When you hear about the sex trade and child prostitution, what do you do? When you hear about human slavery, what do you do? When you hear about the AIDS pandemic, what do you do? When you hear about global poverty and starvation, what do you do? When you hear about Darfur, what do you do? When you hear about our own prisoners, what do you do?
The troubles of the world are overwhelming, and I am overwhelmed by my own crushing sense of guilt and over-identification with the “failure” of the Church to respond to these crises. (A “fact” which I think ought to be open for debate rather than used as the primary construct in the strawman-ification of the Church. But as you can see, I myself am conflicted.) I can’t possibly solve any of these problems, and I don’t have much faith that anyone else can, either. On the other hand, I can’t just twittle my thumbs, claim inability, and wait for the Lord to return and I don’t have to hear about these things anymore. (Again, I’m conflicted.)
But does knowledge necessarily demand action? Does information equal responsibility? How much can I be reasonably expected to do in these arenas? Just because I know about the sex trade, does that mean I am responsible for seeing it destroyed? Sometimes it seems that everything is the most important thing in the world, and the more I know about everything, the less I’m able to do about anything.
Honestly, how can I in good conscience say no to any of these things? And if I can’t say no to any of them, then I wind up saying no to all of them. The evil in this world is so overwhelming that it becomes very tempting to close my eyes, shut my ears, and sit in my own safe corner of the planet waiting out death or Christ’s return, whichever comes first. (There’s irony in there, to be sure.)
But what am I really saying, here? Isn’t what I’m really getting at my own insecurities, and the need I feel to cover my backside? Doesn’t my guilt come from my desire to stand before the harshest skeptic and say, “Well you can’t say those things about me. I did it all. I did more than you. I cared more. I helped more. I served more. I loved more. I’ve been to more places and done more things….” Somewhere inside of me, all of this is really about me. I may not be trying to earn the favor of God–I know I can’t do that–but I am tempted to earn the favor of the most hard-hearted Christ-hater.
That’s a sin in me that needs to die and be resurrected. I desire credibility for myself, not glory for God. The glory of God is the most important thing in the world. Ending the sex trade, freeing the slaves, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, stopping AIDS, ministering to the prisoners, and everything else like them are important because they give glory to God. They are not ends in themselves (although they are some of the best ends I can think of), and they are not the most important things in the world. The end of all of our work, small or great, is to give glory to God. And I have to trust that, if I pursue God’s glory, then he will give me, in my smallness, some small thing to do that will someday bring him great glory.