Condoleezza Rice wants us to look at the big picture in Iraq. "I know we’ve made tactical errors, thousands of them, I’m sure," the Secretary of State said. "But when you look back in history, what will be judged is did you make the right strategic decisions," she said. (See the BBC’s great coverage for more information).
In other words – we’ve screwed up the day-to-day stuff of this war, but the war itself was a good idea. Saddam Hussein is gone and Iraq is on the road to democracy and freedom. The big picture is going to look good, even though the little picture is quite ugly.
But life happens in the little pictures. People live and die in little pictures, even if the scope of history has a much wider angle. If all we look at is the big picture, we miss out on the stuff – both good and bad – of everyday life.
I think that many of us Lutherans approach faith in the same way. We look at the big picture and clearly see God at work – grace, love and salvation is given to us in Jesus Christ. We are assured of heaven and feel good about our Sunday attendance at worship. But I fear that we fail to appreciate the role of faith and God in the little pictures, in our daily life – at work, in our families, in our daily ambitions, wants, needs and desires. God handles the big stuff, the big picture, but we rarely let God into the small, daily, personal stuff that constitute the snap shots of our lives.
I was convicted of this as I prepared for tomorrow’s Sr. High Sunday School lesson, using material from the Here We Stand Confirmation ministry program. In a lesson on the second article of the Apostle’s Creed, the curriculum suggests that the leader:
Open the teaching time by relating a personal faith story about what Jesus has done in your life. The confession "Jesus is Lord" is the root of the Christian faith. That faith is best passed on from generation to generation by believers sharing with one another how Jesus has affected their lives.
After reading this, I didn’t have an immediate example of what Jesus has done in my personal life. Perhaps this teaching moment is draped in a piety not native to my East Coast brand of Lutheranism, but slinging arrows at piety gets me nowhere. This lesson points to a personal, lived experience of faith that I struggle to identify. I confess – my initial reflection on this topic tended more towards "seminary textbook" rather than "lived experience with the risen Christ." As I read this section of the lesson I immediately began thinking of the big picture stuff – salvation, new life, the freedom of a Christian. There’s nothing wrong with this big picture stuff, and certainly the gift of new life and freedom from sin is a powerful and personal gift. But I couldn’t clearly tell a personal story about what has Jesus done for my life. Should I have been able to point to a time and a place, a tangible experience in which Jesus’ gift of love, grace and salvation suddenly changed my day, my week, my life? If so, I couldn’t do it.
Well, this Jesus thing is not a single moment but a life movement, a comforting presence that has called me from despair to hope, from depression to drive, from the myopic little picture of my life to a broad big picture of God’s Kingdom. Jesus isn’t an occasional inspiration for good works or spiritual renewal, but rather Jesus is the reason I can strive for a life of meaning, purpose and calling.
And so we’re back to the Big Picture. But it’s not the low-resolution picture of Dr. Rice’s camera, a camera that captures a broad and blurred big picture that fails to tell the whole story. No. Jesus’ Big Picture – in which we are all included – is captured with the clarity and resolution of infinite megapixels. Zoom in and God’s picture has you in crystal clear focus, down to the hairs on your head. Zoom out, and the wide angle of humanity has caught God’s eye. It is this picture – simultaneously big and little, broad and narrow, focused squarely on me and squarely on the whole world – that we are called to see and called to be part of.
And so, what has Jesus done in my life? Jesus has given me a picture, a vision, of who I am and how I relate to the world and to God. This vision is one filled with hope amidst despair, life amidst death, healing amidst suffering. This vision is the Kingdom, already but not yet.