What are God’s hopes for the world?
Does God have a plan for the world, for our nation, for our community, for our friends and neighbours, for our families, and for you?
Well, a plan is the method by which we get from one situation or circumstance to another, and surprisingly, I am going to be radical and say that God does not have a plan!
Now, before you write letters of complaint to the bishop, let me qualify that statement by stating, emphatically, that God does have a hope for the world, for our nation, for our community, for our friends and neighbours, for our families, and for you, but that the plan to fulfil that hope is made together, between us and God.
You see, the future is not yet written — not by God, not by you, and not by me. It is written what God hopes for the world, and God, being omnipotent, is unlikely to be ultimately thwarted! However, God does not lay down a single path for each of us to follow, and if we deviate from that path, God does not give up and say, "Oh well, you’re off the track, I want nothing to do with you."
In fact, our Christian life bears witness to a God that journeys with us and is always adapting to us. For example, when I asked God if I should marry Helen, God did not say, "Yes, she is the only one for you and if she turns you down then your life is ruined." No! God asked, "Gavin, would you like to marry her?" to which my reply was, "Very much so!" (And thank goodness Helen wanted the same thing!)
Or, for example, take Jesus, the Son of God. Have you ever wondered why he always seemed to dodge the direct question, "Are you the Messiah?" It is because he would only be the Messiah if he achieved what the Messiah came to do. The proof of the pudding was and is in the tasting! If he had fallen to temptation in the wilderness, or if he had not been obedient to the Father, or if he had not allowed himself to be tortured and killed, or if he had not risen from the dead, then no, he would not have been the Messiah, God’s Anointed One, and the one to whom we fall on our knees and proclaim, like his disciple Thomas, "My Lord and my God!"
A Christian is a person who determines the hope of God and joins in with God to realise that hope. It is a partnership. It is a journey. It is a relationship. We are not robots obeying a master. We are invited to be co-creators with our creator God. The Spirit never stops working in and around our lives, and if we live by the Spirit and are guided by the Spirit, then we shall wend our way through life as if we are following a predetermined plan but, in reality, it is a thrilling voyage of discovery and creativity where we join hands with a God who says, “Come on! Let’s see where this goes!”
Therefore, what are God’s hopes for the world, nation, community, neighbours, families, and for ourselves? Perhaps this is where the four strands of authority, on which the Anglican church stands, can help. They are: scripture, reason, tradition, and the Holy Spirit. One thing that makes the Anglican church the place in which I made my spiritual home is that it holds all four in balance. It can be that a particular church or denomination places more emphasis on one authority over another. For example, an evangelical church will favour scripture, a liberal church reason, a Catholic church tradition, and a pentecostal church the Spirit, however, when it comes to discerning God’s hopes, we need to hold all four equally in prayer.
Firstly, we need to spend time with scripture to discern the trajectory of the narrative between God and creation, what we call the big story or the grand meta-narrative — how it all began, and God’s hope for how it will all end. We can learn how Jesus fulfilled his mission and the Father’s hopes for him, how we can emulate him now and in the future.
Secondly, we need to use our God-given intellect. We can discern, for example, how our understanding of the concepts of inclusivity, equality, and diversity have developed over time, where we are now, and we can discern a trajectory and work towards where we, as a culture, will be in the future.
Thirdly, we need to learn from the church, how the church has adapted and grown in the past, as it sought to be guided by God over the last two thousand years. We can discern where God has been leading the church, learn from the mistakes it has made, and can discern a pattern for its future growth and ministry.
And finally, we can discern where the Spirit is leading by listening to God's still, small voice and being obedient to what God is saying to us. We may also be able to identify the prophetic voices of God in today’s wider church.
You may well be sitting there thinking, "But isn't it your job, Rev Gav, to discern what God is saying to the church?" and the answer is both yes and no. I would be extremely wary of any church leader that tells you, "This is the way. God has told me and you all have to follow!" However, yes, it is partly my job to listen both to God and to the church, but we must discern together. We are all the body of Christ and when God speaks to us, it is unlikely that any one of us will have the answer in isolation. When someone approaches me and tells me that God has told them something, I may well reply that he has not told anyone else yet! Or, when someone tells me we should do something then I will hold it with others, pray, and ask for discernment as to whether it is, indeed, the God-inspired thing to do.
Am I able to discern what God has been saying to the whole church? Well, I do have some suggestions.
Firstly, the church has been slow to embrace environmental care. As stewards of creation, a creation which God describes as, "very good", God hopes we will do all we can to protect and nurture the world in which we live — as both individuals and as a church. I believe it is God’s hope that we will be at the forefront of making and proclaiming positive change in this area. It is important because God thinks it is important.
Secondly, God is reminding the church of its wealth both financially and in terms of resources, and hopes that we will be committed to the poor and the needy. I do not know how we do this, but it is on God’s heart and always has been. I have a hunch that God will lead us to programmes that benefit those that are left behind; the marginalised and the broken.
Thirdly, God hopes for us to be a church for all — to orient ourselves to be inclusive and welcoming to all no matter what colour, social background, sexual orientation, gender, intellectual capacity, ability, age, or status.
You may disagree with me, or perhaps you could add a fourth, fifth, and sixth hope, however, these are the three hopes that I believe God has for our church. Therefore, my hope and prayer is that, under the guidance of God, we will listen to him and follow him as a whole family, and be the church that God hopes we will be and that, together with God, we will make a plan.
• Reverend Gavin Tyte is the pastor at St Mark’s Anglican Church. Visit stmarks.bm