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Strengthen What Remains, part 5: The Never-Ending Task

When the Kingdom of God enters into the world it is judged by the world and found to be dangerous to all of its tentative harmonies and relative justice. –Reinhold Niebuhr


If the parties and people we favor lose this bitterly contested election, we need to guard against despair and bitterness. If they win, we face a different challenge. We need to remember that their victory is not God’s victory.

We need to confront our leaders, even those whom we ourselves have voted for, lovingly and firmly when their words and actions seem to us to be destructive. This isn’t a sign of disloyalty to them. It is an expression of love, both for the people whom we mean to protect from the consequences of ill-conceived actions, and for the lawmakers themselves, who are human and fallible like the rest of us, and subject to pressures and temptations that most of us don’t have to deal with. The government may not like or reward faithful, persistent voices of dissent.  Nevertheless it needs them.

We need, also, to remember that the best government can produce nothing better that Niebuhr’s “tentative harmonies and relative justice”. No official program can respond adequately to the human needs for support and accountability, challenge and comfort, work, love and meaning. No law can force people to waste less of  the earth’s resources, to forgive their neighbors, or to tell the truth. The most important work for peace, for sustainability, for justice, for freedom, for neighbor-love, has to be carried on by individuals, families and communities. Much of the work of incarnating God’s Kingdom will always have to take place off the grid, outside the structures of economic and political power.

The work is endless.  The Talmud teaches, “Look ahead. You cannot finish the task. Neither are you permitted to lay it down.” If we try to carry that work out—whether in witness to the government or in day-to-day interactions with our neighbors—in our own strength, we can easily become exhausted and discouraged.  If we can remember that the work is not in our hands but in God’s, if we can do what is given to us each day and leave the result to Heaven, we may learn in time to find the yoke and burden light.

 

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