Compassionate ministry is perhaps, at its best, a reflection of God’s character through us. As I work through this course about questing for the living God, I think the most essential idea I’ve encountered so far in relation to compassionate ministry would be God’s faithfulness. As Bryan Stone tells us in Compassionate Ministry, “…there is a critical distinction to be made between knowing God and knowing about God.” (Stone, 46) It can be difficult to pierce through the veil of darkness in this world and discern God’s faithfulness but it is the foundation on which our understanding of God’s compassion is built. Elizabeth Johnson in Quest for a Living God shows us that, “This human seeking for God is matched by the divine hunt for ones who are lost.” (Johnson, 11) I think that if we fully believe in our Father’s steadfast faithfulness then we trust; we begin to view the world in a very different way. We see how God must allow freedom for us to choose, we see the many ways God is present and continues to show up, and we see that we are never abandoned.
Many, including the prophet Nehemiah, proclaim the Lord’s righteousness. In 1 Kings 8:56, we learn of the ways our Lord keeps promises: “Blessed be the Lord, who has given rest to His people Israel, according to all that He promised; not one word has failed of all His good promise, which He promised through Moses, His servant.” In Deuteronomy 7:8-9 we are also reminded of the many ways God has demonstrated faithfulness historically, “But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh King of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.” Then, when we are unable to keep the commandments, God faithfully comes to us in the Flesh to give us a path of reconciliation to God; in this way obedience becomes an expression of love rather than a checklist you can never complete.
Often in our lives we experience moments of frustration, injustice, times where we question why God would allow something to happen if God were, indeed, faithful. A Lament is even a type of Hebrew poem, one that looks at an injustice or complaint about the state of the world and accuses God. It eventually comes around to saying that God’s people will trust that God will be faithful. And yet this poetry exists because we, God’s people, struggle with our understanding of this world and our God. We struggle with trusting in that faithfulness. We have difficulty in knowing that this is not a perfect world because of us, not God; that the Kingdom is still coming and battles are still being fought. This world is not broken and cannot be restored if everything were fair, and if everything were fair, we would live in a much graver situation.
But God is still faithful today. “Only the living God who spans all times can relate to historically new circumstances as the future continuously arrives.” (Johnson, 23) Instead of the response we saw in Ferguson with violence and riots, when Cincinnati was faced with the brokenness of this world in the shooting of Samuel Dubose, I believe God showed up. We had thousands of believers of diverse backgrounds from all over the city come together in worship, prayer and mourning. Additionally, Samuel’s family was God-inspired, they prayed, and they asked for non-violence. The city’s response was also much better than Ferguson but I believe it shows that God shows up with His People both to mourn and to heal. The same could be said for the Charleston church shooting in which 9 tragically died, murdered during prayer because of the color of their skin and a man who was heavily influenced by the evil in the world. Yet our Father showed up even then in mourning and healing on the side of the broken-hearted: in the response of the church across the street all the way to my church in Cincinnati, through the people who spoke prayers over the shooter instead of curses, and causing a shift in perception throughout our entire nation.
In this way it is clear to me that God is with us, and instructs us on how we can enter into a deeper relationship. “From there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find him if you search after him with all your heart and soul.” (Deut 4:29) There are few things that you can seek with all your heart and soul without being changed by it; I suppose this is why God asks us to lead with it. Since God is love, what better avenue to feel than through the heart? If God is not of this world, what better way seek than through the soul? It just further emphasizes the faithfulness of our Lord who then works through us. As Stone pointed out, it confuses some when we hear that we are “justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Romans 3:28) and then in another book are told we are “justified by works, and not by faith alone.” (James 2:24) These don’t really contradict each other but rather Romans speaks in support of James, “If we take into account the biblical witness as a whole, we must finally say that our lives, actions, commitments, and works finally justify or condemn us.” (Stone, 52) In other words, if we seek God, we come to know our Father’s faithfulness and compassion. As a result, we are changed and our action must start to reflect the character of our God to others, thus leading to compassionate ministry.