A little child is the centre of her own universe. She does not understand that her parents may have some other things to do than spend time with her and take care of her needs. In her view her parents exist for her.
So often we mistakenly have the same attitude in our relationship to God. We think he is there only to fulfil our needs and to make us happy.
This made me think of the vast extend of the mission of God. Yes, there is a glorious truth in the fact that God loves me, he cares for me and he has my best interests at heart. The same is true of the parents in my friend’s Christmas greeting, and as a parent myself I can vouch for the truth of it.
But that does not mean parents exist only to fulfil their offspring’s needs and make them happy – something the said offspring discover sooner or later in life. Likewise God does not exist simply to meet my needs and make me happy.
Jesus did not come to create a country club or tribe
Paul writes of God’s mission ‘to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ’ (Eph. 1-10). Paul calls this a mystery, ‘purposed in Christ’ which God has made known to us. The scope of it is ‘all things’. Richard Rohr comments: ‘The “Christ mystery” is much bigger than Christianity as an organized religion. If we don’t understand this, Christians will have little ability to make friends with, build bridges to, understand, or respect other religions or the planet. Jesus did not come to create a country club or a tribe of people who could say, “We’re in and you’re out. We’ve got the truth and you don’t.” Jesus came to reveal something that was true everywhere, for everyone, and all the time.’ Paul summarises in Colossians 1: All things were created in Christ, through Christ and for Christ – all things, whether they’re in heaven or earth, visible or invisible: the universe and everything in it was created in Christ, through Christ and for Christ.
No one and nothing is outside the boundaries of God’s mission for all things were created in Christ, through Christ and for Christ. The little baby girl in my friend’s Christmas greeting grows over time to realise that her parents’ world is vastly bigger than her needs, while at the same time knowing that they love her to bits. By and by she may join the family business, namely, ‘the ministry of reconciliation’ (2 Cor. 5.18). Paul explains: ‘God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Christ, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.’ (Col. 1.19-20)
God’s plans are bigger than we can comprehend. Will we ever understand the role of suffering in the purposes of God? Not just human suffering but the seemingly meaningless suffering in the animal world. Probably not, but that does not mean that we shouldn’t stretch our minds to try to understand the purposes of God. I recommend The Groaning of Creation by Christopher Southgate in this regard.
A baby cries
Part of the answer is the incarnation: God’s self-emptying. Which brings us back to our starting point: the newborn baby who is at the centre of Christmas. The suffering of God is at the centre of the mission of God.