From time to time I like to read a good mystery. It’s not my favorite genre as I always feel like the author is playing with me – he is holding back some cards, not telling me some key facts – but it can be diverting. Inevitably I reach a point in the story where the question rises unbidden in my mind – “how will he get it done”? The protagonist of the story appears to be trapped in an inescapable situation! He’s painted himself in a corner from which there is no exit! Of course I know that soon the author will reveal the clever twist and all will be well.
I’d like to apply this question, this lens, to the question of Christian unity. How will the Lord get it done? The situation seems irresolvable; the obstacles and difficulties appear to be interlocked in such a tangle that there is no good exit. How will he get it done?
Before addressing this question directly, I’d like to consider 3 subordinate questions as a way to clear away some underbrush. The 3 subordinate questions are:
- Can he actually do it?
- Does he have the will to do it?
- What do we mean by ‘it’ – that is, what form of Christian unity are we talking about?
Can he actually do it?
Of course the simple answer is ‘yes’ – he can do whatever he wants. Yet I think the question is still worth spending a moment on.
Often when we consider the divisions amongst the Christian people and the theological, cultural and historical issues that separate us, it is easy to despair. It seems the positions taken and defended at great cost are irresolvable. Many theologians and leaders of good will have worked and continue to work on the puzzle, yet it seems the kind of tangible unity that would make the world sit up and take notice lies beyond the horizon. It just seems too hard…
Here I think it is helpful to reflect that the Lord does not approach the issue as a theologian but as a king. Kings like to have their way. This is certainly true for weak and limited human kings. How much more true for our King, who actually has the power to achieve whatever he desires.
When I worked as an executive at GM I had a boss who liked to remind me I had the total resources of General Motors at my disposal to achieve my assignments. “Whatever it takes!” he would tell me. It’s laughable in retrospect, I faced all kinds of real limitations … but the phrase was memorable – “Whatever it takes!”
Similarly for our King: he will do whatever it takes to achieve the desired end. What shaking of the world will he shrink back from? What shaking of his people will he shrink back from? What theological, cultural and historical positions will he not overturn if they stand in his way? Wisely Psalm 2 counsels us to “Kiss the son”, to get aligned with his ways, before facing his wrath.
So, yes he can do it.
Does he have the will to do it?
Here too the simple answer is ‘yes’ but again some reflection may be in order.
First, what is the difference between the question of ‘Can he do it’ and ‘Does he have the will’? The first question speaks to ability; the second to desire. We can have the ability to do something but lack the desire, the motivation. I am able to take out the trash to please my wife but do I have the will to do it?
Here we need to reflect on what motivates the Son of God. He has revealed this inner motivation quite clearly in the scriptures. A typical sample from John 4:34, “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me”. Jesus has the unique ability to focus exclusively on pleasing another, to orient his entire life to delighting his Father. In my better moments, I can briefly summon the will to think what I can do to please my wife. Yet most of the time, my focus is centered on my own needs and concerns. Jesus has no such limitations. He is riveted, single-hearted on the Father’s desire.
What then is the Father’s desire? In John 17 we are invited to listen in to a dialogue between the Father and the Son. It’s important to see that the words in John 17 are not addressed to us. Rather we are allowed to overhear the Son echoing back in prayer the desire of the Father: “make them one”. The Father has a plan ‘for the fullness of time to unite all things in Christ’ (Ephesians 1:10); his desire is clear.
So yes, Jesus not only has the ability to do it, he has the will to do it. Whatever it takes to please the Father will be done and nothing that the Father desires will be left undone.
What is the form of Christian unity that he is after? What is the ‘it’ we’ve been talking about?
Here we encounter real questions: will the Lord restore some form of structural unity among his people before he returns? Will the theological questions that have divided and bedeviled the Christian people for millennia be resolved? Are we talking about a visible, structural unity or something invisible, more esoteric? Will He reveal who had the right answers to the key theological questions that divide us (and the wrong ones…) or will he lead us to new understandings – will we find out that we were all just a bit ‘off’?
These questions of course have no clear answer, at least none that I can offer.
One thought that haunts me on this question though has to do with the concept of beauty. We can see from nature, from creation, even from the better expressions of our humanity – we serve a God who creates beauty. He creates beauty in all of his works; an aching beauty, a beauty that invokes the inner sigh of our hearts. We know it when we see it and when we see it we are given over to awe.
In my mind I think this is the answer to the breadth of unity that the Lord will achieve in the fullness of time – it will be beautiful. More beautiful that we can imagine or our hearts can conceive. We will know it when we see it and it will take our breath away. At the same time we will say both: “I had no idea it would be like this” and “Of course, it had to be. Anything less would have been beneath him”.
Some years ago I was exposed to a certain art form popular in Japan. It’s called ‘kintsugi’ and it involves taking broken ceramic bowls and piecing them back together with a golden solder. The piece is restored and the end result with the broken pieces reunited by golden seams is more beautiful than the original. Here’s a sample:
I think the expression of what the Lord will achieve in restoring his people to unity is something like this: the cracks of our brokenness and division will be redeemed and elevated to a beauty that will take our breath away…
Might our life in the Sword of the Spirit be intended to serve as a small and imperfect living model of such beauty?
So, how will he get it done?
With the introductory questions behind us, what can we say to the question we began with – how will he get it done? I think we can see that we have already answered the question…
He will do whatever is needed to please the Father. The earth will be overturned, the people of God will be shaken, anything that stands in his way will be removed – ‘whatever it takes’ to achieve the goal. And the form of unity that he achieves will be more beautiful than our minds can conceive or our hearts can bear. The brokenness that has grieved us for so long will be made beautiful beyond all imagining – the haunting cracks will be made glorious. It will surprise us, it will delight us. Come King, make it so.
Dave Hughes is President of the North American Region of the Sword of the Spirit. Dave and his wife Jane live in Ann Arbor Michigan, USA and they have five children and 13 grandchildren. They are members of Word of Life community and Knox Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor.
See other articles by Dave Hughes in past issues of Living Bulwark.