Every day, whether it is in my own life or that of others, I am reminded of how far from heaven we are as human beings. Sometimes the reminder is in hearing of some poor people slandered even as they are massacred and “cleansed” from some territory that others want to claim for their own. Sometimes the reminder is of my own nightmares or thoughts. Sometimes the reminder is in conversations with others, in reflections on their fears and concerns and difficulties. There are always a great deal of reminders as to how far we are from the way we should be, whether we choose to react to that in despair, in a grim determination to do the best we can, or in a state of denial and the appearance of cheer where the reality is lacking.
Why are we so far from heaven? Why is our world and the people in it so broken? Why are we so wounded and so sensitive, and why do we feel as if others show no concern for our feelings and our sensitivities? Just this morning, for example, I had a discussion that lasted for hours online before someone realized that despite my intellectual conversation that I was not a harsh and unfeeling person about the sensitivities of others. This is not a new issue to deal with, but rather a serious issue I have to confront within myself many times a day. Even though I know that many others are deeply sensitive as well, and even though I care about the sensitivities of others, it is still hard for me to communicate that concern, which frustrates me to no end given the unnecessary conflicts that arise from sensitive people triggering the sensitivities of other sensitive people, something that is especially a problem in my online communication.
Most of the people I deal with are very broken people. When they talk about themselves (I am not someone who is too nosy about the personal lives of others), one hears stories of abusive parents, of mental disorders, of longstanding difficulties in communicating with others, of deep and long-lasting hurts and of the feeling that no one or almost no one really cares about binding the wounds and showing respect, whether that means privacy or someone to listen to them talk about their issues over and over and over again patiently. It really hurts to be thought of as someone who is glib and arrogant and unfeeling and lacking in compassion to the feelings of others, however much I may lack the skill of communicating those feelings in a way that is pleasing and acceptable to others. I suppose I just need a lot more practice to get it right, especially in online conversations with people who do not know me at all face to face.
Why are we broken in the first place? We live in a fallen world that has been shaped by thousands of years of human history where people have decided that they want to do what they want to do without concern for others, to seek after their own interests or their own protection, without very much knowledge or regard for the ways of God, which are designed to show how to honor God and to love and respect others. We are broken by our own faults which snowball into something far beyond our intentions and desires. We are broken by the sins of others not respecting us or caring about our feelings, using our bodies and hearts for their own selfish desires. We are broken by the time and chance that happen to us all, death and disaster and other tragedies great and small. However we are broken, we are broken.
And yet we long to be whole. We long to feel whole and loved and honored ourselves. We long for our relationships with others to be healed. We long to be a part of loving and unified families, institutions, and societies. The longing reminds us that we are human beings with beating hearts and not mere rocks and stones, however poorly we may be at communicating this longing to others or in putting it into practice. It appears to me over and over and over again that God wishes for me to get this right and that He has decided that now is the time to do it, for reasons and purposes that I can guess at but do not yet fully understand. Part of being the people God wants us to be in all walks of our lives is having the ability to relate to others. And quite frankly, I could use all the good practice in relating to others that I can get, as that is not something that comes naturally for a variety of reasons.
Considering that God seems to make a specialty of calling broken people for His own purposes (1 Corinthians 1:26-31), the fact that we start out far from heaven but are called to walk in the footsteps of our Lord and Savior toward that kingdom ought to make us think a little bit. It is as if the calling of those who are the furthest from heaven is a reminder to those who are less damaged that if God can work wonders with such broken jars of clay, then everyone else has no excuses. But we all (and I speak especially of myself) need to be a lot better at recognizing and responding to the sensitivities of others. If God brings largely broken people together to make them whole and part of one body by one baptism with one God and Father of all, then we have to understand that our own personal wholeness and the larger whole are closely connected, and that as we overcome our own past experiences, we become a better example for others who are wrestling with the same demons themselves.
And I, for one, find this inspirational. Even if I think we all (and I myself) could do this much better, and cause much less unintentional offense to fellow wounded believers, especially over online comments, I think there is a great deal of potential. If we can become the sort of people who can help bind up the wounds of others even as we tend to our own brokenness, then we can build the kind of families and congregations that can serve as a positive example for others and can allow God to call more broken people to help find healing, to grow his family from the least of the world. We have a lot of work to do; I know I do. Nonetheless, even if we are far from heaven now, we have God on our side to encourage us, and the knowledge that we are not alone as we journey out of our brokenness to a glorious future we can scarcely imagine.