In the evangelical circles where I once circulated, this one verse served as their singular mission statement. Lift God up so that everyone will be saved. Of course, they didn’t believe in universal salvation. I mean, what would we do with an empty hell? List it in the real estate section on Craigslist?
No, my contemporaries in the church didn’t believe that we could lead every soul to Christ, they just believed that we should try. And the Christ-given formula was simple.
Lift God up from the Earth.
But what does that mean, exactly? What did Jesus mean when and if he said these words? The footnote in Today’s New International Version, © 2005, says that lifted up means “exalted.” Well, there’s a favorite catchphrase in evangelical Christianity, “Exalt the Lord!” I used to sing that chorus in church. So was that the secret formula? Go public with my praise and lift God up with my voice? Would that “draw all people” to God? Some of my contemporaries thought so.
There was another sample in my circle who believed it meant that and more. They believed that Jesus was giving them the charge to wear their Christianity on their sleeve. You’ve seen them on street corners, in the public square, toting signs, holding political rallies, etc. They believed that the more public with your faith, the better. How else would God be lifted up? In my personal experience, these kinds of displays only served the opposite purpose of turning people off to the message of redemption. It may sound like a harsh criticism, but I’m only pointing the finger at myself. I lived this way for awhile in my younger adult years.
Now that I’ve been fully detoxed from years of “churchification,” I feel that I have a better perspective. I still believe that faith should be lived out publicly, but not in any of the ways I’ve described heretofore.
I sincerely believe that Jesus was promoting a better way to live that had nothing to do with church services, praise choruses or political rallies. He just went about daily life doing what he does, helping others. He usually didn’t make a big spectacle of it, though some of his ministry did become a spectacle, of sorts. In fact, after some of his great miracles, he actually requested discreetness. Jesus wasn’t about drawing attention to himself. He was about helping people live better lives.
I do not see how forcing one’s religion or personal beliefs down someone else’s throat serves that same purpose. It draws no one closer to God. Likewise, I don’t see how public displays—whether at outdoor church services or pro-life marches—exalt the Almighty and draw people in.
I think it is simple, random acts of love and kindness that go the furthest to accomplish the mission of John 12:32. The little things we do to help others that make life better in small increments are, in my opinion, what lifts up the ideal of Christ and knowingly or unknowingly draw them toward that ideal.
Consider that as you enjoy Easter Sunday and determine to make the world a better place one random act at a time. Peace be with you.