Christians live in both an already and a not yet space.
Followers of Jesus are a part of the pilgrimage not yet completed by a new heaven and new earth; but we also are already a part of the coming kingdom of God. How does this impact how we view our call to witness to others?
When I was young, the safest place I knew was the arms of my parents. As I grew and my circumstances changed, my safest places were the homes of my mentors and godparents, and my church. In college, my safest place was the shoulder of my mother after long months away from home.
My safety came at a cost. My parents gave up decades of their life to be available to me not only when I needed them, but also when I thought I was doing fine on my own. My mentors and godparents gave up their precious time, money and emotional capacity to help me process what it means to grow up.
My church met me at every step of my development, ready to wrestle with my never-ending questions about why our world is so broken, why Jesus has not returned when there are so many people hurting, and why there seemed to be so very little I could do.
The Hebrew Bible is a beautiful witness to the power of safe places. The people of God go on journey after journey to understand why their story is not yet completely understood even though their identity and future are already promised.
They would be the descendants of Abraham, more numerous than the stars in the sky, and they would be given land flowing with milk and honey. But one generation after another, the Israelites turned away from Yahweh.
Yahweh allows them to reap the consequences of their actions. When this rejection leads to oppression or captivity, the people turn back to Yahweh for help in their trouble.
One generation after another, Yahweh graciously turns towards the Israelites, calling them into a renewed relationship. Even so, the Israelites still end up exiled from their home. What happened?
The Israelites could not keep their home because they misunderstood what was required of them. The promised blessings were intended to be just that — blessings. They were not guaranteed.
The promises were also not a guarantee against suffering in the midst of blessing. The promise Yahweh makes to Abraham at first glance seems to imply providence with no call to response; yet the blessings came after faith in Yahweh was displayed.
The author of 1 Kings and the prophets Micah and Zechariah speak to this misunderstanding. Under King Solomon, the Israelites lived in safety, under their own vine and fig tree (1 Kings 4:25). In Micah 4:4 and Zechariah 3:10, the people of God are declared to one day live under their own vine and fig tree.
In every passage, the author is proclaiming a message: Yahweh has given and will give what has been promised. Christians today still believe in this message. So why does the Hebrew Bible end with the fate of the Israelites hanging in the balance?
In Jesus, Christians see the fulfillment of God with us. We also know that the God who came to save humanity is the same God who chose the Israelites to be a royal priesthood.
So, believing we have the power of the Spirit already with us in a world where the fullness of the new kingdom has not yet come, how does this impact how we view our call to witness to others?
What can we learn from the relationship between Yahweh and the Israelites, between the Israelites and their promise of land and descendants, and between how Yahweh utilizes these promises?
As Christians, we believe God chooses us and blesses us in the same way as the Israelites. But like the Israelites, we often misunderstand both the meaning of the blessing and the cost. Blessing is not for our own sake, but for the glory of God to be made known to others and for the name of God to be praised.
God turns towards us generation after generation, creating spaces for communion. To sit in God’s arms, to rest on God’s shoulder, to give wisdom as we wrestle with the brokenness of this world — to show us we are safe.
There is no greater gift to receive and no greater gift to witness to others.
Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing series focused on engaging the emerging generations of faith leaders. If you know anyone who might be interested, encourage them to submit an article for consideration to email@example.com.
A graduate of Baylor University’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work, Arensman is pursuing a Master of Divinity at Baylor’s Truett Theological Seminary. She is a licensed master social worker and a member of Highland Baptist Church in Waco, Texas.