. The Romans barely gave a thought to the poor in their own empire much less starving people beyond their borders. The idea itself would have been absurd. Right now, Bill Gates – one of the most powerful, wealthy men in all of human existence has dedicated his life and wealth towards helping to alleviate suffering around the world. Do you realize how astounding that it? That is a victory for the kingdom way!
In the most powerful parts of the world today, human rights are seen as a non-negotiable good. In Jesus’ day, there was no freedom of speech. All of the apostles were martyred for practicing freedom of religion. Property rights existed only for the wealthy and powerful – no one else had much property to take! There were no laws in place to protect people from exploitation and fraud – these were normal ways of doing business. Slavery was accepted and the economy depended on forced labor. Today, we have not solved the problem of human rights, but we are working on it. Those who have freedom are not likely to return to slavery or sit by quietly while other human beings suffer atrocities in the name of money or religion or politics. Yes, it still happens, but the trajectory of the fight is clear and the powerful are committed. This is a kingdom victory!
At the time of Jesus, half of children died by their 5th birthday. Life expectancy was short due to disease and injuries which had no treatment. People of 2000 years ago would be astounded to see what modern medicine can do. It would be no less remarkable to them than Jesus’ healing miracles. A child dying today is no longer viewed as a regrettable, but common event, it is seen as a tragedy with few comparisons. This is a kingdom victory!
At the time of Jesus, a person’s suffering was seen as their own fault. Even a man born blind was presumed to have been stricken due to someone’s sin. When people died in an accident, others went looking for ways to blame them or theirs for their bad fate. Today, we have Oprah, support groups, counseling, a multi-billion dollar self-help industry – all devoted to offering comfort and healing to the suffering. Those suffering from mental illnesses are offered (ideally) sympathy and treatment. The fact that our usual response to suffering is to try and figure out how to offer solace and healing is a kingdom victory as well.
When Jesus was crucified – supposedly for sedition, he was put to death alongside a thief. Today, in much of the world, putting a person to death for anything is either prohibited or limited to the crime of murder. If a man died while working 2000 years ago, their was no compensation for the family. Today we have worker’s comp for injuries and employers can think of virtually nothing worse than having an employee die on the job. This is a kingdom victory!
Women today live with more freedom and dignity than they have in all of recorded history. And the day WILL come that we will have a female president. This would have been less than a fairy tale in the past. And this is a kingdom victory.
In my area, there are billboards peppering the roads promoting volunteering, services for those in need of treatment for substance abuse and values like kindness, courage and sacrifice. When tragedy strikes anywhere in the world, money pours in like water to help those affected. As has often been pointed out, as the events of 9/11 played out, people weren’t reaching out to get demand money owed them or shoot off one last curse for their enemies. They were praying and telling loved ones that they loved them. The entire world has become concerned with and involved in trying to find ways to live in better balance with the planet (which is a gift from God for us).
Someone coming from 2000 years ago would be appalled at the evil which is still present in the world, but also completely astounded to see so much of humanity living in dignity and luxury. The simple fact that so much time, energy and money is being expended to address the needs of people who are poor, infirmed, mistreated, hungry and sick would seem like a miracle. The kingdom of God truly is at hand. And it is no co-incidence that the places on this planet where the powerful feel an obligation to a starving child on the other side of the world and where people are free and women are respected are all places where Christianity took root. Not only is what we see going on an unfolding victory for the kingdom of God, it was put into motion by Christ.
Of course, there is no instruction manual for how to feed starving kids in Africa, how to free the oppressed from a dictator or how to heal a warrior’s trauma. Just as each human must learn how to live, it also take time and trial and error for humanity to learn to do what it wants to do. So, yes, there has been a lot of foolishness done in service to these very good goals. But we humans have an amazing capacity to self-correct. The direction has been struck and now we’re working out the details.
So many people can’t see how amazing this world is becoming because good is being done without the stamp of the name of Christ on it. However, the bible says that who ever loves knows God and Jesus said that whoever serves someone in need is serving him. The day will come when the world will know that the victories we enjoy belong to Christ, but in the meantime, just because he’s not named doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the victory. We breathed air for a long, long time before learning that there was something called oxygen in the air that was sustaining our life. Something doesn’t have to be named or known to be true and life-giving. (Although the bible does say that there is reward for knowing Christ as well.) Those of us who know Christ well enough to recognize his ongoing, miraculous work in the world should be out front claiming the victory rather than dismissing it because Jesus’ name hasn’t yet been attached to it!
I think that the other problem is that a lot of the church is married to the idea that God works by snapping his fingers and going *poof*! But God didn’t create the world by turning on the lights like a janitor. We have a God who creates over the course of enormous amounts of time in ways that are astounding, mysterious and beautiful beyond measure. It does God no honor to refuse to recognize his hand in the normal unfolding of life. God doesn’t have to step outside the normal rules (which He put in place) of the physical world (which He created according to His good purposes) to accomplish anything! Isn’t that amazing?
So as we remember the terrible events of 9/11, lets not fail to look with spiritual eyes at the amazing victories – some of which were inspired in response to 9/11 or given greater priority due to 9/11 – that are unfolding around us. For all the evil that still exists in the world, we are so, so blessed to be living in the age of the coming of a wonderful world.