Fear is powerful and potent. It’s conniving and twists itself into every crevasse in one’s mind. It controls you. It is also used in malice and with cruelty to control and manipulate others. It is so often used by the media, by politicians, even by Christians, really anyone who wants something from other people.
Sometimes fear can be a good thing, it can protect you from doing things that can hurt us in a natural sense; everyone fears fire because it has the potential to harm; but in large, unnecessary, quantities fear stunts faith, kills compassion and drives out love.
Our world thrives off exclusion. It’s very human what we do; we judge before understanding and stand firm in our judgement despite the pain that judgement causes. What’s funny about this is that exclusion is the opposite of the gospel. One of the most famous verses in the Bible that we use to indicate Christ’s love is John 3 verse 16, yet we seem to neglect verse 17: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
We forget that verse far too often; God’s heart is not condemnation. That is something we forget far, far too often when we approach non-Christians. Words meant for love and acceptance are twisted into something quite the opposite.
Now, it is no secret Jesus tells us how to live a good life, but living that good life is impossible without grace and without picking up that cross daily. Yet far too often in the church we treat it as an instantaneous thing, and yes, new creation is instantaneous but being a Christian is something we have to decide for ourselves numerous times as we stumble and fall and fail through life.
God’s grace is permanent and is handed to us time and time again. That of course is life changing and the reason why we choose to do good, why we choose Christ. However, for some inexplicable reason we still seek to separate ourselves from “the other” when Jesus told us specifically to do the opposite.
Real people, real struggles
“Love thy neighbour” seems to be empty words in light of the Israel Falou case. I don’t like to get involved in conflict like this but watching this particular case unfold it has hit a nerve and frankly I disagree with his stance. It is too alike the sentiments behind the common and misplaced phrase “turn or burn” so commonly seen waved on banners.
The excuse of “tough love” or “setting a standard” is not adequate, we as Christians are not entitled to intrude upon the autonomy of others’ decisions when we do not have a solid and well-connected relationship with them. That’s a point I think so many of us miss today. We rest non-Christians as targets or quotas to fill, souls to save, rather than real living people with very real struggles.
Perhaps a better approach to Jesus’ call to make disciples of the nations is not to approach strangers on the street and tell them about the gospel, but rather we walk out the gospel and show them what Jesus’ love looks like.
This was a conversation I had with my uncle when he came to visit us on his book tour. We were discussing why so many people get frustrated with the church nowadays, and one answer that came from our conversation was perhaps the church was doing a really good job of preaching the gospel but a less than satisfactory job at showing people genuine kindness and love.
We are supposed to be the Good Samaritans of the world and yet far too often we are caught up in the legalism and “rules” of Christianity. And that’s particularly where Mr Falou gets it wrong; it’s not about reaching a certain standard to get into heaven, it’s about having your life radically changed by Jesus and to be impacted in a positive, loving way. To be blunt about it, an instagram post shared with the intent to criticise and judge isn’t going to change anyone’s heart, in fact this will drive people further and further away from God. In a way I think it is a type of selfish evangelism, a kind that seems to act to serve the sharer rather than the person receiving.
Are we building relationships?
I think the issue can really be boiled down to two key areas; one, that we fear inclusion of people different than us; and two, that we are still stuck in a puritan mentality that requires us to live in fear of damnation rather than to live for God. On one hand, as Christians and really as people in general we are not empathetic or compassionate to marginalised groups. When we don’t have first hand experience with people who are different than us or share different values it can be easy to dismiss them, ridicule them, hurt them and more.
It’s easy for people to discount the experience of others when they themselves do not know the people they are discounting. It is entirely different when it unfolds before your eyes revealing all the pain. When you are confronted with the truth, you can no longer choose to ignore the pain you have caused. The compassion Jesus had for those on the outskirts of society still seems to be lacking in today’s society and that, after all these years, needs to change.
The thing stopping Christians from acting is of course fear. We fear damnation rather than fear a life without God. If we act like heaven is just a place to get to after we die, we’ve missed the entire point of the gospel. It is about relationship and closeness to God more than it is about external life or external damnation.
That’s my perspective anyway. If “perfect love drives out all fear” then why do we thrive off it as a community and continue to hide behind it each time someone calls us out on our ignorance? Truly loving a person is not rebuking them, it is understanding them, a point that we miss far too often. The sentiments of his post were “be afraid or else” not “welcome, come get to know him.”
So, I guess the question I have for people is, when our church sign says, “All are welcome” do we truly mean it?
Hope Pratt is an American Australian starting her first year at University. She and her family lived in Afghanistan for 6 years before moving to Australia. She is currently living in Sydney, which has been her longest home yet.