I must confess: the only time I ever really think about saving the world is when I leave the grocery store. I’m overcome with the strangest feeling that I am Superman. It’s not because I’ve successfully navigated the gauntlet of aisles, the food samples and checkout lines. It’s simply just because.
For some reason, I pretend that I’m Superman and that someone, somewhere, is in great distress. Of course, there’s only one thing to do: take action.
After looking around to make sure no one is watching, I run fast and hard toward my car. Once at full a sprint, I wrap my fingers around the make-believe buttons of my make-believe oxford shirt, I inflate my chest, and I tear away my secret identity to reveal the mighty “S” emblazoned underneath. Now, I don’t actually ever jump and pretend to take off—that would be weird. By that time I’m usually at my car, anyway.
“Saving the world” is hardly ever on my radar, and when it is, it’s usually confined to a world of make-believe.
For those times, however, when I think it is my job to save the world, when I think what ails the world can only be remedied by my bold, courageous acts, when I think God’s grace is not sufficient for me (or the world)—for those times, these are the three reasons that remind me to never, ever take matters into my own hands, ever. Perhaps you’ll find them helpful.
My Only Houseplant is Dead.
I had only one plant in my house to care for. I didn’t have two or three or even a plethora to look after. I had one. And now it is dead.
To keep it alive, all I had to do was periodically add water and keep it near the window. Somehow I failed to do this. I cannot save a plant. I cannot save the world.
Also, I looked into to the qualifications for being a savior of the world—mine are lacking. The one similarity that did exist (being fully human) was disqualified because I am not a perfect human being. In fact, I’m quite the opposite. I have issues.
Scripture tells me my issues are more complicated than I could ever imagine. Even my issues have issues. Jeremiah writes that our hearts are devious little liars at best. David writes that our sin runs so deep, we can’t even identify all of it.
Solomon in all his wisdom doesn’t declare, “Well, at least there’s a couple right-living, decent people out there . . . ” No, he cries out, “No one is righteous.” And apparently that fact didn’t change over the next thousand years, because Paul brought it up again in his letter to the Romans.
I have too many issues. I cannot save a plant. I cannot save the world.
Oiko-what? Oikonomia. It’s a Greek word that basically means “house management” or “stewardship.” It’s where we get the word “Economy.”
In my recent film series For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, Stephen Grabill uses it as a way to describe God’s plan for the whole of his creation—his “big picture” mission for all things. Within this big picture, we have our own responsibilities and callings (family, work, justice, etc., etc.); we call these our “economies.”
Think of it like Downton Abbey, without the overbearing class system, stuffiness, and British accents. Mr. Carson is the head butler who runs the place. He’s the head steward, the one with the overall plan (Oikonomia). Then you have the rest of the staff: Mrs. Hughes, Mr. Bates, Sarah O’Brien, and on and on.
Each of these players have their own responsibilities. Some are footmen. Others are maids or cooks. They all have their own specific roles (economies) in the maintenance of the abbey.
Saving the world is the responsibility of the Triune God. It’s part of his Oikonomia, his plan. If it weren’t so, we could’ve simply nailed any old yahoo to the cross.
So, when I attempt to take on the responsibility of “saving the world,” I overstep my role and move in on his. I’m stepping into his oikonomic territory. This is not a good idea, and usually ends badly. It’s the kind of idea that can get you thrown out of the abbey . . . or worse.
At the very least, you’ll end up with a stern talking-to. I’m reminded when God laid the smack down on Job (from chapter 38; bracketed text added).
Who is this that obscures my plans
with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man [Whoa! God just told Job to man up!];
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.
Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
The Glass Slipper Already Fits Like a Dream
In our fairy tale reality, the Prince (of Peace) has already come. He’s already rescued his future bride (the world) and set the enchanting slipper on her foot. As I write, he’s off making a place for her. He’s preparing for a glorious banquet. He’s sending out invitations day and night. Truly, the fullness of our “happily ever after” is right around the corner.
Unless you haven’t sent in your RSVP yet, the only thing that’s left do now is gussy up the bride. That’s our responsibility. That’s what our lives are about—preparing the way for the Lord for the wedding of all weddings.
And how do we do that?
In his 2011 commencement address at Belhaven University, named one of the best ever by NPR, Makoto Fujimura tells us to engage every part of our broken world (our homes, our work, our neighborhoods and communities, our minds, our loves) with the love of our Prince.
“‘The World that Ought’ to be,” he says—a world that is already planted in our very being—“is not a utopia; it is instead created out of sacrificial love. To love is to quest for the ‘World that Ought to Be.’ Love is enduring and love uses all of our senses. Love is generative, and will create the stage for the New to appear.”
By loving this broken world with our whole being, offering ourselves to her, seeking her peace and prosperity, we reflect her Prince. We remind her of the longing we all have for him, his grand feast, and the kingdom that is to come.
Addendum: There is one reason for setting out to save the world that is entirely acceptable.
Rest assured, dear reader. Should I ever stumble upon an unknown dimension beneath a New York City highrise and find myself face to face with a Sumerian god hellbent on destroying the world, I will do my best to save us all. The same rule also applies for encounters with reptilian creatures from the sea.
Robots from outer space, however—you’re all on your own.
Cover image sourced from Flickr and used under a Creative Commons license.