Only The Suffering God Can Help

“God lets himself be pushed out of the world on to the cross.  He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us. . . . Only the suffering God can help. . . . the God of the Bible, who wins power and space in the world by his weakness.”

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Good Works and Holy Troublemaking

Not long ago, Mark Driscoll tweeted:

No one gets in trouble for good works, you get in trouble for good works and for talking about Jesus.

While I understand the point that Driscoll was making, it got me thinking.  I sometimes wonder if the true reason that our society (corrupted as it is by greed, violence, and systemic injustice) is not bothered by Christian attempts to do “good works” is that our “good works” are largely unthreatening to the status quo.  What if “good works” that do not get you in trouble with a deeply fallen world are not “good” enough?  Perhaps the church needs to re-think its strategy for holy troublemaking, going far beyond making controversial or exclusive statements.

To begin with, we need to avoid undermining the church’s social significance by privatizing & individualizing both sin and good works.  As I read Scripture (Micah, for instance), it seems that God is often much more concerned with larger political sins such as economic injustice and oppression than the individual sins focused on in many congregations.  Would it surprise someone who goes to the average evangelical church that God wasn’t upset with Nebuchadnezzar for neglecting his quiet time and using foul language, but for ignoring the poor and practicing injustice (Daniel 4:27)?  Thankfully, there is a noticeable shift in the evangelical church for a greater emphasis on social justice.  However, I’d like to suggest that if our efforts at social justice aren’t causing any trouble, we need to re-think our strategy.

If I were to offer a riff on Driscoll’s tweet, it might look like this:

No one gets in trouble for feeding the poor, you get in trouble for going after the powers & systems that create & sustain poverty.

See the difference?  (Note: It’s even still under 140 characters, leaving room for a creative and witty hashtag.)  Here’s an example: many Christians “feed the poor” (or more likely, donate to an organization that claims to do so) and yet still support companies and political policies that create and sustain poverty and abuse through low wages, poor health care, and child slavery.  This is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer was getting at when he said:

We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.

I have a hard time believing that if Christians took seriously the call to “drive a spoke into the wheel (of injustice) itself” that we would be able to stay out of trouble.  I get verbally abused for even suggesting that Christians should be more non-violent in a world of constant war, so I can’t even imagine what would happen if you seriously went after other idols like Mammon. (For instance, what trouble might a local pastor get in for faithfully speaking to Christians who live in extravagant wealth in a world that is starving?).

Can you think of any other ways that the church has bandaged the “wounds of victims” while still continuing to sustain the systems that create those victims in the first place?  Why do you think this is?  What might be the way forward?