On remaining faithful to Christ in the midst of a culture of fear.

“Our society seems to be increasingly full of fearful, defensive, aggresive people anxiously clinging to their property and inclined to look at their surrounding world with suspicion, always expecting an enemy to suddenly appear, intrude, and do harm. But still – that is our vocation: to convert the hostis into the hospes, the enemy into a guest, and to create the free and fearless space where brotherhood and sisterhood can be formed and fully experienced.

Henri Nouwen.

“The religious quest, the spiritual pilgrimage, is always taking us into new lands where we are strange to others and they are strange to us. Faith is a venture into the unknown, into the realms of mystery, away from the safe and comfortable and secure.

Parker Palmer.

In a society (faith, even) where we are told that a goal in life is to be safe and secure, and to create these sorts of environments for our families, we follow Jesus. Jesus who calls us into unknown places to enter into communion with unknown people. The life of a follower of Jesus is not a safe and secure life. Rather, it demands that we lay down our idolatrous notions of safety and security (idolatrous in that we can make these things for ourselves).

As a man I’m told that I need to provide for my wife and family. Provide for their needs. Provide a safe and secure environment for them. Essentially, to be closed to the stranger because they are unknown and, therefore, to be feared. However, these sorts of ideals are not dictated to me by Jesus. Rather, they are dictated to me by a culture that lives in fear of the stranger and the unknown and that seeks to build for itself Shalom. But I cannot build for myself Shalom. I can only receive it and it must be received and entered into with the stranger; with the enemy that becomes a guest.

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16 comments
  1. aislingclaire said:

    If only saying it could be as easy as doing it.

  2. jt* said:

    I assume you meant “if only doing it could be as easy as saying it.”

    One of the reasons why it is so hard to do, I’m guessing, is because we’re shaped more by our culture than we are by God (not a good thing for the people of God). It may be difficult to do but it is necessary and a move in this direction is to be faithful to Christ.

  3. Orlagh Turtle said:

    so true Jonathan, thank you for that thought provoking message. I am inviting the Holy Spirit to Transform me to His image and Will, to serve with Him, in the midst of pain, suffering and stench.
    I Glorify God as I see Him transforming you, and , indeed all of us who want to go with Jesus, and work with Him among the poor and opressed

  4. aislingclaire said:

    I did mean that.

    “The life of a follower of Jesus is not a safe and secure life.”
    What do you mean by this? Is this safety and security in which the world proposes these things? Or can we never have a life of safety and security- possibly by another standard?

  5. jt* said:

    By safety I mean safety in terms of financial stability, living in safe, private neighbourhoods, living lives that are closed to the stranger/other.

    This sort of safety seems to be in tension with Jesus who himself inhabits “dangerous” neighbourhoods and welcomes in the unknown stranger.

    As Christians I believe we ought not seek safety/security in anything of our own making.

    “Can we never have a life of safety and security?”

    That shouldn’t be our hope, nor is it a guarantee.

  6. jt* said:

    Perhaps another example might be helpful.

    We live in a society where we are told that in order to keep ourselves and our families “safe” we need to “protect” ourselves from the stranger/unknown. Take the USA for example. A country that prides itself on its “freedom” yet pumps billions of dollars a month into its military in order to keep up this illusion of safety.

    In order to keep our families safe then, we need to close ourselves off to the stranger because they are unknown and therefore unsafe.

    How then do we reconcile this with the teachings of Jesus that indicate we are to enter into and receive the kingdom with the stranger?

  7. Orlagh Turtle said:

    ” We have no right to freedom, only an obligation to do our duty”…..C.S.Lewis ( on his deathbed!)

  8. Anonymous said:

    The Reason why this is so hard and why we have a “culture that lives in fear” is because man is a fear-driven creature as Thomas Hobbes would suggest in his book Leviathan. Where he explains that almost all of our motives take root in our fear of one another. Society only functions to alleviate this fear as it guarantees that we will not hurt each other as we work together for a common goal. However as society deteriorates we are more inclined to revert to our natural state which is one driven by fear, or in more common terms “an every man for himself” situation. Religion also helps to take us out of what Hobbes calls our “natural state” however because less and less people are religious we are again seeing a deterioration in society. The fact that we are afraid of each other is simply due to our own base nature and this cannot be erased only covered up.

  9. aislingclaire said:

    “ ‘Can we never have a life of safety and security?’

    That shouldn’t be our hope, nor is it a guarantee.”

    But this is based on the worlds idea of safety and security. I am asking if there is a safety and security we *can* uphold, but to a completely counter-cultural standard.

    I suppose what I am hinting at is a security and safety in a firm foundation in Christ. [Ephesians 6- standing firm then against spiritual attacks] That doesn’t mean a physical safety and security in opposition to what the world preaches. But one in the blood of Christ.

    I think we *can* have safety, security, and *freedom* but yes, it shouldn’t be based on what we can create for ourselves or what we believe to be our *right*.

  10. jt* said:

    @Anonymous
    Hobbes (granted I haven’t read much of his work) will only take us so far. As far as what he has to say about humanity being “fear-driven” I would argue that although this may be descriptive at times it is certainly not prescriptive. It is not reflective of the Judeo-Christian narrative, that we are created by God out of love to experience love.

    Rather, I would suggest that fundamentally human’s are love-driven creatures. And love is much stronger than fear.

    Do we fear one another? Sadly this is true but it need not remain this way nor is it reflective of creation (or new creation!).

    “However as society deteriorates we are more inclined to revert to our natural state which is one driven by fear, or in more common terms “an every man for himself” situation.”

    I disagree that our natural state is driven by fear. It all depends where we start. For example, within the Judeo-Christian narrative do we start in Genesis 1 or 2? If we start in Genesis 2, with the fall, then all of humanity is sinful and under the powers of death. This is the sort of thinking that is reflected in Hobbes. However, if we start in Genesis 1 then we see that all of creation is “very good”. That’s the line I’d want to take.

    “The fact that we are afraid of each other is simply due to our own base nature and this cannot be erased only covered up.”

    According to Hobbes perhaps. But this is a totally depressing and hopeless view of humanity and doesn’t take into consideration the inherent goodness of God’s creation. Certainly this is an area where Hobbes is open to criticism. Perhaps the biblical narrative can offer us an alternative story here.

    @Aisling,
    While I wouldn’t disagree my post wasn’t about a “spiritual” safety. Rather, it was about “the worlds idea of safety and security,” upon which our society is built.

    • Anonymous said:

      “Rather, I would suggest that fundamentally human’s are love-driven creatures.”

      This comment is also not reflective of the Judeo-Christain narrative as you call it (by which I assume you mean the Bible). Is it not true that throughout this book humanity is reminded that we must be loving to one another? The whole idea of loving thy neighbor is constantly reinforced over and over. Would it not be safe to assume then that man is indeed not a love driven creature if we must be constantly reminded to show compassion for one another. Instead it seems that the Bible only reinforces my point which is that man is fear driven. The Bible’s answer to this is to care for one another but it does not to my knowledge (Which I will admit is limited) mention that humanity is good by nature. Instead it reinforces our “sinful” nature, which if we were loving creatures would not exist.

      Now you may argue that because the Bible says that God created man and that all he does is good then man must therefore inherently be good. After all were we not created in his image according to the Bible? Now assuming that this is true and the Bible is correct we would be overlooking the fact that after the fall of man, we seemed to be completely changed. We no longer had the ability to communicate with our creator, we were expelled from paradise and our immortality was lost. Meaning that we were no longer the original creation, instead we were something different, something mortal.

      From that point on was not our motivation fear? Indeed, are we not supposed to have a fear of god? From where I see it we are a fear driven race and your Judeo-Christian narrative would only seem to enforce this.

      Is this a depressing view of humanity? Most definitely but sometimes the truth hurts. But I would not say that it is hopeless as obviously mankind is capable of good when it suites them.

  11. jt* said:

    @Anon,

    Lot’s to say here but I’ll just make a few points. I’m not trying to stifle discussion I just have a paper to write for tomorrow but I want to try and address some of the concerns you raise.

    – I would include the Bible in the Judeo-Christian narrative (it plays a very important role), however, I don’t think we can limit the J-C narrative to the Bible.

    – You are right in pointing out that throughout the scriptures the people of God (in fact, all of creation) is constantly being called back to faithfulness. To loving one another etc. But this doesn’t mean that humanity is *fundamentally* fear driven or naughty by nature (90’s hip hop anyone?). Rather, it means that as you pointed out, we’re fallen. But to be fallen, to be in a position where you are having to be constantly called back to faithfulness seems to suggest that we weren’t always fallen/unfaithful. In fact, humanity *fundamentally* is not fallen.

    – The Bible does mention that humanity is good by nature. Let’s go back to the beginning, check out the following references for yourself: Gen. 1:26ff (paying special attention to v.27 “in our image”; v.28 “God blessed them”; v.31 “it was very good”).

    – In regards to the Fall, I’m not sure I’d say that we were *completely* changed. Humanity is still worth redeeming and, therefore, must have some goodness (after all, God takes on flesh and enters into his creation, thereby *affirming* the goodness of creation). Also, the scriptures don’t say that we can no longer communicate with our creator nor do they say that “our immortality was lost” (but that’s another conversation all-together!). Regardless of the fall, humanity are still image bearers capable of bearing the image of their creator.

    – I don’t disagree with you that we *can be* fear driven. I just disagree that we *are* (by nature) fear driven. Fear surely is a motivating factor of that I have no doubt. But love is a greater motivator. Do you agree?

    – I’m curious about something. You argue that humanity is fear driven and then say that “mankind is capable of good when it suites them.” I’m not sure that these things can go together. If one is fear driven then their motivations are not good because they are born in fear. And if ones motives are not good then an action is not good. Therefore, if humanity is fear driven by nature we are, in fact, incapable of doing any good. Take a marriage for example. After 20 years this couples marriage has deteriorated and is quite hollow. The husband is a drunk and quite aggressive and violent. As a result his wife lives in fear of him because he has a terrible temper and has on occasion blown up and hit her. Suppose the man comes home drunk one evening and asks his wife, “do you love me?” If she is motivated by fear then surely her answer would be “yes”. But we all know this is not true. The point being that when people are motivated by fear they become dishonest, selfish etc. And so millions of Americans own guns, while the gov’t spends trillions on the military, so as to keep them safe from the danger that lurks around the corner. This sort of fear-motivated living is very real but it is not good nor is the only available option. However, I think that the scriptures provide us with an alternative way of living. A way that is oriented around love instead of fear and I think *that’s* a much more hopeful way (even a truer way).

    Whelp, off to do my paper! I’m sure you’ll have more you want to say so hopefully we can continue this later. Til then,

    Peace.

    ps – Who is this mystery person anyway? Care to reveal yourself?

  12. Anonymous said:

    “But to be fallen, to be in a position where you are having to be constantly called back to faithfulness seems to suggest that we weren’t always fallen/unfaithful.”

    This is exactly what I was hinting at when I was talking about man after the fall. We may have been different at one point and not at all fear driven, however those times have passed. We are now fear driven beings by nature.

    “In fact, humanity *fundamentally* is not fallen.”

    I do not see how this is true you make a profound statement and then make no attempts to prove this please elaborate.

    “The Bible does mention that humanity is good by nature.”

    Perhaps but aren’t all those verses you mentioned before the fall of man? Again let me emphasize the fact that we changed after the fall of man.

    “love is a greater motivator.”

    No I would have to say fear poses a greater motivation than love if we are stripped down to our natural state. Perhaps in a society where we have everything we need and were ideals like this are taught to us, but in many countries where a dictator holds power and people are reduced to a more natural state in order to survive, fear is rampant. An even better example is a place with no central government at all, an example would be Somalia which has been getting attention recently because of the piracy that goes on there. I would encourage you to read up on some of the recent history of the country. Here we see people in their natural state where fear is something that they experience every day.

    “And if ones motives are not good then an action is not good.”

    Sadly this is simply not true, only someone who is truly naive would believe this. No matter how pure someone’s motives would seem there is always a selfish reason behind what they are doing, whether it be to alleviate something weighing on the conscious or to gain someone’s trust for later use. There is always a reason behind people’s actions and never are they solely pure. Instead we should look at the action itself rather than the motivation behind it. For if we looked at the true motivation behind every human action we would have to declare that nothing is “good”.

    In reality we are not really qualified to speak on this subject because we do not live in a natural state. In North America we live extremely sheltered lives in comparison to some places in the world. Indeed fear is something we rarely experience as we have built up a false society for ourselves that covers our natural and uncomfortable state up. However in many different countries a fear-driven lifestyle is very real and something they cannot escape.

  13. jt* said:

    Anon,

    You keep talking on and on about “our natural state” as if this is something blatantly obvious to everyone at all times. This “natural state” that you are arguing for isn’t as objective as you seem to think it is. Rather, the “natural state” that you argue for is one that is rooted in a particular story of the world. Perhaps this is the worldview that you are shaped by but to keep rambling on about some sort of objective “natural state” is intellectually dishonest. Plus, your argument isn’t all that consistent. For example, you say “We may have been different at one point and not at all fear driven,” and then continue with “however those times have passed. We are now fear driven beings BY NATURE.” You’re arguing that we are fear-driven BY NATURE and in the same breath saying that humans weren’t always like this. You’re refuting yourself. If humans were *not* always fear-driven then humans are not fear-driven *by nature*. The best you can argue is that being fear-driven is a result of the Fall but this was not the original intent nor is it the end result as the Christian narrative ends with the restoration and redemption of all things. At best then, humans are *temporarily* fear-driven *some* of the time (perhaps even most, but not *all*).

    This is what I mean when I said humans aren’t *fundamentally* fear-driven. When we’re talking about fundamentals we’re talking about the basics. What makes a human a human? Well I find myself rooted in the Judeo-Christian narrative so I look back to creation. Humans are fundamentally good, created to bear the image of God, to be stewards of creation and, here’s the kicker, we are all of these things because God made us in LOVE. It is love not fear that motivates humanity to return to God and bear his image. It is love not fear that motivates humanity to hear God’s call to be faithful stewards of creation. Therefore, humans are fundamentally love-driven because God is fundamentally love-driven. Remember, when I’m talking about fundamentals I’m not saying that humanity currently reflects this all the time (but they do sometimes and it’s a beautiful thing).

    “in many countries where a dictator holds power and people are reduced to a more natural state in order to survive, fear is rampant.”

    This “natural state” may be part of your worldview but it certainly isn’t objectively true. For example, like I’ve pointed out, this understanding of humans “natural state” is not reflective of the Biblical narrative. Also, in countries like you describe where chaos rules and people live in fear of one another I would suggest to you that this is a reflection of the fallen nature of humanity but not the *natural* state of humanity as you want to suggest.

    Here’s the problem for me.

    You want to suggest that the natural state of humanity = fear/falleness. I, however, would suggest that the natural state of humanity = love/createdness.

    You may be fine with allowing Hobbes et. al. to shape your worldview but these folks are not above critique! You can take Hobbes and I’ll take a worldview shaped by the Judeo-Christian narrative!

    “And if ones motives are not good then an action is not good.”

    I’m glad you picked up on this. Actually, as soon as I typed it I thought it might be problematic. It didn’t really capture what I was trying to say so thanks for pointing it out. You want to suggest that the goodness of an action can be judged solely on the action itself. Simply put, I’d want to reject this sort of utilitarianism. It’s untrue that motivations do not play into the goodness of an action. Sure, no ones motives are pure all the time. However, to suggest that actions that appear good are *always* good doesn’t seem to be true either. Take foreign lending for example. Think of the money that the US and Canada has loaned to Sub-Saharan African countries to help with development etc. On the surface this looks like a good act. By your own admission then this is good. But, consider the amount of interest that the US and Canada charges these African nations on the loans. In fact, the truth is that these African nations have already repaid the amounts they were loaned (almost in interest payments alone!) yet their debt to Northern countries is growing because of interest charges! Therefore, a seemingly good action is not at all good because of the underlying motivations to exert power and domination over poorer countries. Anyways, this is besides the point. I was trying to make originally and is another conversation all together!

    You suggest that “In reality we are not really qualified to speak on this subject because we do not live in a natural state.” However, I would beg to differ. You see, the J-C story doesn’t end with the world as it is. The world as we see it is not in it’s final state. Todays reality is not the end of the story my friend! Rather, the J-C story culminates with the reign of God being established on earth. In other words, the story ends with the marriage of heaven and earth. A time when God will make everything right and will once and for all make the enemies of sin and death his footstool. A time when God’s Shalom will return to all of creation and God will again dwell with his creation. But here’s my point. This isn’t something that we are just supposed to sit around and wait for. Rather, God is working these things out even now. The Church then, is called to be a community of faith that is living out of God’s future *in the present*. The Church is a community that is meant to represent and embody the good news of God’s reign!

    Do we live in our natural state? No, at least not fully. But we’re on our way there!

    I’m not trying to convince you to change your view here. And I’ll be sure to look more into the political situation in Somalia. However, I’d encourage you to immerse yourself in the Judeo-Christian scriptures (the Bible). Don’t read it to gain information. Read to so that the God who made all things and is redeeming and restoring all things may shape you.

    Your worldview isn’t the only one out there. In fact, I’m not sure it’s even all that faithful to your own reality. Perhaps the J-C narrative can provide you with an alternative way of seeing things.

    Grace and peace.

    ps – who is this anyway?

  14. Al said:

    “The life of a follower of Jesus is not a safe and secure life”

    Hey Jonathan a couple of thoughts…

    I think I understand your meaning here, but when I think about people who are really exploited (i.e. tin miners and peasants in Latin America) many of them are looking for security, safety, and justice in life. It would seem a little unfair & disjointed sitting where we are in the lap of luxury in North America to tell a community of miners that Jesus is calling them to suffer and struggle. The main focus in much of liberation theology is a message of hope and liberation from oppression here and now on this earth. Too much of evangelicalism is focused on the after life and not enough about here. In many ways we should probably be working for and fighting for greater security, safety, and well being for ourselves and for others.

    Also there could be a danger of relating Christianity to a kind of kill-joy acesticism where we don’t enjoy life and feel a false kind of guilt over pleasure and experiencing the good things in life.

    Nouwen does a good job however of pointing out how out of control and fearful our culture is. Maybe there needs to be some kind of balance here??

  15. jt* said:

    Hey Al,

    You’re absolutely right. I mean, obviously the scriptures speak volumes about the poor and oppressed and I have a great admiration for many of the Latin American Liberation Theologians.

    “The main focus in much of liberation theology is a message of hope and liberation from oppression here and now on this earth.”

    I couldn’t agree more, in fact, I think this cannot be separated from the message of Jesus. And this is precisely my point! If as the Church we are to be faithful to Christ that involves being faithful to a Jesus that preached good news to the poor and freedom to the captives and this involves taking a stand with the poor and oppressed *against* systems of injustice. However, these systems of injustice are precisely the systems in which we live in the Northern world. This leads me back to my original point then. That being faithful to Christ will mean standing against the very systems in which we live and this is a very threatening thing to the powers.

    The poor and oppressed in Latin America were not poor and oppressed because of the gospel. Rather, they were poor and oppressed because of injustice systems of oppression. The bishops in L.A. then called the church to abandon these systems and journey into solidarity with the poor of their countries and this proved to be a violent and unsafe move indeed (read: Oscar Romero etc.).

    The move towards solidarity with the poor that you suggest (and I agree with) is a move in solidarity with Christ *against* the systems which dominate our very culture and this is a dangerous move indeed because it is a threat to the very foundations of our way of life in the North.

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