In the world
excerpt from Through a Screen Darkly by Jeffrey Overstreet
If a depiction of evil causes us to sin, by all means we must respond to our conscience and withdraw until we become stronger. But if we can look at evidence of sin, consider its consequences and resist the temptation to imitate it, this can lead to wisdom and resilience.
In an article titled “Should Christians Read Dirty Books?”, Barbara Pell asks if the sensitivity of many American Christians toward foul language in art might have more to do with being middle-class than with being conscientious. “I was once told that some naturalistic scenes in a contemporary novel that particularly offended me were moderate compared to the scenes of human squalor and hopelessness witnessed by my friend, who was a public health nurse in a city slum. She implied that if I could get out of my ivory tower and my middle-class suburban community and experience the degradation and suffering of the majority of the world’s people, maybe I could begin to understand what the nurses and social workers and street missions were trying to do in a society where one couldn’t run away from the consequences of human sin and need simply by closing the pages of a book.”
If we are shocked by something as common as a spoken obscenity it may reveal more about our distance from people in need than it does about the person who blurted out such coarse language. As children of God, we have not been instructed to create an insulated commune in order to wall ourselves off from the corrupting influences of the world. Jesus said that He was sending His disciples into the world, even though there were not of the world. They were to engage their corrupt culture armed with a spirit of courage and character.
We all mature and outgrow the need for constant supervision. We find satisfaction in going it alone with discernment. But there are those who think we should remain fearful children. They strive to convince us that exposure to corruption will contaminate us. They cultivate contempt for those who have the strength and maturity to move about in dangerous places. Before we go out, they burden us with reminders of all the possible threats that might be waiting there. Educating ourselves to danger is an essential part of maturity, but if we dwell on such threats, we will complicate our enjoyment of freedom and blessing. If we proceed with caution, open to the possibility of revelation, we never know what treasure we’ll discover.
We must face the mess we’ve made of the world, brave the dangers of corruption, tend to what is broken, and do what we can to prevent evil from gaining further ground. [But] to become doctors who treat the corruption in the world and in ourselves, we have to first understand the sickness and what causes it. When handling toxic material, we should take proper precautions to guard ourselves. [And then] with caution, we must proceed. (pp. 62-63, 66-68)
Hmm… Immediately my mind turns to the band Flyleaf, to whom I was introduced by our senior pastor Jeff Warren during a Sunday morning sermon. Christians whose look is as far from “acceptable” by the majority of American Christians, whose music will turn off the minds and ears of those same Christians, whose boldness in going into the dark places where the lost souls of this world reside is not only frightening to the Christian community but also a rich source for debate. And yet these same young people stand on the exact same platform mentioned by Overstreet: Jesus Himself ate with sinners and prostitutes; He modeled the lifestyle they adopt.
Flyleaf, and Overstreet for that matter, are considered unorthodox. Yet they are closer to the life of Christ than the rest of us may ever be. I know that is true for me. I am the first to tell you that my life is cushioned, sheltered. Before Romania, I had never led anyone to Christ, had never presented the plan of salvation, the Way to our God. I’d never had the opportunity because my entire world was made up of believers. During those times in my life when it wasn’t, I hadn’t the maturity or desire to share my faith freely; in fact, that faith was still very new to me. Since those days, I have insulated myself. I see now how much I must change.
It’s frightening — of course. But it’s the calling of Christ. The purpose of God for all His children. Go and make disciples. But first go to where He is not known. It won’t be comfortable, but it will be rewarding. Glory for the Kingdom of God and blessings for the rest of us. How to begin? Look for the hurting. Jesus is always there.