There’s a used Christian book store we pass nearly every Sunday when we take our girls to get donuts after church. We noticed that the Book Nook must have been in a former old neighborhood drugstore because of the tile in the entryway. It simply said, “Drugs.”
Karl Marx is popularly known for the quote, “Religion is the opium of the people.” I imagined him walking by to get a donut and snickering a little to himself, saying, “See, I told you so.”
Opium’s medicinal purposes in Marx’s day were to sedate, relieve pain and stimulate hallucinations. So per Marx’s review religion at best was little more than a coping mechanism for the oppressed and at worst a tool for power brokers to exploit and marginalize while they secured more power and wealth. It’s seems clear that Marx believed religion served both functions. He believed it to be symptomatic of living in a broken world. He assumed if we could repair the world, religion would go away.
What strikes me about this critique is considering what the spiritual environment must have been like for such a critique to be levied. The Church is not called to numbness, to a sleepy apathy, to passivity. It’s not called to this and when we witness it as such we must recognize unfaithfulness to the mission set before the Church. To learn what it means to really follow this God-Man named Jesus is to step out onto water with him, to embrace any and all suffering purposefully and to pour ourselves out for others, friends and enemies alike. And it’s not for some abstract heavenly reward… some spiritualized materialism. It’s simply for the love and glory of God and the simple desire to see brokenness restored to rights. It is invigorating and life begetting and can awaken radical creativity!
Christians believe that the world is broken as a consequence of an alienated relationship with God that has lead to the unraveling of creation. Human ingratitude and the refusal to accept God as enough was the first manifestation of sin in the Garden. It alienated us from God, from ourselves, from each other and from creation. We live at least in 4 layers of profound brokenness. But Jesus makes possible the healing of these relationships. We can be whole and can grow into that wholeness and call others to it. God, through Jesus, invites us to partner with him in redeeming, renewing and restoring creation! God’s dealing with human sin is not the end of our spiritual journey. It is the beginning. Now we can be made useful and can engage the world and our neighbors as stewards and friends rather than exploiters and strangers.
There’s no time for sedation. The world is on fire with the consequences of our brokenness set in motion long ago. Christians have the spiritual resources to engage these fires with grace, mercy, humility and faith. We can face the hells of hunger, of malnutrition, of poor medical care, of desperate tragedy, of cancers, various expressions of injustice because hell has no power over us because of Jesus. We can face the hells of inner city poverty and drug addiction because hell has no power over us. The fear of death should not hold us. The fear of God is the end of all other fear. We can move into slums, we can befriend drug dealers, we can provide homes for orphans, we can share our resources, collaborate and build more secure futures so that as creatures made in God’s image we can share in a life characterized by that common dignity. We can find ultimate meaning in the everydayness of whatever career we might have if we recognize the eternal value of those we work with and engage them daily as such, co-image bearers worthy of our love and sacrifice. Marx had a view of the “faithful” that was characterized by a numbness that was checked out from the real world and real problems.
But those that have learned about the established and coming Kingdom are not so faint hearted, apathetic and diminished. We’re equipped to be more like smokejumpers. We’re like those that parachute into forest fires to put them out, put an end to their violence and restore the lands compromised by them. We parachute into the impoverished inner city. We parachute into the slum run by the local drug lord. We parachute into messy lives and relationships at work or with our next door neighbors. We parachute into conflict to make peace by Jesus’ means of making peace.
We’re smokejumpers and clandestine contrivers. We make inroads into other countries, sometimes hostile to our presence, for the sake of the Gospel. We develop organizations to rescue children from sex-slavery. We establish businesses to provide dignified wages for women who formerly prostituted themselves. We dream about how we might leverage ourselves for the sakes of others. We find ways to serve, simple and profound. We risk… we risk. Because we know that everything we have belongs to God and because the fear of God brings an end to all other fear and because death has lost its sting. If we lose our skins along the way, we’ll just trade them in. Christians, at least in our most faithful expression of what it means to follow Jesus look a whole lot more like operatives than those under the influence of opiates. Rather than avoiding conflicts of all kinds, we are called into them as peace makers, as first responders, as pioneers in Jesus’ name. This is the ministry of reconciliation.