“I want what breaks God’s heart
to break my heart.” You may have heard this well-intentioned cliché in your church community. It’s a sincere way of expressing a desire to be more like Christ, and that should be affirmed. But have you ever wondered, “What doesn’t break God’s heart?” Is there a degree of pain, suffering, or injustice that doesn’t rise to our Lord’s attention? Are there broken things in this world over which the Creator does not grieve? When we say certain things “break God’s heart” we’re implying there is also a category of things beyond his concern. That doesn’t sound like the one Jesus said counts every hair on our head and notices every sparrow that falls to the ground (Matt. 10:29–30).
Still, the instinct to prioritize certain people, things, and activities over others is a part of every religion. It’s a way of ordering the world into what matters and what does not, and then validating those who focus on the “right” things. It’s why so many churches, whether explicitly or implicitly, function with a bifurcated and dis-integrated vision of the world. Most religious communities instinctually label certain things as “sacred” and therefore within the scope of God’s concern, and a far larger group of things as “secular,” which exist beyond God’s care if not His sight. Sadly, this tendency has severely reduced our understanding of what Jesus accomplished on the cross, the scope of His redemption, and the breadth of the mission He’s given to His church.
The New Testament repeatedly emphasizes the cosmic scale of Jesus’ sacrifice.
Paul said through the cross, God has “reconciled to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven” (Col. 1:20, emphasis added). And in his most extensive articulation of the gospel (found in 1 Corinthians 15), Paul reiterates Jesus’ intent to rule over “all things” no less than eight times! The cosmic scope of Paul’s gospel fits with the Jewish vision of God he inherited from the Hebrew Scriptures that declare, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). The next verse does not say God then retired into full-time ministry.
And yet, that is how many churches function. We assume that God cares about redeeming souls but not bodies. We think He wants a thriving church but cares nothing about a flourishing school. We believe God wants the gospel preached but is indifferent about whether a hospital is built. When the church narrowly defines “what breaks God’s heart,” it ends up producing narrow disciples who do not recognize the reign of Christ over every part of their lives and every atom of creation.
This error, according to Ed Stetzer, was on display on January 6, 2021, when thousands of rioters—many displaying Christian symbols—violently attacked the US Capitol. Writing about American evangelicalism’s complicity in what unfolded, Stetzer, an evangelical pastor himself, said: “Committed to reaching the world, the evangelical movement has emphasized the evangelistic and pietistic elements of the mission. However, it has failed to connect this mission to justice and politics. The result of this discipleship failure has led us to a place where not only our people, but many of our leaders, were easily fooled and co-opted by a movement that ended with the storming of the U. S. capitol.”1
In other words, the problem is not that the church failed to accomplish its mission, but that it too narrowly defined its mission. When huge parts of our lives and world are seen as beyond Christ’s concern, we shouldn’t be surprised to discover false gods defiling those domains.
1 Ed Stetzer, “Evangelicals Face a Reckoning: Donald Trump and the Future of Our Faith,” USA Today, January 10, 2021, https://www.usatoday.com