Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The Foolishness of Fear

Of all people those who believe, truly believe, in Christ ought to be the least fearful around.We should have absolute confidence in the eternal perspective and promise of God.

Why then, at least based on social media, are Christians so terrified of anything and everything. I mean like trembling in fear exhibited in impotent and empty bravado and rhetoric. Two recent events have highlighted this disturbing trend for me.

The first was the widely publicized return of two American missionaries who had contracted Ebola while serving in the mission field. I emphasized the words above because it was staggering to see that a number of Christians were dead-set against having these American missionaries come back to....America. One of the people I noticed just frothing at the mouth about this was a prominent blogger who talks a lot about the sovereignty of God. I guess that sovereignty only extends within the four walls of church buildings. What was really troubling about the reaction to the returning of these missionaries was the implied accusation that they kinda had it coming for going somewhere with sick people. It seemed that some people who claimed to be Christians were of the opinion that if you want to leave the comfortable confines of your pew and be somewhere more than 15 minutes from an American medical facility you just gotta take your chances and you certainly shouldn't come back here where you might infect some other Americans. In spite of crazy precautions being taken, which to someone who is not a medical professional or "scientist" made me quite confident that no contamination would happen, there still were many of us who thought that the risks outweighed the benefit to these American missionaries coming home for world-class medical care, care which worked and saved their lives enabling them to continue to serve Christ in a more meaningful way than posting on a blog.

The other event is ongoing and has to do with the persecution of Christians in Iraq and elsewhere that has escalated in recent months.We have been inundated with horrific reports and photos, many accurate and others not, leading to calls from many Christians to turn once again to Caesar to rescue our brothers and sisters from the sword by using the sword. I understand the impulse. We have family members being tortured and put to death by people who are one step above animals. Our immediate response is to use the unquestioned might of the American military to put a stop to it. What we forget, mired as we are in immediacy bias, is that every single time we have sent American troops into that region it has turned out badly. Western interventionism is one of the root causes that has destabilized this region and allowed an already demonic religion to be turned into a semi-organized force that now threatens our siblings. These atrocities against Christians and the public beheading of the two journalists are callously designed to draw America into more direct conflict with ISIS/ISIL. They don't fear American intervention. They want it. Anyway, geopolitical issues aside the greater concern is how Christians in the West respond to persecution when it happens overseas. The answer is usually a combination of empty social media gestures and calls for airstrikes even if we know deep down that those airstrikes invariably kill innocents while trying to defend innocents. I am concerned that as Christendom crumbles and the cozy Kingdom-hiding cocoon of American religious tradition evaporates that many of people will respond in the same way here at home. Bigger picture, every time we are faced with a new threat, real or perceived, we respond in fear.

Brothers it shouldn't be this way. We are motivated by fear far more than love in the church in America, at least in the largely white and middle- to -upper-class church I am familiar with. Fear of terrorists. Fear of illegal immigrants. Fear of criminals breaking into their houses. Fear of sickness. Fear of poverty. Fear of someone taking away "our way of life". Fear of everything and anything except what we ought to fear.

Our Lord had a lot to say about this issue. Jesus told us that fear of man is fear misplaced.

"I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! (Luke 12:4-5)

What have we to fear from man? What can ISIS to do us? Behead me? Go ahead, may my last moments be spent praising God as my Anabaptists forerunners often did before being martyred by the religious authorities. Perhaps in my death, as I pass from this world to eternal life, the manner of my death might be a witness to my killer that he in turn might repent and be saved. The historical Anabaptists understood what Paul wrote in Philippians...

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. (Php 1:27-30)

Suffering as He suffered is just part of our lives. We are a people set apart from the world and our changed lives are a direct challenge to the world, a challenge that is usually met with revulsion, mockery and persecution. When we let fear of man dominate us, our impulse is to turn back to the world for security. This fear dominates us and emasculates our witness. I am not seeking out suffering but I am not surprised if it comes. We live in a culture of fear but we are fearing all of the wrong things.

"Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Luke 12:32-34)

1 comment:

Kevin L said...

What gets me is when the same people who call for military intervention in other countries absolutely rule out the most peaceful, most Christian, and possibly all around best solution: allow persecuted people to immigrate to the US. But apparently the minuscule risk to themselves from increased immigration outweighs the near certainty of "collateral damage" and unintended consequences from military engagement.