“Oh, I don’t think anyone would try to hurt you,” he said, glancing back at us through the rear-view mirror, “I mean, you’re missionaries; what harm are you?”
We were riding in the back seat of the taxi, chatting with the driver. Several things rushed through my mind, like a mental reflexive kick. Within context, this comment made perfect sense, and was a compliment. Chileans in general have a fairly benign (even glorified) view of missionaries. Some of their national heroes were missionary priests who cared for the people and stood up to persecution and repression on behalf of those they protected. Us not-so-famous and not-quite-so-social missionaries get to bask in a little bit of this generous lighting. Besides some robberies, we’ll be left in peace, because we’re “religious” and even the toughest, meanest dude won’t touch a man or woman of God. Superstitions play to our advantage in this case. We’re here to help, not to harm. We are . . . harmless.
My second reactionary thought was, “Holy cow, we’re like the description of Earth in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” And I realized that I didn’t really like that. Not one bit.
You see, it’s one thing to “do no harm,” to choose to avoid bringing physical or emotional injury to someone else. It’s another thing to be “harmless.” Because harmless doesn’t just mean I won’t cause you injury; it implies that I won’t cause anything negative in you at all. And, frankly, that is the last thing I want.
Why on Earth would I want to provoke a negative reaction in someone else? Because Jesus did. Because God does. I cannot live my life inoffensively.
God is not harmless or inoffensive. God is powerful and loving and just. He is magnificent and glorious. He is merciful, graceful, and perfect. He is many things, but He is NOT harmless. He has the power to create the universe, to spin worlds as if they were tops, to make things exist with a Word, to breathe LIFE into the lifeless, to heal bodies and broken hearts and shattered souls. He has the absolute authority and every right to punish us. He has the absolute love to save us. He has the power to undo everything He ever made, turn it to dust, and start anew. And He IS NOT harmless. God is a perfect being who despises sin. He demands devotion, and humility, and allegiance. He requires us to do as our Master the Christ did– to work until we’re tired, to love until we weep, to live righteously until we die. He expects love because He loved first, justice because He is just, sacrifice because He sacrificed. He gives and He takes, He destroys and makes, He moves and shakes. He does many things, but HE IS NOT HARMLESS.
A harmless god changes nothing in you. A harmless god requires nothing, demands nothing, gives nothing. A harmless god is a god you can ignore 90% of the time, and call in for special occasions. He is a god you can pretend to believe in, and live however the hell you want to live, because what’s he going to do about it? You don’t really hate a harmless god, but you don’t really love him, either. He is a god made in your image, a shattered reflection of an ever-changing humanity.
But God, He’s not harmless. And you better be scared. You better tremble all the way down to your toes, because this God. THIS GOD . . . He’s not the kind that fits into anyone’s mold. He’s a good God, but He’s not harmless. Satan fears Him, sin burns in His presence, and darkness flees. And when these things live in your life, God will be offensive to you. You can stand against Him and hate Him, or you can come to Him and be changed. You can loathe Him for His unwavering justice or you can love him for his unwavering grace. You can live in darkness and keep your sins, or you can live in the Light and be clean.
Following God is dangerous. He changes you. Deeply. You love differently, think differently, see things differently. You might face hatred (because, you know, God is offensive) and persecution and ridicule. You might face the difficulties of poverty, or the numbing comforts of middle class, or the wild temptations of riches . . . but you won’t care because it’s all worthless in the end. You might be moved to leave your comforts and go somewhere else for the sake of a mission. You might be needed right where you are. No matter what happens, you will change. And you will be asked to make a difference. You will be asked to shine. You will be asked to be noticed. You are the salt of the Earth, the city on a hill, the light on a table. You make an impact to somebody, somewhere. You DO SOMETHING.
Because we, like the God we serve, are not harmless. World, beware. You may not like us much, but we’re here to help. We’re here to make a difference. We’re here to give you message you may not really enjoy. We are here to be noticed.