As I was waiting at the gate at SYD Intl. to board my flight to Erbil, Iraq, I had yet another conversation with my mom about the reality of my risk taking lifestyle. These conversations are starting to become a lot more frequent between us. My mom, is awesome. She has released me into doing what it is I do, risk/danger and all. She has to carry the weight, like many of those who love and care for me in my closest circles do, but the reality is a mother carries the weight more than any other person ever will.
Turns out she was talking to a very respected missionary friend of mine the day before I was due to fly out, who has done extensive work in the middle east, particularly in Northern Iraq. This particular missionary has always inspired me with her harrowing tales of loving people in places where it doesn’t seem logical to love people. Our rhetoric in the west makes it so hard to see the beauty of humanity in areas where fear and danger fill the narrative. So we distance ourselves and feel safe and secure that the narrative over there will never have to impact our narrative over here.
My missionary friend was assuring my mom the best she could about my plans to help and serve those trying to escape Mosul as they flee from ISIS. As the conversation ensued she said a statement to my mom I have heard many times before.
“The safest place in the world is being in the centre of God’s will."
For some reason the moment my mom relayed that, I immediately felt the need to challenge and nearly flat out reject that sentiment. It’s a nice idea; just make the right choices and you will never be in danger. But, I know too many people who have suffered and even died pursuing the elusive and mysterious “centre of Gods will”.
Jesus never promised us that we would be safe if we follow him. In fact, I’d say he flat out promised us that if we truly followed him, we would suffer for his sake. Luckily he promises us that in spite of any pain, suffering and even death, that we will also know and experience him in his peace and joy. His promise it that knowing him in his suffering will be utterly trumped by knowing him in is his joy.
There are so many token phrases that we use in the church in the west. Ideas that pat us on the back and help us to feel like the world isn’t spinning out of control. But the truth is… the world IS absolutely spinning out of control. It’s madness out there. In Mosul as well as the crack house just down the street from where you may live. I’ve arrived at a point where I’m tired of only knowing Jesus in his peace (aka comfort). I feel like there is this whole picture and reality of God I’ve been tip toeing around.
The question is, does Jesus care about the suffering of this world? Another way to phrase this question is this way: Is Jesus the suffering servant as described of him in the scriptures?
The second question is: Does Jesus want me to participate in the alleviating of suffering?
I can spend my whole life being “good” and never know Jesus in this way. He’ll still love me and I’ll still be accepted, but I’ll only know him in one dimension. The trouble with the idea that my missionary friend relayed to my mom is that the phrases ‘safety’ as well as ‘centre of Gods will’ are both so incredibly subjective and relative. What’s safe to me will be different to you. What’s safe to me will be very different to the mercenaries I sheepishly followed into the front lines of western Mosul, machine guns in tow.
And what exactly is the ‘centre’ of Gods will? How do I know when I’ve got there? And when i’ve arrived there, how do I make sure that I don’t leave that place? If you’re anything like me, these questions can cause more anxiety and doubt in your heart, and actually less hunger and desire to know Jesus. I’ve discovered that if I want to know Jesus, I might need to just go where there is suffering. Simply because he is near to those who are suffering.
Jesus, full of compassion and mercy, is on a steady, constant trot towards the pain and suffering of this world. He is inviting you and me to follow him, and in my experience this is consistently the direction he is going. His Kingdom isn’t an empire built up and above the lowly and grimy things of this world. It’s a reality in which those with the greatest riches (us) freely distribute the spoils of his Kingdom with those (them) who are currently without.
This can sound so masochistic, but it’s all in the intent and motive. I don’t want to suffer so that I don’t feel guilty about the privilege I was born into. But, I do want to know Jesus more. That hunger and that desire will surely take me to places that could never be described as SAFE. But they just might take me to places where Jesus is. When I get to those places, often shaking in my boots, I get the immense privilege of discovering and encountering the heart of God in ways I haven’t understood or experienced yet.
Lucy Pevensie pondered this at the end of her first adventure with Aslan. It’s beautiful and its challenging and the resolve is implicit in her experience with the wonderful lion.
“You mustn’t press him, after all he isn’t a tame lion.” Assures Mr. Tumnus.
“No, but he is good.”
May all our encounters with Jesus be much the same.