That question was implied in a devotional item I was reading, and it caused me to wonder how I would answer it. My first connection was an ecology illustration that I have mentioned before.

Ecology considers how forms of life relate to and interact with their environment. Their environment consists of the other organisms plus the physical aspects of the environment such as the amount of light, temperature, chemical composition of the background, and such. An ecosystem is a defined area or volume of land or water in which we wish to consider the organisms and how they relate to one another. For example, plants in an ecosystem are dependent on a certain amount of light being available as well as an appropriate supply of water and nutrients. The plants may very well serve as food for animals in that ecosystem. The chemical components of the plants and animals as they die are recycled back into the ecosystem. A well-functioning and balanced ecosystem is biology at its most fundamental and remarkable level.

By definition, an ecosystem has boundaries. Where one ecosystem ends, another begins. Thus, an ecosystem has a center and edges. The activities and properties of the organisms living more to the center may be different from those living on the edges.

The advantages for the center organisms include perhaps more protection from predators and a more reliable supply of needs. There is more life stability for the center organisms.

The organisms more on the edge sacrifice some security for growth opportunities. They may have less predator protection and a less reliable source of life needs, but there are options to grow. Although not assured, the edge organisms have the possibility, at least, of tapping into some previously unavailable food, water sources, and other enriching aspects of life. 

Followers of God have parallel situations with reference to their spiritual lives. There are those who choose to be at what they envision as the “center” of faith. There, spiritual life is more predictable, more reliable, steadier. This is a position that is generally familiar and non-threatening to them spiritually. They are taking advantage of their historical confidence in God’s provision of their needs.

But, like a biological ecosystem, life in the spiritual center offers some restrictions. Believers more on the edge of their faith are in positions to sample and test opportunities for further growth. They may be more willing to read and consider other expressions of faith that are not just interesting, but also deepening. They may be drawn to see God in important new ways.

I suspect each of us individually oscillates between these center and edge positions and, I believe, each is a position that is important to God. Certainly, we understand that God is one who is steadfast in love for each of us. Believers in His grace trust that He can work all things out for good. We live and move in God’s love as illustrated by Him becoming human and then sending His Spirit. Foundational Christianity is full of “center” beliefs that hold us steady.

On the other hand, God’s love is designed to be spread. Both at the individual level and the collective level, believers are compelled to spread the good news of God’s concern and care. We are not simply a repository of God’s grace; we are distributors of it. The spreading of God’s love occurs, of course, within the center. Nevertheless, it must also occur out of the edge.

However, the edge has some dangers. There is not so much protection out there. We are not sure about the level of resources. Those people out there are not necessarily like those in the center where we are more familiar. It may be more of an adventure than we want. As in the biology example, however, it is on the edge where opportunities for growth exist.

My devotional question pushed me to wonder whether I am spending appropriate amounts of time in the center as a watchman or on the edge as an adventurer. One could ask the same question about the congregation you or I attend. What is the best distribution of these two positions since, it appears, God blesses and values both?

Are my decisions (and those of my congregation) serving as tools for spreading God’s love? Is my budget (and that of my congregation) serving to draw people toward God? In what ways do I (and my congregation) function in terms of inclusion for all? In what ways do I (and my congregation) use my physical resources in aiding the needs of others rather than myself?

Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current medical chaplain  


One comment

  • Nancy Patrick

    A very interesting article, Jim. I’m sure you have also seen the reports about how the natural environment (plants, animals, atmosphere) has flourished during the quarantine. I have felt guilty as a human pollutant to the environment!!


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