I was watching a news broadcast between an American anchorwoman and a Ukrainian mother with three children in a bomb shelter who hadn’t heard from her husband fighting on the front lines in two days. The anchor, in closing, said, “We are praying for you.” The mother became visibly angry and said, “We don’t need your prayers; we need your help. The West needs to implement a no-fly zone over my country immediately.” For this mother, the logical peril of a policy that could quite possibly start WW3 didn’t matter. She and her children were sitting in a death trap, and prayer and well wishes were worse than weak, they were insulting.
People in pain, agony, and hopelessness need certainty now, in the present. Herein lies the ultimate paradox of Kingdom citizens: we live fully in the present and fully in the future. We operate fully in the seen and unseen realms. We take on the incarnational nature of our King, who decided as God to come and live and operate in the temporal, painful, finite world. We live in this present age, but our citizenship transcends it.
Jesus displayed this distinction in everything He taught and how He lived, and so must we. We must be in the world but not of the world, fully engaged in temporary hope yet fully grounded in transcendent hope.
The writer of Hebrews offers these beautiful illustrations between the two hopes:
And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:32-40 ESV)
The essence of holistic ministry is doing everything to relieve the pain and agony in the present while ALWAYS preaching the eternal, never-dying hope of the Kingdom.
This hope is the hope against hope. In Jesus, there is salvation, resurrection, and victory over sin, death, war, and cancer. To the nonbeliever, and to the believer in moments of pain, seeking for and providing earthly hope, this is offensive. This is why Jesus was so offensive. He didn’t provide the hope that a Messiah was expected to bring, He didn’t right all the wrongs, heal all the people, and overthrow the unjust warlords of His time. It’s why He had to say to His disciples “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matthew 11:6 ESV). George Eldon Ladd puts it this way,
The mystery, the new revelation, is that this very Kingdom of God has now come to work among men but in an utterly unexpected way. It is not now destroying human rule; it is not now abolishing sin from the earth.…It has come quietly, unobtrusively, secretly. It can work among men and never be recognized by the crowds. In the spiritual realm, the Kingdom now offers to men the blessings of God’s rule, delivering them from the power of Satan and sin. The Kingdom of God is an offer, a gift which may be accepted or rejected. The Kingdom is now here with persuasion rather than with power.
I want power today, and in my humanity as a leader, father, son, missionary, I am offended by the anemic perception of the Kingdom and my inability to call down 10,000 angels to destroy the attacking hoard or pray and see a woman relieved of her pain. While working with all His energy for present hope, I am asked to live in the certainty of future hope.
I am given the foretaste of the future by the breaking in of God’s love on earth. Sitting with Helen, Kim, my wife, holding her hand and praying, we felt the peace of God overwhelm us. I told a stupid joke, and Helen through her pain laughed. It was a respite, relief, a reminder of what is waiting, perhaps through a healing in the here and now, but a certainty, a hope against hope, that we as His children are destined to laugh and sing and dance through all eternity.