When looking at human society, it's not hard to observe that our behaviour is often influenced by how we we think others will perceive it. If no one cares about something, then we are more likely to feel it's acceptible to destroy it. To the contrary, in the Bible, we find that God cares about this world, and in particular cares about us as individuals.
1. Broken Windows
The March 1982 edition of the magazine “The Atlantic” carried a cover story by George Kelling and James Wilson entitled “Broken Windows”, that has gone on to shape views of community policing. It was based around claims of how human behaviour is affected by perceptions of the environment, and specifically perceptions of how other people feel about the community environment.
The concept of the title comes from the observation of derelict buildings over time,
: “Social psychologists and police officers tend to agree that if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken. This is as true in nice neighborhoods as in rundown ones.” Kelling Wilson, 1982
We may ask why this would be the case. If there weren't some feedback mechanism, one would expect a steady and even breakage rate over time as people randomly decided to commit some vandalism. It may be that the people who choose to break windows always want to break a lot of windows, and don't stop until they're all broken. But it appears this isn't generally what happens in practise. Instead, Kelling describes the accepted wisdom by “one unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing.” It's a speculation that vandals are more likely to do damage to property that they feel no-one cares about. Somehow, an abandoned building, or an abandoned car is a more likely target, than to damage one that someone apparently cares about.
Earlier, Philip Zimbardo, a psychologist from Stanford had tried an experiment where he left a car abandoned in Palo Alto. The car went untouched for a week, after which he applied some damage himself with a sledge-hammer. After that, vandals soon added to the damage, and within a day the car was upside-down and completely destroyed. He also tried leaving a car in the Bronx. After 10 minutes a young family came and removed the radiator and battery. Over the next 24 hours, parts of value were removed, and only after that the random destruction began.
This demonstrates that as a part of human nature, we're often more likely to damage and destroy things when we feel that no-one cares about what happens to them, or takes any interest in them. But then, what about our own life: is there someone to care about that?...
2. God's Israel
In Deuteronomy 12, the people of Israel were poised for their much-awaited entry into the “promised land”. Moses was preparing them for how they should view this occasion. In the preceeding chapters, he had recalled God's interaction with the people, in how God had empowered them, and what God had required of them. Then he laid down the principles that God required of them:
Deut 12:1: These are the statutes and the ordinances which you shall observe to do in the land which Yahweh, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess it, all the days that you live on the earth. 2. You shall surely destroy all the places in which the nations that you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains, and on the hills, and under every green tree: 3. and you shall break down their altars, and dash in pieces their pillars, and burn their Asherim with fire; and you shall cut down the engraved images of their gods; and you shall destroy their name out of that place. WEB
We may ask, “why this requirement of destruction?” and “what does it show about God?” Is God here the vandal wanting to destroy these places for fun because no-one cares about them? Quite clearly that's not the case. Instead, it's a very specific requirement from God about how the people were to live, and what environment they were to place themselves in.
If we stand back and look at the context, we might wonder at this passage. We've just been taken through the mighty wonders of the exodus and the wanderings in the wilderness: God delivering his people and bringing them up with a show of force against the surrounding nations. Then we reach a climax where God states how important it is for them to observe the statutes and ordinances. Then Chapter 12 reveals that the first of those statutes and ordinances relate to moving some pieces of stone around. At first glance, it doesn't seem to be touching the big issues in life and politics. However, what it does reveal is that God cares about the details in life. To God, it mattered what they did day to day, and what they did with their stones and wood.
When God brought the people into Israel, he could have given them a freedom, so that what they chose to do in the privacy of their own high places was up to them. He could have said to them to go and find themselves, and do what they want as long as it doesn't hurt other people. It could have been “You can do your thing, and I'll do mine.” But no, instead God had quite specific instructions for the people to follow, and was very much interested in what was going to happen in their everyday lives.
In other words, God cared about what the people were doing. This passage shows that what you do makes a difference to God.
To the owner of a building, it matters what happens to it, and it matters when a vandal breaks the windows. To God, it matters what happens to his people, and it matters when vandals destroy them. We know when someone cares about a building, because the owner takes an active interest in it, and maintains it. In turn, we take greater respect of that building, because we know that it matters to someone. We know when God cares about his people when he takes an active interest in their lives. In this case, God was clearly showing that active interest.
Deut 11:10: For the land, where you go in to possess it, isn't as the land of Egypt, from whence you came out, where you sowed your seed, and watered it with your foot, as a garden of herbs; 11. but the land, where you go over to possess it, is a land of hills and valleys, and drinks water of the rain of the sky, 12. a land which Yahweh your God cares for: the eyes of Yahweh your God are always on it, from the beginning of the year even to the end of the year. WEB
They were to be a people that God cared about, in a land that he cared over.
However, to God's people, the people of Israel, this care of God was something of a double-edged sword. Caring wasn't simply giving them the presents they wanted, it also involved giving them some medicine that didn't taste so good,
Deut 10:12: Now, Israel, what does Yahweh your God require of you, but to fear Yahweh your God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13. to keep the commandments of Yahweh, and his statutes, which I command you this day for your good? 14. Behold, to Yahweh your God belongs heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth, with all that is therein. 15. Only Yahweh had a delight in your fathers to love them, and he chose their seed after them, even you above all peoples, as at this day. WEB
Like a parent caring for a child, God's care extended into the realm of depriving the people of some of the things that they wanted to do at the time.
3. Freedom and Sin
The Jewish people were in a privileged position, in being God's special people who he cared about. But at times they may have preferred that he didn't take such an interest, and instead be indifferent, to let them be free to do what they wanted to do. At times they would have preferred that God didn't care about them.
According to the popular wisdom of the modern world, care and freedom are linked:
- If God didn't care about us, we would call it freedom.
- If we didn't care about God, he would call it sin.
If God didn't care about us, it wouldn't matter whether we cheated on our taxes, or violated copyright: we'd call it freedom. But then, if we didn't care about God, we'd be ignoring him, and making ourselves the ruler over our lives. Sin is the act of ignoring God and doing what we want to do ourselves. It's following our own lusts and making ourselves our god, rather than caring about the true God.
James 1:14: But each one is tempted, when he is drawn away by his own lust, and enticed. 15. Then the lust, when it has conceived, bears sin; and the sin, when it is full grown, brings forth death. WEB
Paul, in the letter to the Romans, demonstrates how our belief of God's lack of care is tied up with our lack of care about Him,
Romans 6:20: For when you were servants of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. WEB
Between us and God, there's a symmetry in terms of care, but not an equivalence. We could each make choices about caring, but ultimately one is the creature, and one is the creator.
Eccl 5:1: Guard your steps when you go to God's house; ... 2 Don't be rash with your mouth, and don't let your heart be hasty to utter anything before God; for God is in heaven, and you on earth. Therefore let your words be few. WEB
We can break ourselves like the broken windows of the lives of the people around us, but to God, that would be called sin.
4. God's Building
One might ask the question, what if God had a building? What would it look like? Would he abandon it? Would he care if someone broke its windows? Would we break its windows?
Psalm 8:3: When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, The moon and the stars, which you have ordained; 4. What is man, that you think of him? The son of man, that you care for him? WEB
Our world is God's building. It's a magnificent building, and incredibly complex in its detail. Indeed it overshadows humanity in its grandeur and scale. Surely God cares about his creation. It isn't an abandoned building
Luke 12:6: "Aren't five sparrows sold for two assaria coins? Not one of them is forgotten by God. WEB
Yet people treat the creation of God as a world that just exists by chance. A world without a creator who cares about its fate. An abandoned building, where there's no-one to care if windows are broken.
The physical environment around us isn't God's only building. We also read that his people form the temple of the living God.
2 Corinthians 6:14: Don't be unequally yoked with unbelievers, for what fellowship have righteousness and iniquity? Or what communion has light with darkness? 15. What agreement has Christ with Belial? Or what portion has a believer with an unbeliever? 16. What agreement has a temple of God with idols? For you are a temple of the living God. Even as God said, "I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they will be my people." 17. Therefore, "`Come out from among them, And be separate,' says the Lord, `Touch no unclean thing. I will receive you. 18. I will be to you a Father. You will be to me sons and daughters,' says the Lord Almighty." WEB
God's people are his temple, and God cares about that temple. While it may appear that our bodies are all ours, and that it doesn't matter if we break the windows of our body, that's a mistaken assumption. The things we do with our bodies indeed do make a difference with God.
The Temple of Believers
In Ephesians, another picture of a building of God is demonstrated. This time it's a household where the building is made up of his people.
Ephesians 2:12: that you were at that time separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off are made near in the blood of Christ. ... 19. So then you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God, 20. being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief cornerstone; 21. in whom the whole building, fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22. in whom you also are built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit. WEB
Similarly in Hebrews,
Heb 3:6: but Christ is faithful as a Son over his house; whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the glorying of our hope firm to the end. WEB
This raises the question of whether this house is cared about by its owner, or whether it's abandoned and ready for its windows to be broken. Are we bricks in an abandoned building, or a building where God is living?
5. Jesus Returns From Hell
If there was one time where God had the opportunity to abandon his building, it was at the crucifixion. Many years earlier than that, king David had spoken words that related to Jesus and that very issue of abandonment,
Acts 2:25: For David says concerning him, I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; 26. therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. 27. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. ESV
God had the opportunity here to abandon his whole building of Christ, and to leave it in hades (ie. tomb, place of the dead). But it was clear that he wouldn't do that, because he cared about that building, and wouldn't suffer it to be abandoned.
Acts 2:29: "Brothers, I may tell you freely of the patriarch David, that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30. Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, he would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, 31 he foreseeing this spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that neither was his soul left in Hades, nor did his flesh see decay. 32 This Jesus God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. WEB
That wasn't just the physical body of Jesus himself. That represented also all the people who identify with Jesus and come to be redeemed in him.
Romans 6:4: We were buried therefore with him through baptism to death, that just like Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life. 5. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will also be part of his resurrection; WEB
Sometimes the death of Jesus is just presented as a substitution. The idea goes that God was angry and just needed to kill someone for sin. Then, to save us, Jesus took the anger, died instead of us. This isn't the teaching of the Bible, and we know it isn't true because God's plan was that Jesus should rise from the dead, together with those “buried” with him. Jesus wasn't to be abandoned in the grave, and his believers weren't to be left disconnected from God.
Instead, we join to Jesus, to die together with him and live together with him. If we become part of God's building, Jesus' death is one we can share in, and with it, his life. In God's plan we were to abandon the buildings of our old lives of sin, and become part of that new building in Christ that would never be abandoned.
This new building in Christ is central to God's plan. What happens to it matters to him, from the minor details through to the issue of life itself,
Acts 2:22: "Men of Israel, hear these words! Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved by God to you by mighty works and wonders and signs which God did by him in the midst of you, ... 24. whom God raised up, having freed him from the agony of death, because it was not possible that he should be held by it. WEB
It wasn't possible for God to abandon his son. That's the very son that we can be part of.
From looking at the world around us, we may feel that God is indifferent to the things that we do on a day to day basis. We may feel that we have a private life that God isn't part of. A life where God doesn't mind what we do. However, the Biblical record is clear that God really does care about our lives. It's not just a case of caring that we be saved, but taking a genuine interest and involvement in our daily walk.
When we break the windows of our lives, we break the windows of God's house. He feels it. When we obey God, he is there to see it, and it makes a difference to him.