Here’s a thought I’ve found very inspiring as I’ve pondered the significance of seeking to help the poor, to make peace in relationships, and to do one’s dead-level best to help people out of situations that they don’t seem to want to help themselves out of. These thoughts are born out of a very practical desire: the desire to believe that my efforts are worth something in God’s eyes, even though it seems like every time one person is genuinely helped three others take a turn for the worse. Revelation 21:3-4 describes the wonderful situation of the New Jerusalem this way: “‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning or crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’”
I’m afraid that too often the mindset is that this day will be great, but until then “The poor will always be with us,” so why try to tackle problems like poverty and oppression, when we have a much greater work to do in preaching the gospel? Preaching the message of the gospel is indeed the greatest call we have as Christians. And I think the current trends in evangelicalism are making our gospel no longer too small, but too big. Political activism and social programs are no substitute for life-changing spiritual truth. But if we are going to preach the hope of a coming day when the Lord Jesus will make all things perfect, then we as his followers must seek to show the world (and ourselves) glimpses of what this kingdom will be like in our own spheres of influence. In spite of our personal sins, in spite of the collected effects of all the sins in our society that distort our perception of what it means to be human and to live in community, the Holy Spirit indwelling us as believers provides the clearest picture of this future new creation that’s available during our brief chapter in the great metanarrative. Our descriptions of Jesus, the great king, and his perfect kingdom become so much more convincing when our Christian communities, as they are imbedded in their local human communities, provide sweet foretastes of what Christ’s society will be like.
The key element that can quickly be forgotten when we get excited about social engagement is that the glory of Jesus Christ must be at the center of it all. When this happens, the premillenialist has encouragement regardless of whether the effects of his or her ministry are perceived as lasting by the public. If I devote my life to aiding the poor in the slums of a city in a developing nation, the trailer parks of rural America, or a ghetto near you, there will most likely still be poor people there when I die. (If not, it’s because the city did a redevelopment project and pushed the poor people into a different neighborhood or a different city.) No matter how excited an idealistic 25-year-old can get about the money she gave or helped raise to feed the starving children in some region of Africa, the sad reality is that there will still be starving children in some region of Africa when her great-great-grandchildren are idealistic 25-year olds. The key element in these projects is that along the way snapshots of the justice, peace and love that will be evident in the final kingdom appear before the eyes of people living in a world where some days all they see is evil. If we educate, feed, and clothe the masses because we have the same kind of compassion UNICEF has, nothing happens that affects eternity. But if we give sacrificially, lovingly and compassionately and point to the coming blessings of Jesus Christ and his kingdom, then our works are pebbles tossed into a dark and polluted pond that have ripple effects that carry past the edges of that pond and into eternity.