God took a huge risk when He chose to use people to communicate Himself to others.
Have you ever been around a person for a while and then left their presence saying to yourself or to someone else, “Now that’s a godly person. It feels good being around them!” Or have you had an emergency of some kind and someone unexpectedly showed up and helped you and you said, “You’re an angel! God must have sent you!” Or perhaps you’ve had a “toxic” encounter with someone who claims to be a follower of God and you’ve gone away saying, “If that’s the way God is, forget it!”
It’s interesting how we at times conclude that God in some way has used people to connect with us or be helpful to us. In fact, that is a primary paradigm suggested in the Christian Scriptures. Here’s one of them: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it!” (Heb. 13:2, NASB). There could be several implications in this perspective. One, the “strangers” being served and helped are to be viewed as God’s messengers. We are to see others as God in the flesh, which highlights the significance of compassion and service to people in general. Each person has infinite significance and importance. Two, God sends angelic messengers clothed in human form to give us opportunity to show compassion and unselfish service, a kind of human laboratory to grow our love in practical and tangible ways.
Jesus echoed this paradigm and raises the stakes even higher: “ ‘Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” The King will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” ’ ” (Matt. 25:34-40, NIV).
Jesus is saying in no uncertain terms that caring for those in need is the same as caring for Him, that He shows up in the form of hurting, broken humanity as an opportunity for people to live out compassion and service. God does indeed use people to reveal Himself.
The story is told of Saul, one of the feared persecutors of the early followers of Jesus (Acts 9:1-9). He was on his way to arrest a group when suddenly a bright light, brighter than the noonday sun, struck him and knocked him off his horse, blinding him. He heard a voice, which said, “Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He had no idea who the voice was until it identified itself as belonging to Jesus. Saul immediately saw the point: his persecuting of these people was in fact a persecution of Jesus Himself. He was instructed to go into the closest city and wait there for someone to come help him.
In the meantime, God spoke to one of the sincere believers, a man named Ananias, telling him to go the house where Saul was staying and pray for him that he might be healed of his blindness. So he went, found Saul, and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And instantly, Saul regained his sight. He later became one of the most passionate and successful missionaries of the early Christian church.
Apparently, God has been in the habit of using people to reveal Himself to others. When God wants something done, He often uses people to do it, people who in the name of God and under the direction of God accomplish things for God. Moses, the great Israelite leader, under God’s direction, frees the Jews from slavery in Egypt and leads them to the land of freedom and opportunity. Mother Teresa responds to a call from God to give herself unselfishly to the broken and dying humanity on the streets of Calcutta so that when they die they may die knowing that someone loves them.
But God also took a huge risk when He chose to use people to reveal Himself to others. Think of all the horrible, destructive things people have done in the name of God through the centuries—the Crusades, which slaughtered millions of Muslims, the Inquisition, which persecuted millions who didn’t believe exactly the way they were commanded to, the Holocaust, which exterminated millions of Jews, and the murdering of thousands today by terrorists of all kinds who do it in the name of God. Think of the judgmental attitude and ostracism and marginalization and abuse religious people have perpetrated against those who believe or act or choose differently than they do. Obviously, God being able to communicate clearly through broken people has its limitations. “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?
And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also” (1 John 4:20, 21, NKJV).
There is too often a major disconnect between what people say and what they end up doing. That is the inherent limitation that God faces in using people to reveal Himself to others. Either their views are simply distorted and their behavior reflects that distortion, or they don’t live in alignment with what they do believe. And even though God ends up on the short end of the stick, He continues to use people to reveal Himself. Given these current conditions of broken humanity and misguided revelations of God, there must be more effective ways for God to reveal Himself to people. How else has He chosen to communicate?*