I had a discussion with a more experienced physician of whom I was asking for advice. I call Steve with medical questions because he can help me sort out the balance of taking good care of patients in a resource limited situation and how to weigh futility against aggressive hope. But our conversation this time was more about interpersonal relationships in a pandemic when opinions can be so varied. We drifted into discussions of the role of missions in Kenya versus other parts of the world, how do we deal with people dying who would never die in a developed nation. We acknowledged that we deny the trauma of watching people die compartmentalizing it into some sort of work related box disconnected from our emotions. Finally we ended up in theology. Later, I was emailing with another friend Matt, and shared some thoughts that came out of that conversation which I have posted below copied from our email. This thought has been stuck in my brain since talking with Steve, and I am trying hard to sort whether it is true.
I have been thinking a lot about how as Christians we are called to die, not called to live. Also wondering about affluent Christianity, and how it affects my own thinking. Kenya Christians and Peruvian Christians think about God as suffering with them, not taking care of them. A subtle difference, but I know I pray for God’s provision probably as much as his presence (or I am thinking more of his care of me instead of just being with me). I am afraid that is cultural baggage and not the true message of Christ. Our truly poor brothers probably have it more correct.
Steve mentioned that he had been studying the story of Jesus in the boat with his disciples. Jesus slept, the storm came and threatened to sink their boat. The disciples woke Jesus and he calmed the storm saving the boat and his followers. We often read this story as Jesus protection and power over even the storm. And I agree with that. But Steve pointed out that God does not always save the boat. We see Jesus followers die all the time. Within the last week I have watched two mothers die leaving widowed husbands and motherless children. Jesus own disciples (except John) were all killed for the gospel’s sake. But Jesus is always in the boat with us, whether it stays afloat or goes down. So he may not rescue us in our times of struggle, but for sure he is with us, and that is good news too.
Love hearing your thoughts and reflections, Will. Your email excerpt reminds me of my recent reading of James, who says who the poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them, and the rich should boast that God has humbled them. James goes on to say that God has chosen the poor to be rich in faith.
I love God for welcoming us as his children and giving us the privilege to ask for his protection and provision, even if he decides not to give it in the ways we imagine. Our ultimate joy is in trusting him as our Good Father. This comforts me in the midst of the prayers that seem to go unanswered, but also spurs me on to ask him for deliverance as his privileged child.
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I am still pondering your post two days after reading it, and mulling over your friend’s observation yet again this morning. We too serve in a less-affluent-than-the-west country and I am also struck by the distinction you made between thinking about God’s provision versus his presence and the cultural aspects built into each, at least in terms of how we (Christians in an affluent space) pray. I have been talking about and praying about presence for a long time now, thinking that it was a function of getting older and having more (and more difficult) life experiences backing that. Your post, though, clarifies it a bit more for me.
I’m wondering if we (Christians in an affluent space) have trouble seeing our expectations of rescue, often couched in terms of provision, versus the Bible’s promise of presence. Of course we all can read again and again of rescue, so that an expectation of rescue isn’t unwarranted or unbiblical. I’m now wondering, though, if we’ve elevated rescue or done something to it such that we missed or misplaced presence. Is it that we’ve mis-valued rescue? Mis-ranked it, as it were? Mis-read the text to fit it to a frame that supports that priority? The evidence is overwhelming that rescue, in an around-the-world context, happens less frequently than would make sense to me. I can’t help but think how my/our message would be changed if I thought and spoke less of rescue, or merely much more of presence. Thank you for your post. It’s a stimulus for me to continue exploring what is becoming clearer, especially as I listen more to the voices of believers in contexts different from mine.
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you presented a very different side of the story and it made interesting reading….made me think. will ponder over it a bit more and share thoughts if any….for now….all the best to you in your mission adventures….be blessed and let me know if you ever plan to come by India, i’m settled here now and there’s a heap of things going on.