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…What would it look like if the God of the world – the High God – actually was the God of all nations and tribes? What would it look like if we could get a handle on the fact that the God of the world loves each tribe and nation equally?
It’s easy to talk about the world being one, about all of us being children of God and of equal value and importance. But I don’t think we realize how absolutely radical that concept really is. As Christ followers, we don’t realize how radical it is because we’ve inherited the idea from the Gospel – it’s an essential part of the good news of Jesus Christ. It’s one part of the message that turned the world upside down when Paul and the first faith sharers began to witness to it.
This idea that we’re all of equal value and importance isn’t a human idea. That’s why it turned the world upside down when people first started sharing it. Humans could never have come up with an idea as radical as the thought that God loves all of us, regardless of tribe or nation. We couldn’t have come up with it because we’re too focused on tribe and nation. It’s that focus that’s torn God’s world apart. Whether it’s between Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda, or between blacks and whites in the United States, or between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East; whether it’s because of gender differences, economic differences, religious differences, class differences, the result is always the same – one group positioned against another, violence in body or in spirit always at the forefront. That’s the human idea. That’s the force that Peter and Paul fought against so desperately; that’s the elementary human evil the whole bible squares off against.
A friend of mine tells a story about meeting a Muslim woman from Indonesia on an airplane shortly after 9/11. They struck up a conversation and my friend admitted that he’d been praying a lot in those frightening and confusing days. The woman said, yes, she’d been praying a lot too, and she’d decided that it was time to find out exactly what her prayers really meant. She didn’t speak Arabic, which is the only language of Islam, so she didn’t understand any of the prayers that she’d prayed daily all of her life.
What a contrast to the God made real in Jesus Christ, the God of all languages, not just one. The God who invites us to speak in our heart language, the language our mothers taught us. That God would hear us as we pray in our heart language – whatever language that might be – points to the fact that the gospel, that secret hidden from the beginning of the world, is outside every culture – it’s supracultural. It broke into our world from the outside, from beyond any of us, in order to be offered to all of us.
It seems to me one of our problems is that we’ve confused the gospel with the church. The church has become the vessel of salvation so that those who are inside are saved and those outside are lost. But salvation isn’t some kind of magic formula. You don’t get it because you discover the perfect mixture of the sacraments and church membership. Salvation is the result of the love of God and God’s grace at work in each of our lives – and God’s grace doesn’t exist exclusively in the United States or anywhere else. Every nation and tribe that would seem “foreign” to us is a nation or tribe already loved by God. Before we ever arrive, before we ever encounter, before we ever begin to build a bridge, God is there, loving and making signs of that love manifest in the lives of all the peoples of the earth. Before we ever make any connection, before we ever attempt to share our faith, God is there and God’s saving work has already begun. If the God made real in Jesus Christ were not already in love with the entire world, he could not truly be the High God we know him to be. Instead, the wise old Masai man Ndangoya would be correct in saying, “This High God of whom you speak, he could not possibly love Christians more than pagans, could he? Or he would be more of a tribal god than ours.”
That brings me back to my original question. Do we really know the High God? When others look at us, do they see what Vincent Donovan saw – that we have not found the High God, that our tribe has not known him, that for us, too, he is the unknown God? How would our lives change if we really understood the fact that the God made real in Jesus Christ – the God of the world – loves each tribe and nation equally? How would that understanding change how we looked at other tribes and clans – even in our own communities? How would we act and relate to others? What next step do we need to take so that our lives really reflect the gospel truth that the God made real in Jesus Christ – the High God – actually is the God of the whole world, of every heart language, of every nation and tribe?
Do you know the High God? Are you searching for him? I invite you to search for him with me. Let’s search for him together. Maybe together we will find him.