GlobalView from Bishop Bill Atwood
Out the aircraft window is the endless dust and sand of North Africa. There are a few patches of ground below where the air is at rest and the dust is still, but for hundreds of miles in every direction the scene is mostly one of swirling, lifeless, brown and beige dirt where the desert ominously says, “Dare to intrude and I will take your life. I have done it for centuries and I do it still.”
It is quite compelling; this mocking cry from the sand, and it has gone on for centuries. Millennia really. Unlike the rest of the world where the momentum is for life, this is a place where death reigns, or at least seems to. Where Tuarig and Bedouin nomads survive, little else does.
There is an anomaly though where life easily vanquishes death. There is a thin ribbon of lush green that cuts through the lifeless desert. The demarcation is stark. At one step desert death reigns supreme, but then just a few steps away, death is utterly vanquished, not just muted by the water that flows through it, but utterly transformed by it. From the Nile comes all manner of life–plants, fish, and animals. Even humans who, without the water quickly succumb to the brown sandy beast, with it are empowered and are made able to do that which they cannot do on their own.
The essence of the water is life. Whether rain, rivers, lakes, or seas, where it is found, life is also found, or will quickly come. Out of its being, water does its work and extends its dominion.
The Biblical word for authority is exousia. It is a compound word made up of ex, meaning “out of,” and “ousia,” meaning “being.” Authority, rightly manifest, extends the reign of what is true. In the case of the water, its authority, its being, reaches out to subdue the environment.
Before there was water, before there were seas, and tides, and rain, there was God. He chose to act to extend His being into the lifeless nothing that was apart from Him. When He spoke, out flowed life and love, creation and dominion, all inspired by a missionary heart motivated by His passion for Incarnation–His commitment to manifest things so that lesser beings, as yet not even created, would eventually be able to experience and appreciate what He alone had known.
There was no need for God to do this. No need for Him to create so that He could appreciate philosophical concepts more fully. Because His ability to apprehend is limitless, concrete creation offers no more fullness than a concept. For us, however, even in our exalted state before The Fall, our senses and intellect can’t apprehend philosophically as well as that which we can see, hear, taste, touch, and smell. When things are fleshed–out for us, we can come to know that which we didn’t know before.
He makes us like Himself in so many ways, yet even before the devastation of The Fall diminished us, we were lesser beings than He. Sure, we extended His glory by being made. Lips were formed that could sing His praise. Hands and hearts could create in lesser but somewhat like manner to their making.
Looking down at the scrolling desert below it is hard not to be discouraged by the chaos of Somalia, and the violence in South Sudan. Even worse, any evening news broadcast will show hot spots of terror and militancy from Morocco to Afghanistan, and then beyond touching even the capitals of many nations where once Christendom reigned. Does this mean that Islam is overwhelming Christianity? I do not believe so.
Where the heart and soul of the Christian faith is embraced, there is life aplenty. It is where the people forget, and like the Jews of Jerusalem may well have to be carried off to Babylon in order to begin to remember again. Even in the places where there are brutal regimes and a spiritual desert, the river of God still flows and its life overwhelms the death of empty messages.
In some places, the church is attempting to modify its charter from the Lord Jesus and seeks to present another message. Sadly, it is neither respected or effective. What is effective is fidelity and the Power of the Cross.
Those from Christian origins who stray make a mistake in thinking that there is not a problem. Another mistake is assuming that there is nothing we can do about the struggle. Those grave errors are compounded when the Church fails to tap into the life that God offers.
Now, my flight complete, I have landed and have traveled to the place where I am staying, and I can hear the call to prayer from minarets. It is a sober reminder that there are many who have not yet experienced the Love of the Father, poured out because of and through, relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
As we drove through one area, the driver said we should roll up the heavily tinted windows so they would not see the bishop in the car.
Over the next days, I will be leading a retreat for new young leaders who are about to be ordained, to carry the life of the river of God into the desert. It may be at great cost, but they will do it. And I have no doubt of what the river will bring to the desert. Just as darkness is vanquished by light, so the desert by the water…and this land by the Gospel.
Bishop of the ACNA’s International Diocese and an American Anglican Council contributing author.