Colossians 1:27b - "... Christ in you, the hope of glory."
This devotion pairs with this weekend's Lutheran Hour sermon, which can be found at lutheranhour.org.
In North China, 1943, behind an electric fence in a prison camp with a thousand other inmates, Langdon Gilkey lost his faith in humanity. He had been working as a teacher when Imperial Japan invaded, marking the beginning of World War II on the Asian continent. The Japanese military rounded up all the foreign nationals in China—missionaries and teachers, doctors and nurses, business executives and barflies—and confined them in internment camps for the duration of the war. Gilkey kept a journal while imprisoned and later he wrote the book, Shantung Compound, based on his experience. The book opens with a quote which captures his disillusionment. It says, "Even saintly folk will act like sinners unless they have their customary dinners."
Gilkey once believed that human beings were essentially good and human society would only get better. But life in the compound freed him of that idea. People could act kindly enough on a dinner date or in a country club, well-fed and warm. But take away just a few of these comforts, and the truth is revealed. "People—and I knew I could not exclude myself," Gilkey concluded, "seemed to be much less rational and much more selfish than I had ever guessed, not at all the 'nice folk' I had always thought them to be." And yet, he still marveled at how well the camp functioned, nonetheless. For all their moral failings, the inmates managed to organize themselves into a working society. They stoked fires, served meals, and devised clever technical solutions to all manner of unwieldy practical problems. On a practical level, nothing seemed to be too much for their collective ingenuity.
Gilkey was rediscovering a paradox of human nature. The Bible describes our human situation as hopelessly hopeful. God, even when looking on a human race steeped in sin, with "every intention" of their hearts being "only evil all the time" (see Genesis 6:5), God Himself could still remark on human ingenuity, saying that if these humans could communicate clearly with one another, "nothing they propose" would be "impossible for them" (Genesis 11:6b). So, God scattered our forebears and confused our language because we are ingeniously effective. We are this way because God made us this way (effective not sinful—we walked into sin on our own). And even now, you cannot deny human giftedness. We are great at solving practical problems, but lousy at solving our ultimate problem—hopeless, really.
We cannot deny human giftedness, but we also cannot ignore human need. God created us to be in relationship with Him. We are dependent on God. Like a newborn baby needs a loving mother and father, we need God. And our ultimate problem is that we've been confined in this lie that we don't. Because we can't troubleshoot ourselves out of this problem, God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to set us free. By His death and His resurrection, He showed us our need and our ultimate value to God. And now, by His Spirit in us, He redeems our giftedness and guarantees our hopefulness, which is Christ in us—our greatest gift and our only glory.
WE PRAY: Jesus, use my giftedness for the good of others so that they may see You more clearly. Amen.
This Daily Devotion was written by Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Speaker of The Lutheran Hour.
1. When have you been amazed at human ability to solve practical problems?
2. How have you seen human ingenuity lead away from God?
3. How is Jesus redeeming not just your soul, but also your giftedness? To learn more, explore this free, online gift inventory from Lutheran Hour Ministries: everygift.org.
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