Columnists > Voices

Downsizing

Maybe Christians haven't been thinking small enough

Issue: "Summer Books 2004," July 3, 2004

I have suggested before in this space that we American Christians ought to learn to think smaller. I hope I am wise enough to reflect on my own advice.

Ever since the Tower of Babel, sinful people have preferred to think big. We have, to use the Psalmist's terminology, "exercised ourselves in matters too great for us." We may not literally have shaken our fist in God's face, and we would have been shocked if someone had referred to our ambitions as "rebellion." Yet if we were to examine our aspirations with brutal honesty, we'd be embarrassed how much of the Babel-like "Let us make a name for ourselves" pervades what we do.

Big, of course, isn't necessarily bad. In fact, it's probably a God-given trait in humans to want to set new records in bigness. Whether it's a Big Mac or a big SUV, whether the pyramids in Egypt or the Sears Tower in Chicago, whether the annual earnings of Microsoft or the number of sources that can be scanned by Google in just a single nanosecond-God made us to enjoy having our minds stretched with numbers and dimensions we can barely comprehend.

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But big all too easily becomes bad-and it can happen in at least two very opposite ways. Big is bad when it makes us forget what is even bigger. And big is bad when it makes us forget what is very small.

Babel prompted its big dreamers to forget about an even bigger God. Such is so easily the case for us as well. It is one of the reasons we at WORLD are skeptical about the United Nations and the whole idea of a one-world government. It's why we are cautious even about an overweening federal government, where largesse and control become too closely linked. When we have a government that pretends it can give us everything we need, it makes it just that much harder to sing with conviction, "Praise God, from whom all blessings flow."

But big government is hardly the only giant out there threatening to divert our attention from an even bigger God. Big corporations, big entertainment conglomerates, big universities-even good things like big families and big churches-all these can deflect and reroute our trust from God Himself as the source of everything we need. When that God commands us, "Don't have any other gods before Me," a good place to start checking is with those influences that have become the biggest in our lives. God wants to be bigger than any of them-and one definition of the secularizing of a culture is the extent to which that culture's people forget how big God is.

But big is bad also when it makes us forget what is very small. We forget that nations and communities and companies and churches and even families are all built one person at a time. So it's easier to march to Washington with a quarter million like-minded people than it is to sit down for an evening with a neighbor who disagrees with the issue that was central to our march. It's more dramatic to get caught up in mass evangelism than it is to speak personally about Jesus to someone in our neighborhood we've known for 15 years. It's easier to sign a national petition against homosexual marriage than it is to learn to love a spouse more genuinely.

We've all bought too easily into the lie that "big" automatically means "effective." In fact, "big" very often becomes just another word for "anonymous"-an anonymity that itself often leads to ineffectiveness. Getting swallowed up in a megachurch, for example, makes it all too easy to blend into the crowd where no one can hold you accountable for doing your part.

A recurring theme in the Bible is that it is the task of God's servants to be faithful in small things-and then to trust a wise Father to assemble all those little matters into the accomplishment of His global purpose.

In 1992, three presidential elections ago, I suggested here that we Christians try to live the 1990s "telling the truth, living chastely, paying our bills on time, living within our incomes, caring for the needy who are closest to us, worshipping faithfully. Little things, all of them. But if we really did them, instead of getting regularly sidetracked with impossible global visions, who knows what might happen? We might even take over the world!"

Well, we didn't-at least not during the '90s. Maybe we just weren't thinking small enough.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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