by Will Rogers
Today we're going to continue with our theme of encouraging medical missionaries. We hope that this series of guest blog posts is encouraging you and bolstering your faith as you strive to live out the Gospel in whatever context you are in. Our guest contributor for today is Mike. Mike serves as Director of Personnel and Training at Interserve USA. A theologian by training, he previously served twenty years at a global seminary teaching Old Testament. He is passionate about helping followers of Christ engage their workplace vocation with the good news of the transformation of all things. He is married to a pediatrician and has three adult children. We know you are going to be challenged and encouraged by Mike's words!
The Bible tells a story, a very big story. Yes, it is comprised of lots of little stories (many of us know them from Sunday School), and it is replete with all sorts of places, people and behaviors that are utterly foreign to us. But standing behind all those smaller “stories” is one, capacious, overarching narrative.
Have we really grasped what this means not just for interpretation of the Bible, but for the way we live our lives? The way we are involved in missional healthcare? How our lives “matter” in the grand scheme of things, even boldly asking how our life matters in the story of the whole world?
Theologian Lesslie Newbigin famously writes of his encounter with a learned friend in Asia who said to him:
I can’t understand why you...present the Bible to us in [my country] as a book of religion. It is not a book of religion—and anyway we have plenty of books on religion [here in my country]. We don’t need any more! I find your Bible a unique interpretation of universal history, the history of the whole creation and the history of the human race. And therefore a unique interpretation of the human person as a responsible actor in history. That is unique. There is nothing else in the whole religious literature of the world to put alongside it.
I remember the first time I read that quote. I put down the book in my hands and sat speechless. I realized that I had unwittingly done just what Newbigin’s friend had accused these emissaries to Asia of doing —the Bible to me was just a book of religion, and to read it meant to derive “religion” from it. Its message was wholly other-worldly, and served to prepare my “soul” for a different place.
But the story of the whole world? And humanity’s role in the story of the world, a story that involved healing, and flourishing, and justice and mercy? I realized, to my shame, that I didn’t really care about the world. I would never have admitted that, because I did have compassion for the suffering (at least I thought I did). I was a pre-med student for a reason, to become a medical missionary to serve the poor. I felt sorry for them. But of greatest import? I was just supposed to get my soul, and as many souls around me as I could, ready to die. But this world, if I really thought about it? Not much use for it. The grand story of the world, and God’s intention for justice, mercy and life in this, his good, created world, was lost on me.
Newbigin awakened me to another way of perceiving the world and my work in the world. He awakened me to a way of reading the Bible that drew my perception of my work in the world as not just something to pass time to get to the really important stuff, but actually to join in a large story, God’s story, of restoration of the whole universe.
Could the Bible really be that simple? Just one sprawling story?
Yes, I discovered; there is a narrative backbone to the whole of the Bible. God created a world that turned away from his intention of integrity and flourishing, and in Jesus Christ, God came himself, not by proxy, to reverse the tide. And that great tidal reversal continues today, through the restoration of things we can actually see and feel and hear. Restored things often unravel again, for sure. But the very work of restoration demonstrates that restoration is the ultimate goal of the world. The bitesize pieces of restoration nourishment we now engage are crumbs from a great and final restoration feast we await.
Admittedly, the Bible narrates this great story through diverse literary genres, languages that are unknown to most people who sit down to read the Bible, nations, peoples, cities whose names we stumble over if we have the misfortune of being called on to read from the Old Testament in public. Its capacious quality—the scope of the story, from beginning to end, creation to consummation—is not only a quality that draws us to the Bible but hinders our ability to insert ourselves at any moment in its pages.
We are too quickly lost.
So backing up, just for a moment, and asking the big question about God’s big story can be really helpful, even for the day-to-day seeming tedium of our lives and work in healthcare. The story of the Bible in its most basic scheme is like the greatest stories known to humankind. An idyllic scene, shattered by tragedy—in the case of the Bible’s story, the revolt of the beloved in the face of the Lover—and a long and gradual rebuilding and even surpassing of that first scene through a drama of the self-giving of the Lover.
But the drama involves more than just an ethereal “relationship.” The drama includes the restoration of the whole scene, the whole theater if you will, in which this drama is being enacted. Restoration is the key, the restoration of “all things.” See Colossians 1:16-20, and take a look at the “all things.” This is one of those instances where there is no hidden meaning in the Greek of “all.” All means all.
“All things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together...For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (NIV)
With this overarching view of the narrative, small steps in the drama of our daily life can take on a larger import than simply what we see immediately before us. Honestly, what is before us is often enough to process! But what if we could shift our perspective, even just a bit, to see even a small interaction—with a worried patient, a grieving family, an obstreperous administrator, an obstructive government official—as a little dialogue or action in a greater drama of restoration? Might that re-shape the way we go through a moment-by-moment unfolding of our day?
Through Jesus Christ, restoration—reconciliation—has come to this hurting and chaotic world. Yes, the unraveling—the lingering effects of rebellion and wayward stubbornness—continues. But against the backdrop of the great drama of Scripture, of God himself coming in Jesus Christ to bring all things back to him, we push against that unraveling. We become his agents.
Our work in missional healthcare, from this perspective, isn’t just an add-on, or a platform to do some other work. It’s part of the core story. Done in the name of Jesus, it becomes part of God’s great drama of cosmic restoration: it is the smile of God on a saddened world.
That’s a perspective adjustment worth thinking about.