On Tuesdays and Thursdays YOUR VOICE features political commentary from students and young professionals.
Admit it. If you try to relate the story of David and Goliath to your own life, you are David. In the midst of a trial or difficulty that fills you with self-doubt and uncertainty, you toughen up, trust that God will deliver you, and ultimately combat what stands in your way.
But not so fast, says Tyler Wigg-Stevenson in his book The World is Not Ours to Save. You’re not David- and you’re not Goliath either. Instead, you are a bystander. You are watching this epic battle, not partaking in it.
What do you mean? I’m here to fight the evils of human trafficking, poverty, and war for God’s glory, you might say. We all want to be the hero of our story- but the truth is we live in a world where the hero came 2,000 years ago. For that reason, the world is not ours to save.
“This is a hard thing to consider, especially in the vigor of youth, but Scripture really is right: we’re like the grass of the field, here one day and gone the next. And our passage through life, though it might be incredibly important to those around us, is not particularly significant in any broader context,” Wigg-Stevenson says in his book (38).
That sounds pretty depressing, and I want to be clear that it’s not. It’s easy to interpret “bystander” as a person who accepts a passive role, but that’s not what Wigg-Stevenson is talking about. We are to be active imitators of Christ, and even though God’s redemptive work was accomplished through Him, we still have a lot work to do here.
It’s encouraging to see a justice movement that is working to end human trafficking, provide clean water for all, end global hunger, and more. I don’t doubt the motives of my friends working diligently to address these injustices, in fact, I stand in awe of their passion and desire to accomplish this work.
But we run into danger when we approach issues with an all or nothing stance. I’ve heard mentalities that go something like this: “If all of Africa doesn’t have clean water by the end of my life, then I have failed.” This is an unhealthy approach. Again, Wigg-Stevenson reminds us that we are not the answer. “ If we’re going to talk about the massive crises we talk about, we have to tell the truth. We can neither escape nor solve the fundamental tragedy of life and this world.” (59)
How do we wrestle with the juxtaposition of wanting to make a difference while at the same time living in the reality that we aren’t the hero of our short story here on Earth? There’s no easy answer, but I know it doesn't involve throwing in the towel (or slingshot).
In a recent Capital Commentary article, Dr. Tim Sherratt said,
“The Christian life ought to be lived at the intersection of Need and Calling. Living it there creates an appropriate tension in a fallen world, one that helps us examine our vocations for evidence of cynicism or indulged self-interest.”
As he noted, many Millenials struggle with this. “A common theme emerges in my students’ final papers. There is so much injustice and so much need. Am I in the right place, going to college? What is God calling me to do? All this time spent equipping; shouldn’t I be doing?”
Sherratt suggests we must start by look through a public justice lens. “Have we asked ourselves how much difference good government could make in most of the places where the aid is destined?”
Too often our generation overlooks the role that the institution of government has. Without a stable government system, it’s nearly impossible to create sustainable change or end systemic injustice.
“Citizens should approach government not as the power that can give them what they want, but as the authority that ought to uphold a just public order for them and for all their neighbors,” the Center for Public Justice’s Guideline on Government says. “It is legitimate-even a duty-to criticize unjust and bad government policies and public officials, but this should be done by calling government to fulfill its proper task and high purpose.”
It’s vital that we understand our roles as citizens, as well as the need for our government to hold the leaders of other nations responsible for upholding a just political order. A proper understanding of the role of government in tandem with heeding Wigg-Stevenson’s exhortation to become Christ imitators in our pursuit of justice is at the core of what it means to be a powerful bystander.
“This does not mean that we have permission to run from problems, even massive ones,” Wigg-Stevenson writes. “But we should not confuse our ability to undertake fundamentally tactical efforts- that is, working on highly specific, discrete, comprehensible problems-with an ability to transform the existential condition that gives rise to injustice in the first place.” (54)
It’s important to remember that God doesn’t need us to solve the world’s problems, but He calls us to participate in the work of bringing justice to the world- including the political sphere. Pursue big dreams to change the world and end injustice, but rest in the knowledge that God’s plan will be perfectly fulfilled in His time.
-Katie Thompson is the Online Editor at the Center for Public Justice. Born and raised in New Jersey, a former college student in Boston, and now a young professional in Washington, D.C., she's fairly certain she likes the East Coast. And New York sports.