Do you feel the world is broken?
Do you feel the shadows deepen?
Do you wish that you could see it all made new?
Andrew Peterson begins his timelessly prescient 2018 song, “Is He Worthy?” by asking and answering those questions. It does not take a theologian or philosopher to understand the truth captured in these words. We all feel the brokenness and shadows just as we all long for renewal.
These broken shadows loom large in each of our lives, threatening to overwhelm and undermine. In what feels like a minute-by-minute attack, images of death, injustice, and despair bombard us. To see the world as it truly is, is to come face-to-face with our own failings, our own sins, and our own helplessness to do anything about it. The world is broken, the shadows deep, and though we want to see it all made new, we do not know where or how to start.
Unworthy and unable
Have you found yourself examining all the suffering in the world and feeling entirely unworthy and unable to make a difference? Do you look upon the “enemy”, the twisted and broken darkness that seems to envelop the world, and cry out like King Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20:12, “Our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do,”? Or in the words of King Théoden in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Two Towers” as he gazes upon an army of 10,000 Uruk Hai, “What can men do against such reckless hate?”
The broken shadows take many shapes and visages. We see them everywhere. There is the broken shadow of racial injustice. Or, the shadow of child trafficking. Perhaps you have encountered the broken shadows of abortion, or extreme poverty and disease, or even the shadow of religious persecution no matter the creed or faith. We cannot help but see these things and feel their power and pervasiveness.
Compounding this, we are constantly surround by voices, some well-intentioned and some not, telling us how to care, when to care, how to speak, how to listen, and how to act or not act depending on the circumstances. It is too much. It is too big and too loud.
The world with all its pain and sorrow is too big.
In the 2013 Superman movie, Man of Steel, we are given a glimpse into how Clark Kent’s developing powers affected him. It makes for a profound analogy for how many believers feel today. Clark is at school and, for the first time, his vision and hearing powers begin to manifest themselves. It is overwhelming. He hears everything, every sound in the school and even sounds from far away. His vision goes haywire as sees through objects and even people. The people around him take on a ghastly form as he sees through their skin into their musculoskeletal and neurological systems. He flees the classroom and locks himself in the janitor’s closet in a vain attempt to block out the noise.
The school calls his mother, Martha Kent, to come and assist in de-escalating the situation. When she arrives, Clark is huddled in the closet, eyes closed, and hands over his ears. When Martha asks Clark how she can help, he cries out, “The world is too big, mom!” With no hesitation, Martha gives him two pieces of advice, which we will deal with separately. First, she tells him, “Then make it small.”
“Make it small.”
How desperately are those words needed today? The world is much too big and too broken for us to fix. So big and broken in fact, we are utterly helpless in the face of such reckless hate. Our helplessness leads to hopelessness, which leads to paralysis. What do we do when the many broken shadows of the world immobilize us in our impotence and fear? We make it small. We focus on those things we can affect, the places where God has planted us to labor and grow.
Dealing with specific ways to help fight back the broken shadows would be impossible. Every area of influence will be unique. We each have personal connections to brokenness. Do the hard work of healing in those areas. The manner of working towards healing could be as simple as listening. As fellow Rambling Ever On contributor, Gowdy Cannon put it:
Few things communicate genuine love like listening to a person. And a most sacrificial form of this can be when we listen and observe and try to learn from people who dress differently than us, act differently than us and think differently than us. My brand of cultural Christianity often thinks you have to have answers and that revealing ignorance is shameful. But exposure to other cultures teaches me that there is so much I don’t know–about God, about people, about the world.Gowdy Cannon – Racial Reconciliation, Biblically and Practically
God did not call us to redeem the world. To think we can is the pinnacle of pride and folly. Even so, this is not a call to throw our hands in the air in resignation simply because the world is too big and too broken. Not at all. Our divine mandate is nothing less than to bring light to the world by preaching the Gospel and proclaiming the Kingdom of God. In whatever way God leads, we must do our best to follow.
Yet, we must constantly remind ourselves that this battle belongs to the Lord, not us. The victory is His and His alone. We serve at His good pleasure, and more often than not, that means serving in our families, our workplaces, our churches, and our neighborhoods. Do not allow the overwhelming onslaught of broken shadows to distract you from the eternally significant, Kingdom work that waits for you in your home and just outside your door.
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
Martha Kent’s second piece of advice is even more important than the first. She tells Clark to, “Focus on my voice.” As important as it is for Clark to focus on his mother’s voice, how much more important is it for us to focus on God’s voice? The voice of God permeates Scripture with words of exhortation, challenge, promise, and assurance. There are far too many to list them all. Additionally, each verse has the power to speak to each of us in our point of need.
It feels prudent and advisable to step aside and ask God to speak for Himself. Below is a collection of the words of God, His voice. When the world gets too big, too dark, and too broken, remember to make it small and to focus on voice that heals the lame, gives sight to the blind, calms the storm, and breathes life into the lifeless.
For those who do not know where to begin:
Matthew 6:33 – But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness…
To those who are exhausted and weak:
Isaiah 40:29 – He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
Matthew 11:28 – Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
For those paralyzed with fear and doubt:
Isaiah 41:10 – So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
For those who do not know how to help:
James 1:5 – If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
Proverbs 3:5 – Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
To those who feel alone on the front lines of the fight:
Deuteronomy 31:8 – The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
For those who are oppressed and broken in spirit:
Psalm 9:9-10 – The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. 10 Those who know your name trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you.
Psalm 34:18 – The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.
And finally, for those who do not know how to pray, Jesus gives us the words to say in Matthew 6:9-13:
This, then, is how you should pray. “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”
All the dark won’t stop the light from getting through…
Perhaps you noticed that at the beginning of this article, one line from the opening verse of “Is He Worthy?” was left out. After Andrew Peterson asks his questions about the brokenness and shadows of the world, he poses and answers this question, “But do you know that all the dark won’t stop the light from getting through?” I’m reminded of the section of my favorite book, “The Lord of the Rings”, where Hobbits Frodo and Sam are traveling through the land of Mordor, and I have very little doubt Peterson had this scene in mind when he wrote those words.
They have been on their own, carrying the enemy’s greatest weapon to its destruction. The land they are in is desolate, dark, and overwhelmingly harsh. It is the literal embodiment of brokenness and shadow. Frodo and Sam stop to rest, and while Frodo sleeps fitfully, Sam spots a star up in the sky, peeking out from the clouds. It is a very rare occurrence as the clouds, smoke, and general murk that covers Mordor are ever-present. Sam’s reaction to the light is beautiful and profound, “The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach.”
The world is too big. Our God is bigger. The darkness is too strong. Our God is stronger. The brokenness is too far gone. Our God is the Great Physician. These broken shadows are only a “small and passing thing” when compared to the Light of the World. Make your world smaller, grow and flourish where you are planted, and always focus on His voice. He will never leave or forsake you.