There’s a lot of good stuff in N.T. Wright’s short book For All God’s Worth: True Worship and the Calling of the Church. Wright begins by offering a series of reflections on “the God who is worthy of praise,” before considering what it means to “[reflect] God’s image in the world.” In that second section he gets around to addressing the question, in light of God’s glory and love, how are we to respond? What is our calling as the people of God? His answer is profound:
We are called, simply, to hold on to Christ and his cross with one hand, with all our might; and to hold on to those we are given to love with the other hand, with all our might, with courage, humour, self-abandonment, creativity, flair, tears, silence, sympathy, gentleness, flexibility, Christlikeness. When we find their tears becoming our own, we may know that healing has begun to happen; when they find Christ in being held on to by us, whether we realize it or not, we are proving the truth of what Paul said: God made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, so that in him we might embody the saving faithfulness of God.
He goes on to say that there are three “varieties” or “levels” to this calling. The first level applies to us all, as a sort of least common denominator — “and such insight as we gain from that will help those who aren’t called to the second and third to pray intelligently, at least, for those who are.” Here then, are Wright’s three levels of Christian calling.
- Each of us individually and all of us corporately are called “to hold on to Christ firmly with one hand and to hold on to those around with the other, in prayer, discussion, generosity, gratitude, teaching or learning, caring or being cared for” — all of which God uses for the healing of ourselves and others. “Whatever skills God has given you,” he writes, “be prepared to use them as instruments of the gospel.”
- Following on the first variety, some are called “to be all this for the church,” specifically (but not exclusively) through ordained ministry. “Ordination isn’t the be-all and end-all of Christian ministry,” he writes, “but the church desperately needs ordained clergy, needs them now more than ever.” Such ministry requires a willingness “to share and feel the agony of the church’s follies and failings, and to know the power of Christ to restore and heal the church and set her feet back on the right path. That is a vocation not to be lightly dismissed.”
- Finally, “especially at times of crisis,” Wright suggests we ought to pray that God would call “people to do for the world, for society as a whole and in its various parts” what clergy do for the church — that is, to serve in a very real sense as healers. “We must pray that God will raise up a new generation of strong weaklings; of wise fools; of wounded healers; so that the healing love of Christ may flow out into the world, to confront violence and injustice with the rebuke of the cross, and to comfort the injured and wronged with the consolation of the cross.”
In a passage reminiscent of Henri Nouwen’s The Wounded Healer, Wright elaborates:
We don’t need people to yell at these situations or to bully them. We don’t need people to back off and pretend it’s somebody else’s problem. We need Christian people to work as healers: as healing judges and prison staff, as healing teachers and administrators, as healing shopkeepers and bankers, as healing musicians and artists, as healing writers and scientists, as healing diplomats and politicians. We need people who will hold on to Christ firmly with one hand and reach out the other, with wit and skill and cheerfulness, with compassion and sorrow and tenderness, to the places where our world is in pain. We need people who will use all their god-given skills, as Paul used his, to analyse where things have gone wrong, to come to the place of pain, and to hold over the wound the only medicine which will really heal, which is the love of Christ made incarnate once more, the strange love of God turned into your flesh and mine, your smile and mine, your tears and mine, your patient analysis and mine, your frustration and mine, your joy and mine.
I hope you can find your own calling as a wounded healer somewhere in there. I think I can identify mine, and I’m grateful for the chance to be used by God, in my own faltering ways, for the healing of the world.
Header photo via duke.edu