It is fairly common for people to come to the church and ask for help. That is all well and good. I want to leave aside the question of whom we should help and in what measure, or the wisdom of how we work such things out. My purpose here is much more straightforward. What do we do when people want us to do what simply isn’t possible?
I’ll give a for instance. I was recently contacted by some folk asking for help with housing. I showed them the agencies who could offer some direction and told them to see how they got on. It turns out that either those groups couldn’t help or the kind of help they could offer wasn’t the help that was wanted. I was drawn into proceedings because there was some hope that I might be able to do what agencies specifically set up to help people in these particular circumstances couldn’t do (as it happened, I couldn’t do any more than had already been suggested).
What was interesting was that this conversation took some time despite the point that I couldn’t help beyond what had already been done being stated fairly early on. It took a while for the facts of the matter to sink in. Several times I repeated the fact that I was in no position to do anything to resolve the situation myself. There were various options available and I laid out what they were. But the issue kept coming back to the fact that the solutions available were not the solution that was desired. But the desired outcome didn’t exist and wasn’t possible to produce. The help that was needed was not coming up with that particular solution, it was helping them to see that the solution they wanted – at least at this point in time – was not possible in this actualised world.
But this sort of issue is not unique to those of us working in needy areas. We are frequently faced with questions and issues from people where the solution they want is not a solution that is possible. We may lay the possible options before them but they umm and ah over and again in the hope that some preferable solution might present itself. Eventually, faced with the range of options, we are forced to either live in the real world and pick one of them or bury our head in the sand and hope that some better thing may come along.
No doubt you can think of such situations in your own church. But this is seen nowhere more clearly than in our gospel work. Ultimately, there are two possible options before us: (1) submit to the Lordship of Christ, putting our trust in his salvific work and laying down our claim to run our own lives; or, (2) retain control of our own life, remaining in rebellion to him, and face the consequences of continuing in our sin when we finally stand before him. Whether we like it or not, these really are our only two options.
But it is staggering to see the sheer number of people who umm and ah, hoping some better option might come along. Perhaps I can get to Heaven whilst retaining full control of my life? Maybe I can follow Jesus and call him Lord whilst continuing to indulge that sin I love? Surely I can pick and choose the bits of the Bible I follow and God will still be fine with me following the thrust, if not worrying about the letter?
But that is not the actual (or, dare I say, possible) world that we live in. We can will the Lord to think differently if we want. We can wish he did things differently to the way he actually does things. But that is to wish for things to be different when they are, in fact, the way they are. It is, in essence, to deny reality. We may not like the solutions available, we may wish to bury our head in the sand until some better ones come along, but ignoring the problem doesn’t make it go away. Ignoring reality doesn’t provide a solution.
At some point, we have to choose one of the options before us. We can reject all of them if we want, but that is itself a decision that has its own consequences. If we want to live in the real world, we must choose an option and handle the consequences of the real world decision we make. We can wish things were different if we want, but in the world of real things with real consequences, wishing doesn’t make it so.
This means – whether in the church with our members or with our friends as we share the gospel with them – we really need to push people to take one of the real world options before them. Any other ‘help’ is really no help at all.