Mercy! It seems like nothing could get worse, . . . and then it does. Reading the news of moral lapses, lying, political cowardice, genocide, gun violence, shady ethics, greed, misogyny, racism, prejudice . . . Where does it stop? Or better still, where do we, where do I begin? Where does the infusion of righteousness find an incarnation? We sing that lovely hymn about our Father’s world, with birds singing, and flowers blooming, . . . but then comes the reality-check: And though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet. That sounds heartening, but it doesn’t quite resolve my own presence (and maybe complicity) in some of this wrong. So, what does my faith in Jesus Christ require of me in order to be salt and light in the midst of these multiple dimensions of ‘wrong’?

A good beginning place might be to reclaim the radical repentance that Jesus’ calls us to, that acknowledges not only all the bad stuff we think and do, but also our complicity in larger patterns of wrong. From the very beginning of God’s intervention into human society there is that discipline of purifying those who follow him. There is the metaphor of God’s working being like a refiner’s fire that purges the impurities out of gold, and such. There is the graphic illustration in David’s life when he was guilty of adultery and murder and tried to hide it, since he was king. But God sent a prophet to expose that corruption, and David was totally demolished and repentant, and his confession (Psalm 51) is always good for us to own since he cries out to God to have every imperfection exposed, he longs to be washed and purged of every wicked way (I love Peterson’s paraphrase of this psalm in The Message).

God’s calling of those who follow Jesus is to be a holy nation, to be the demonstration of his own divine character. When John the Baptist was announcing the imminent arrival of Jesus as the Messiah, he says that: He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire, and ultimately all that is alien (chaff) he will burn with fire (Matthew 3:11). In Christ, God also is determined to recreate us into Christ’s likeness in true righteousness.

But then comes the discipline of radical repentance when we open our lives to God, and expose all the dark corners of our thinking and behavior. God doesn’t have much use for God-talk and for our spirituality on display. What he is eager for is what Henri Nouwen calls transparency, or clarity of person. Trying to hide our secret sins is vain, and true freedom comes when we give to the Holy Spirit that role of being in us a refiner’s fire, and purifying us so that we are authentic through-and-through. Add to this that the Spirit is also the life-giving Breath of God. From all of this I have extrapolated a daily heart-felt petition that the Spirit will come upon my life as a Refiner’s Fire, and a Life-giving Breath – no holds barred! “Spirit of God search out my secret sins, all the darkness that lurks in my prejudices and subtle departures from your calling.” I don’t do this lightly. And God often answers in painful but cleansing interventions in my life. Refiner’s Fire and life-giving Breath.

But now, let me drop the other shoe. I also pray this for the nation in which I happen to live and of which I am a citizen. I pray that God will come upon this nation and its leaders and influence-makers as a Refiner’s Fire and Life-giving Breath, that he will expose and destroy those agents and influences of greed, and power, and sexual promiscuity, . . . and that God will raise up leaders and influence makers of peace and order and justice. I pray this fervently. I am not a person of political influence in the ordinary sense of that term, but I have access to: “God is the Ruler yet” of the hymn we started with. The Book of Revelation points to the reality that it is the prayers of God’s suffering saints under the altar that determine the course of history. Stay tuned …

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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  1. Sarah E. says:

    Thank you! There are a lot of us praying this for our nation & its leaders. Somewhere in the scripture (I can’t remember where) I think it says that judgment and repentance is to start in the church. Praying for that.

  2. Elizabeth Gieseking says:

    This really has been a week where “the wrong seems oft so strong”. Thank you for the reminder that “God is the Ruler yet.” I join in your prayers for God to come upon our leaders and influence-makers and me personally as a Refiner’s fire and Life-giving Breath.

  3. Bill Serjak says:

    Our systematic elimination of God from daily life has made wrong very strong. In looking back over forty years as a Presbyterian minister, I am struck by how little I did. My goal was always just to tell people about Jesus. In looking back I am also struck by how much The Lord did in changing folks lives during those forty years. Perhaps to change our world we need fewer politicians, ministers, and media people and more mechanics like Charles.

  4. Dottie Coltrane says:

    Bob, I forwarded this post to our pastor, Emily Freeman Penfield, who had opened her sermon the Sunday before with these statements: “This is not what I want the world to look like. This is not what God wants the world to look like.” So many of us abhor the violence, fear, and hatred in which we live, and wake up every morning wondering what awful event happened overnight. Pastors like you and Emily give us hope. Such an elusive element, but so important. Thank you.

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