by Ian Lutze
It was a privilege to be part of the LCA’s One Loving God project team, which worked to update and expand the resources for people in our church who provide care across a wide variety of settings.
One of the results of this practical theological project – the 16-page God’s Love – Our Care booklet – is beautifully produced, with many heartwarming, and sometimes heartwrenching, photos of care in action.
It can be used for personal study or in groups, with Bible texts and thought-provoking questions to explore. There is also a ‘Digging Deeper’ section with more questions to ponder, other things to think about, and further reading to consider.
It’s a gem of a document. But does it say anything new? Isn’t caring for people a simple, responsive and intuitive thing for Christians to do? What more is there to talk about?
The document will indeed sound very familiar to Lutherans reading it, with its references to God’s love which inspires care for the needy, the focus on God’s saving action in Christ being the church’s primary interest, and connections to the gospel through word and sacrament.
But a practical theological project does not simply repeat the past. It seeks to restate our thinking about God in the light of real life in the world, where tough questions are encountered, and the challenge to proclaim the gospel clearly is always changing.
I work in aged care, an arena of dynamic change. Aged-care centres are required by law to provide non-discriminatory care to people according to standards set by the government, albeit with input from the peak bodies from the sector itself. Such standards include accepting, honouring and not trying to change the spirituality of any resident in our care. It is about treating people with due dignity.
This seems to present a problem, though, for mission-minded Lutherans, whose DNA is to proclaim Christ wherever we go.
Over against this thinking is our daily experience of living in a multi-cultural and multi-faith world, growing food for ‘the just and the unjust’, and developing our own life-giving connections to people, home, family, creation, art and culture, and to great causes. Our own ‘spirituality’ is more than our relationship with Christ. We still have a stake in a world we try to make as ‘good’ as it can be.
And more and more we belong to complex families in which our loved ones have a variety of spiritual expressions, too.
God’s Love – Our Care addresses this reality by talking about God having ‘two hands’ – one hand (the left hand) to care for and sustain people in this world, and the other (the right hand) to bring people into the kingdom of God, the new eternal reality created through the gospel.
The document suggests that God’s two hands work more in harmony with each other than perhaps thought in the past. So everything in the way God created people is ‘very good’, even people’s spirituality, their way of making sense of the world, their place in it and their connections. So we can celebrate a non-Christian’s healthy religious practice, as part of the way God created them, while also hoping and praying that God’s kingdom will come to this person, too – God’s right hand at work. Working with this way of seeing things is the art of spiritual care: we accept, and we hope, at the same time.
So, as Christians, it is entirely consistent for us to meet the many needs of any person who comes into our orbit, with grace, love and skill, without devaluing the person because they are not yet a Christian.
The concept of God’s two hands, of course, is, with different language, as old as the Reformation. I love it because it is a way to advance our mission in this world by being honest to God as he really is.
It allows me to get alongside a lady who has never been a Christian, to hear her real needs, and to respond, together with my organisation, according to my specialty.
She comes to church, occasionally, ‘just for you’, as she puts it. Will she ever be a Christian? Who knows? But she is hearing about a God who cares for her very much. Where that goes is God’s business.
Grace means unconditional acceptance, being generous enough to help connect a Hindu to his religious roots rather than place a Christian tract in his hands. Are we able to do this?
Despite being mandated to unconditionally accept people’s faith as it is, to do so also reflects the generous heart of a God with two hands, who will get his work done in the world and will sometimes use us.
I pray that God’s Love – Our Care will confirm the sense in your heart of what good care looks like. May it challenge and nurture your own spirit as you care in God’s name.
Pastor Ian Lutze is Aged-Care Pastor/Chaplain at Tanunda Lutheran Home in South Australia’s Barossa Valley and a member of the LCA’s One Loving God project team.
Interested groups and individuals can download and print from an electronic version of God’s Love – Our Care here or request a printed copy by emailing the LCA/NZ’s Committee for Ministry with the Ageing.