The 2016 Disney Pixar film “Finding Dory” details the life of a blue tang fish named Dory who deals with short-term memory loss. The animated movie explores complex issues such as mental health, the power of community, and the interplay between humans and wildlife.
One theme the film explores is the loss of home as the story depicts Dory’s attempt to find her way home. The movie culminates when Dory discovers that her parents had been leaving a trail of shells for her so that if she got lost (which she did), she would be able to find her way back home.
“Finding Dory” is a reminder of a missionary principle that has been witnessed across cultures for centuries: That the God of heaven and earth has left traces of Himself in every culture so that the missionary task is to discover those traces to help love and lead people to the truth.
Biblically speaking, the principle is most clearly seen in Acts 17 when Paul discovers the traces God left in ancient Athens and utilizes them in conversations with the philosophers about the “unknown god.”
History is replete with these examples. They can be found in Scripture, modern missionary encounters and everyday life. God has left “shells” leading people to their true home — which is with Him.
But discovering these proverbial shells is not as easy as you might think. You have to become a curious student of people in particular, and a culture in general. Seeking to understand hopes, fears, longings, disappointments, motivation and worldview takes time, conversation, observation, and most importantly, prayer.
The God of heaven and earth has left traces of Himself in every culture.
So in a year in which many things got turned upside down due to a global pandemic, we can ask the question, “What are these traces in western culture?”
As we explore this question, we discover that there are several shells in our culture that perhaps God has left in a trail leading to Himself, should we choose to consider them. Shells like identity and purpose, authenticity and vulnerability, sacrificial service and love, limits and boundaries, and more.
We should explore these “God traces” to become more conversant with culture regarding the things of Christ. For as Paul writes in Colossians 1:16-17, “all things were created through him and for him…. and in him all things hold together.”
The goal is to grow in our knowledge and understanding of our Lord — who He is and what He has come to do — so that we can better understand where our culture is coming from, and better communicate the hope and truth of the gospel in such a way that hits people at these deeper levels.
None of this is possible without the Spirit, so pray — that these “God traces” would not go unnoticed, unheeded nor unattended.
And if you feel as if you are the one like Dory who is looking for the shells that lead back home, follow them all the way to Jesus. He alone is the one who can carry us to our true home.
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