If I can be so incredibly arrogant as to assess the enduring legacy of conservative evangelicalism as a culture, it would be a culture of fear. Fear of the “world” (try figuring out exactly what the “world” is in the bible. I guarantee it will scare the bejesus out of you); fear of knowledge; fear of failure; and above all, fear of being wrong.
We all have fears.
My own fear is that God doesn’t really love us after all. I’ve been assured of this love for me in innumerable and immeasurable ways, yet seen it betrayed in some of the most despicable of circumstances in the lives of others. It is easy for me to understand God’s love for me, but I am unnerved when I fail to see it in the life of my friends. Does God love the undocumented immigrants living in tin huts along the Rio Bravo in towns like Socorro, Texas? Does God love the tens of thousands of people who are victims of the sex trade? What of the poor little girls in Bokencamp, near Corpus Christi, who have escaped that fate in Latin America only to be interred upon entering the US and who will be returned to that life should no family or guardian be located for them in Estados Unidos? What of the greasy smear on the train tracks of the Manitoban prairie that was once a guy named Brad, or the 5 year old victim of AIDS whose emaciated life left her while my arms offered her the paltry sum of God’s love I could muster in Honduras?
Jesus loves me, this I know, but what makes me so goddamn special?
It’s simple: I’m not. We live in fear of the other. We live in fear of the possibility that she might be right, and I, wrong. And of course, that fear causes us to place unassailable defenses between ourselves and others. I can protect my innocence and piety by assuring myself that I am different than you, and so this is what I do.
But fear thrives in isolation.
We isolate ourselves because we are afraid. It is a vicious cycle. This system of fear continues to function because we think that we are our own persons and selves; that our fears are between us and…us. We tend to conceive of ourselves in isolation from each other, but we are not that in actuality. Each of us is invested in our friends and families, experiencing the triumphs and failures of others.
And in some profound way, we are members of one another (Rom. 12, 1 Cor. 12, Eph. 4).
This is why the issue of God’s seeming abandonment of others is so troubling: it creates a disconnect in myself; the self I share with others becomes severed from the self I experience as me. I am not me in opposition to you, but I am me because of you. And so when the people who are supposed to be members with me in Christ experience the abandonment of God, I too feel the ache. I cannot notice the homeless man on the street corner and think: “There but for the grace of God go I,” but “there with the grace of God go I.” It is a terrible and radical shift, but if we all made it there might not be any room for fear to reign. But the shift cannot be made until we ourselves are transformed by the renewing of our mind regarding the authority we give to the System of Belief.
But faith is being for others in love.
Where belief needs to be right; where they fear being wrong to the extent that they don’t care who they destroy to protect their piety, faith is unconcerned with personal righteousness. Faith sees in the dying orphans of this world the very dearest of God’s children. Faith laments the injustice of the world and calls on God to act. But faith does not need to be right. Faith can be wrong; faith can call God out wrongly, because faith depends on God’s faithfulness, not it’s own. Faith loves beyond reason. Faith hopes for good and calls God out when it seems God has not lived up to expectations. And this act opens the faithful to God’s own heart and response.