CMDA's The Point

Standing in the Gap

May 9, 2022
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by Danielle Ellis, MD, MTS

“I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one” (Ezekiel 22:30, NIV).

The phrase “standing in the gap” is often tossed around in Christian circles and, at least anecdotally, extended as an invitation to that gathered body of believers. Would one of us step up and answer God’s call to stand with Him for truth and grace and against sin? In the contexts I’ve encountered these words—calls to missions, to advocacy efforts or to local service—that which we are purporting to stand in the gap against was external to us. That is, we stand in the gap against false teachings, against complacency, against a world where people continue to live in darkness.

Those are all admirable (and important) things to stand against. But what strikes me about this passage from Ezekiel, particularly in this cultural moment as the seeds of division continue to sprout in our nation, within communities and, most despairingly, within the church, is that God was looking for someone to stand in defense at the proverbially compromised wall enclosing His own people. Deeply disappointed by the persistent sins of the Israelites, He sought an intercessor who might guard God’s own people from God’s wrath. And, finding no one, He indeed poured out His wrath over the city of Jerusalem.

In a world after Christ’s death and resurrection, our understanding of God’s wrath is certainly different, transformed in many ways by God’s ultimate sacrifice on our behalf. But nonetheless, I find it important to not let the truth of God’s grace have us miss that the gap He called someone to stand in was inwardly facing. In the last few weeks alone, policy about LGBTQ+ rights, abortion and mask mandates have become sociopolitical foci, engendering celebration in some parties and readiness to fight for change in others. The church has been no exception. Since the leak of the draft of the U.S. Supreme Court’s position that will likely overturn Roe v. Wade, some Christians have lauded the victory, while others have lamented the news. In both camps, above all the anticipation of these policies has solidified a commitment to the pursuit of that which is good—whatever each understands that to mean.

As believers, we are called to inhabit and engage Babylon, even though we recognize our true citizenship is in the New Jerusalem. And yet, all too often we find ourselves as entrenched in Babylonian party lines as our neighbors, whose entire identities lie in their nationalities or socioeconomic strata or political parties. In that sense, we are called to live differently, and we are called to pursue goodness only insofar as it is the kind of goodness Jesus Himself pursued.

And so, although it is our duty as inhabitants of Babylon to engage and advocate for policies that bear goodness as a Godly fruit of the spirit, it is also our duty to do so in a way that does not negate our most prime commandments as followers of Christ: loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39). That is, our pursuit of good policies ought never come at the expense of our love of God’s people, both within the body and outside of it.

We can and should come to different convictions about how to love and serve the least of these, but it will be difficult to be seen internally and from the outside as one body if we come to different convictions about whether it is a priority to love and serve them. We can and should charitably disagree with our brothers and sisters in Christ about any number of policies, but we should agree that the life and way of Jesus assures us that personhood precedes policy every time.

I write this not because the church is in the same danger as the city upon which God’s wrath was poured, but because we have an opportunity in this time—when the policies of the day might entice us to even greater disunity than has already marked our recent past—to look inwardly at the sin of division, one which will, if left unaddressed, be the hole in our wall of defense that leads to our demise, and stand against it. We have an opportunity to choose our words wisely, ensuring they are grounded in truth and in pursuit of goodness, while also granting grace and spoken in love to God’s people. We have an opportunity to, looking inwardly at ourselves, answer God’s call today to stand in the gap.

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About Danielle Ellis, MD, MTS

Danielle Ellis, MD, MTS, is a general surgery resident at the Massachusetts General Hospital and an alumna of the Theology, Medicine and Culture fellowship at Duke Divinity School. She is deeply committed to cultivating kingdom principles for both patients and healthcare professionals, a commitment which was nurtured by her CMDA chapter in medical school and formation in seminary. She plans to pursue pediatric surgery and palliative care, with interests in health parity and practical theology.

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