does god actually make a difference?

22 June, 2006 at 10:05 am 11 comments

Does God actually make any difference at all to our efforts to transform the world into a place of justice and peace? This isn't a question about whether or not we ought to be doing it: we ought! The question is, what difference does being a Christian make to our work of transformation, compared with other people and groups who are working towards the same goals but with no Christian reference. What do I say to the young man I know who is passioantely committed to making a difference in the world, but sees no need whatsoever to do is "for Christ's sake". He cannot see that Christian faith adds anything, nor does he see any evidence for some notion of the work of the Spirit that means there is some sort of appreciable difference in either the quality or effectiveness of Christian participation in the struggle for justice. What's the answer here, folks? Is there an answer? And if there isn't, why do we bother about the "God" bit?


Entry filed under: mission.

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11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Leo  |  23 June, 2006 at 8:56 pm

    we bother because WE believe. If others choose not to then that is up to them. Personally, if I didn’t think that I had the support of God, the encouragement of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit I’d feel totally overwhelmed by all that needed doing and just bury my head in the sand and hope the bad things would go away ..

    so what do you say to the young man? ‘Thank you’ would seem to be appropriate …

  • 2. Sian  |  23 June, 2006 at 9:40 pm

    I’m not sure this question is the right way ’round… I think it’s God who makes the diference and uses us to do the work. After all, in many situations we work alongside others who have different faith perspectives (or claim to have no faith at all). If, as we Christians claim, God is love, then surely, anywhere or anyhow love is shown for humanity then God is there. Luckily for us God believes in us, even if we claim not to believe in God. Leo’s ‘thank you’ is indeed appropriate, both to the young man who cares enough to make a difference and to God who is already at work ahead of us.

  • 3. Lawrence  |  23 June, 2006 at 9:55 pm

    I’m right with Leo on the “Thank you”, and echo his own experience of the companionship of God in work. I agree with Sian, too, about God making the difference. But what sort of difference does God make? And, more to the point, why is it that so few people like the young man I mention not experience God in the kingdom work? I tend to assume that it has something to do with Christians failing to make clear how God is to be discovered, but I’m not sure. What I’m trying to get at, though, is what one would say to him by way of suggesting that it would make a difference to him were he to find faith in Christ.

  • 4. Richard  |  25 June, 2006 at 8:37 pm

    Perhaps the young man in question needs to find the courage to fail in the work of establishing right relationships between people. After all justice and peace is a call to participate with God in his work in the world and with him to experience the sorrow of rejection. Thank God the outcomes do not finally dependent upon our efforts.
    I think that I would like to say that trusting Christ is not primarily in order to transform the world but first to enter into a relationship[ of love and trust in Jesus as the beloved – to know God better. Having done that the fruit is a fresh focus and hope in God’s strange ways of transforming the world.

  • 5. Keith  |  26 June, 2006 at 10:15 pm

    It’s extremely difficult to quantify how much difference God makes in a given situation. On the one hand I remembering praying that God would intervene over Iraq in the first gulf war and nothing happened. On the other I now work as a volunteer for a Christian charity that flies people, aid, and the gospel to many countries with almost impossible access to some parts. They experienced a 45% increase in receipts in 2005 compared with 2004. They operate with prayer as the most important bit of support.

    My previous minister declared that there was no such thing as a theocratic church meeting. It was his belief that God uses all agencies to do his work. Any comments?

  • 6. Lawrence  |  27 June, 2006 at 12:47 am

    Richard, I know what you’re saying. There is something important about the courage to fail. But I’m not sure that we can or ought to separate transformation of the world from relationship with God. That’s not to denigrate the relationship, or to deny the chronology of one way of relating the two. But it can work the other way. Often the desire to transform the world can be an echoing of God’s own heart – without knowing God! That’s where I think the young man is in my example. My question is how to lead him from where he is to knowing the God whose passion he shares.

    Keith, your minister was right – although I think there is something different about a community that deliberately focuses on and sets out to do God’s will. Yes, God uses all sorts of agencies – but surely there’s something importantly different about the Church when it aligns itself with God’s will and heart? If so, what? Or do you think there isn’t any?

  • 7. Keith  |  28 June, 2006 at 11:36 am

    Yes, there is something different about the Church when it aligns itself with God’s will and heart. Over the years I have been preaching in different churches I have noticed how some of them are more obviously seeking to know God’s way for them Others have seemed to be just worshipping without a wish to serve.

    Another noticeable aspect of the first type of church is the auro of spirituality about them. They pray because they believe in prayer; they sing because they are “happy in Jesus”; they listen to the readings and the sermon with expectation.

    In short, they expect God to make that difference!

  • 8. Liz  |  30 June, 2006 at 6:14 pm

    Why do we need to fit this young man into our box? Could we accept that his passionate commitment to making a different in the world is God at work? If ‘God is’ in everyone this young man is God incarnate? . If transformation is Godly then does it matter what the young man’s understanding is? Walking with him on his journey and sharing your passion for the world that comes through Christ might help him discover Christ as a gateway for himself, on the other hand he may be aware of God’s presence but come at God in a different way.

    More questions than answers I realise, but I am discovering more and more that faith is more about asking the questions than necessarily coming up with a definitive answer!

  • 9. James  |  30 June, 2006 at 6:40 pm

    Interesting, but I wonder whether it is not better to look at this young mans approach from a different perspective- why do we love? Well faith tells us we love because God first loved us, presumably we are loved by God whether we recognise his love or not. The young man is loved by God whether he recognises it or not and I would dare to suggest that he responds to God’s love whether he recognises his response or not… it is not then an us or him situation but rather each of us responding to God’s love. I agree then with Leo’s ‘thank you’ but I also think Richard is right- all fall short of God’s glory and most people seem to have an innate sense of shame or fear of failure well God releases us from that by his grace. We want then to thank the young man for caring enough to make a difference, we also want to show the young man that God cares as well (hence we make a difference), but we do not labour as if it all depends upon us but rather we thankfully engage with the mission as if it all depends upon God (and there is a real difference between the two). We cannot force the young man to see the difference and it may take him years to recognise, as it may take him years to recognise the power of the Holy Spirit at work through our situations, but a life of thankful service is distinguishable from a life of driven self-endeavour.

  • 10. Graham  |  14 July, 2006 at 11:04 am

    This is an interesting discussion! I’ve only just got into blogging, so this is new … but I like the question: So what difference does God make to our work for the kingdom? 1. I reckon it makes a difference to the church! Or should do. I mean, “the God bit” ought to be a constant reminder to the church that the point of it all is the pursuit of the kingdom. 2. Does it also provide a reference for self-criticism? The standards of universal human rights or the politics of social demoncracy and internationalism etc are all things I can believe in, and do, but “the God dimension” keeps referring me back to another way of evaluating what we’re doing – which is about reflection on the dynamics of God (according to the narratives of scripture and the Christian tradition). 3. It’s also, as a couple of people have already said in different ways, to do with a bigger Grace – grace according to which we evaluate ourselves, but also which allows us to continue even when we’ve messed up. Whatever it means to believe in this kind of Bigger Grace – and I’m not sure I know what it means – it is somehow the belief in it which means that God makes the difference in the work we do. Not that it’s better than others’ work, because it actually gives more room for us to be worse sometimes! But it is a grounding that builds community in a distinctive kind of way.

  • 11. Lawrence  |  30 July, 2006 at 9:48 am

    Graham, I’ve been run off my feet so only just found your comment. Many thanks! I like what you’ve got to say. You haven’t commented on the implications for evangelism of what you’ve said, though, and I’d be fascinated to know your thoughts.


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