A couple weeks ago our church started a study of the book of Nehemiah. The basic premise of the book is that he finds out that his home city, Jerusalem is in utter ruins. The walls have been torn down and almost all of Israel is in captivity in Babylon (including Nehemiah himself).
I think this is a pretty timely study because the book chronicles one man’s desire to set right what he saw as a tremendous wrong in his world. Maybe people have always been this way, but I grew up in the mid-80s and I don’t remember anyone talking about how we needed to change the world, and certainly not the tidal wave of cause-driven initiatives we see around us today.
Let me be clear: I think it is great that so many societal ills and injustices are being tackled. I really do. But I think Nehemiah provides an interesting perspective worth considering for all the would-be world changers out there.
When Nehemiah heard about the walls of Jerusalem, he was upset: he mourned and fasted and then he prayed. And a few things caught my eye about his prayer. He writes this in chapter one, about how God gathered his people together in Jerusalem from the farthest horizon, and I think Nehemiah gives us some insight into God’s motive for doing so:
“I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.”
What is interesting to me about this is that Nehemiah seems to remind God (not that he needs reminding) the whole reason for Jerusalem in the first place: it is the dwelling, not of his people, but of his Name. God’s name. The glory (and the demise) of Jerusalem was not about the people at all; it was first and foremost about the glory (and shame, perhaps?) of God. And when Nehemiah wept, in my opinion, he was weeping because God’s name, his reputation, was at stake. And that was something he could not sit still about.
And I think that perspective applies to us today, those that want to make a difference, to change the world.
You shouldn’t want to change the world because it helps people (again, that’s not a bad thing). You should do it because injustice in the world is first and foremost an affront to God’s name, his reputation. How many times have you heard someone say, How could a loving God allow this? Well, we are the answer to that question. We don’t.
I believe we are here to represent and defend God’s reputation, because we know he is kind and generous, a protector and defender, a savior and defender of justice. But sometimes the walls of his city, the city with his Name, get torn down. And just like Nehemiah, we should mourn that the world, full of people who bear the image (and name) of God, is in such dire disrepair. And because we hold dear God’s reputation, we should be moved to act, to get up and rebuild the wall.
Is it too bold for me to say that you shouldn’t try to change the world if your primary motive is not to defend the honor of God’s name? Maybe. After all, Paul said that even though some people were preaching the Gospel out of bad motives (Philippians 1:15-18), he was still psyched that the Gospel was being preached. But I bet he wished those people had the right heart about it, too.