We live in a world that is so different from the world of the generations that have preceded us. The pace of change is dizzying. The amount of accessible — unavoidably accessible! — information is overwhelming. We bear the burden of knowing too much, almost more than we can bear to know. It is not only the problems of family and community and region that weigh on our hearts, but the problems of a whole world: famine and disease and natural disaster, war and oppression and unabashed genocide, injustice and mistrust and entrenched hatred. We know so much about the world and about the people who fill it, so much more about so many more people, so many people so different from us as we are so different from them — different traditions, different dreams, different perceptions, different values, different beliefs.
How do we make sense of this world? How do we stretch minds and hearts to “fit” all the information, all the people, in a way that allows us to move forward with eyes and ears still open? As believers, how do we reconcile ourselves and our faith to diverging and even openly hostile points of view?
Some do it by holding tightly to received traditions, by clinging to a clearly defined spiritual calculus that distinguishes between those who are right and those who are wrong, by subscribing to a parochial religious worldview that leaves most of humanity on the outside. In the face of a world full of questions, these folks survive by adopting a faith full of ready answers.
Others do it by redefining “truth” and “righteousness” and “salvation:” what matters is what is true for you, what is right is what allows us to co-exist, salvation is avoidance of conflict. In the face of a world full of questions, these folks survive by believing there really aren’t any answers.
But is there a third option? Is there a way for believers other than strict fundamentalism or uncritical pluralism? Can we make sense of this world without ignoring the majority of the facts? Can we move forward without abandoning our loyalty to a personal God? We need a third way, because the church is being torn apart, dangerously polarized, torn apart by people who are scared, scared of losing their faith, scared of losing their lives, polarized by people scared of obsolescence, scared of irrelevance, scared of being marginalized, scared of losing their souls.
I believe there is a third way. The first two ways have one important feature in common: fear … fear of losing, fear of criticism, fear of being wrong, fear of being irrelevant, fear of the daunting and dizzying and befuddling and overwhelming world in which we live! And the natural response to fear is … fight or flight! Taking control of a situation that is out of control by removing myself or by arming myself. “Solving” the threatening situation by taking a unilateral course of action. But, as believers, when we act unilaterally, when we “take control” — one way or another, we leave God out. We discover a third way when we let God in, when we listen — really listen — to God, instead of deciding for ourselves what we must do to survive and to “protect” the faith!
Perfect love drives out fear.
Love is the third way! Loving God with all your soul and all your mind and all your strength … and loving your neighbor as you love yourself.
God is not a cipher! God is not whatever we think God is or whatever we want God to be! God is a particular being, with a distinctive character and distinctive intentions. It is possible for us to be right about what we think we know of God, and it is possble for us to be utterly wrong about what we think we know of God! We must seek God, listen to God, wait for God, not pretend we already know exactly what God wants, or that we can never know what God wants. Our task is not to use God, as a war club or a slogan, but to love God.
In the same way, your neighbor is not a cipher, but a person, a person who deserves to be loved. Your primary task is not to defeat your neighbor, protect yourself from your neighbor, convert your neighbor, enlighten your neighbor, but to love your neighbor. Love your neighbor!
Don’t be scared! Love God and trust God to love you. In the face of a world full of questions, you don’t have to have all the answers … but you know there are answers!
You don’t have to fight or run away. You can move forward, with confidence in God, with hope for the future, with readiness to love your neighbor who is so very different from you, but equally loved by God. As believers, we take our cue from God, the God revealed in Jesus Christ, a God of love, a God of mercy, a God of grace. We love, we show mercy, we extend grace.
We don’t need to take control. We leave that to God. We know our job …