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Contempt for the Fearful: A Response to “The Greatest False Idol of Modern Christianity”

I’m the last person who should criticize another person for writing an aggressive article that seeks to make a single point in exclusion to a myriad of other points that might soften a forceful tone. In fact, when I read the post, “The Greatest False Idol of Modern Christianity”[1] it reminded me of my own once upon a time kick. Scripture said, “Fear not,” so fear was sin, and I preached against fear, and stood a tad haughtily over those who had less success than I did over fear. My whole adult life was before me; I had no wife, no children, no property, no looming disaster ready to sweep away everything to which I’d dedicated my life’s energy.

Indeed, when I read a post like this, I still concur to a point. It preaches an important message. God is in control (Psalm 2:4). We are in his hands (John 10:29). “Though he slay me, I will hope in him.” (Job 13:15) Fear is a weakness of faith (Mark 5:36). This is all true.

There is, however, more to truth than these truths. There are also truths of mercy and compassion and understanding and empathy. There are truths of the human experience and the defense mechanisms that God wove into our beings.

In my youthful exuberance for strong faith, having nothing tangible to lose, never having experienced anything akin to “Men’s hearts failing them for fear of the things coming upon the earth,” (Luke 21:26), it was easy for me to be, not cruel, but matter-of-fact about the issue.

In Psalm 56:3—When I am afraid, I put my trust in you—the inspired poet strikes on a cord of truth that articles like this one often seem to overlook in their design to make one true point—faith, like courage, is not the real absence of fear; faith is the maintenance of trust in the midst of fear, even when poetically described as fearlessness. We will, after all, never lose fear altogether; it’s woven into our natures as an instinctual life saving response.

So while I can heartily agree with the author’s final sentiments, “Let’s pray that our churches recapture a sense of the God who is worthy; not just of defending and quoting, but trusting,” I can also sympathize with those who are concerned, who are even afraid.

Indeed, I also wonder what this author, and many like him, imagine people should do in the face of “the things coming upon the earth” if this author’s list of foibles, like believing “Muslims, Atheists, Gays, The President, inner-city criminals, Hollywood, illegal immigrants, The Government, school hallways” to be a threat, “re-posting the latest terrible news stories,” “external sin management,” and crusading for truth, were to be eradicated from their repertoire.

These articles always seem saturated with a level of contempt for those who are concerned about society, mocking their presence on social media, their concern for the immorality of those around them, their overwhelmed sense that something dire is on the horizons… unlike Jesus who, in spite of his prophetic anticipations of “men’s hearts failing them for fear of the things coming upon the earth,” actually knew that His followers best expression of faith was a calm yawn as their children are torn by lions and tigers and bears in the arena. Well, maybe not. There is always a measure of jovial scorn that leaves me flummoxed as to their perfect vision of what a “Christian” should talk about on social media, should feel as they consider the things coming upon the earth. Do these folks imagine that because God is on his throne that we here on earth shouldn’t bother getting all worked up about anything?

What should Christians have done and felt when the Communists in the Soviet Union murdered some 50 million people, and those in China murdered even more. What should people have done and felt when the Nazi’s and Japanese orchestrated the deaths of some 25 million people between them with the maniacal process efficiency of your average dairy farmer? What should they have felt when learning about the 80 million Indians who died during Islamic attacks in India in the 1500s, the estimated 110-140 million souls from Africa that perished quickly in the Arab slave machine in the millennium before the Western world got worked up about it and tried to bring slavery to an end?[2]

Is nothing worth getting upset about?

Should Christians sit around grinning as they contemplate the active designs of Islam to bring the world down in ashes, marching across the world chopping off heads, grinding children beneath their feet, and throwing Christians into the sea from the decks of ships?

Should Christians abandon society without concern for what this abandonment will mean for those in it?

Are we to be like those Muslims whose faith leaves them unconcerned about the deaths of their own children?

Are we to affect smug, knowing glances when the Judaeo-Christian fabric of our nation, the hard won product of millennia, begins to unravel and move yet again toward the dynamics that lead to these earlier periods of butchery?

Maybe we should. Paul sang praises after his prison beating (Acts 16:25). John Wesley’s Moravians sang as their ship threatened to come apart.[3] Yes, that is powerful faith.

Is our powerful faith best expressed, however, in a lack of empathy for those who struggle against real threats… especially when we don’t counter with a clear vision of what a better response would look like?

In Jon D. Levenson’s book, Creation and the Persistence of Evil—which I highly recommend for every pastor—he notes a powerful contrast in the attitudes of various biblical poets depending on the point they are trying to make. They call for unbendable faith in the God who reigns sovereign over all, who sits in the heavens and laughs at the plotting of men, who treats Leviathan like a pet, trained to do his bidding. Yet, at one and the same time, they recognize that while God has nothing to fear from the lion or the storm, for those who are thrown into the lion’s den, who face the fires of persecution, who live to see the slaughter of untold millions, these terrors are real, and God’s purposes mysterious. Daniel may have survived the lion’s den, his friends the fiery furnace, but more than a few Christians died in the arenas of Rome, and many burned to light the evening parties of the madman, Nero.

Personally, I resent those bloggers who seem to mock those who see these eventualities and many like them rising against them and get a little worked up about it. I denounce the implication that true faith detaches itself from active attempts to stem the tide of evil in the world in favor of a “Ho hum, God’s got it under control… Why bother the teacher anymore,” insensibility. I challenge these folks to study the attitude of the psalmists who held divine sovereignty and human desperation in tension without scorning the latter.

God has us in his protective hands. God never promised us a rose garden. Faith and trust are our only anchors in this world. Trust in His goodness. Fear is a weakness of faith. Yet, have mercy, compassion and empathy for those who are often overwhelmed by the threats of tomorrow, for while God is sovereign over all, our road will be hard, our sorrows many, and His purposes a mystery to our hearts. At one time or another we will all need to cry out, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.”

 

[1]  http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/church/greatest-false-idol-modern-christianity

[2] http://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2014/05/the_greatest_murder_machine_in_history.html

[3] http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/1982/issue1/128.html

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