Each day seems to bring a new shocking headline that can make us question our faith in a world gone mad.
A knife attack in London that kills one and wounds several others. A Roman Catholic priest murdered by ISIS sympathizers in France. Multiple terrorist attacks on the European continent. The uncertainty of the UK’s place in Europe after the Brexit vote. Nativist leaders and sentiment on the rise. And a frightening, authoritarian-style presidential candidate in the U.S.A who has cozied up to Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
Such events have caused many Christians to ponder what it means to live in a seemingly dangerous age. As one who is also troubled by regular news that reads like the impending doom of a severe thunderstorm, I share the same trepidation. It doesn’t help that many cling to a false hope that somehow their devotion to God will be immediately rewarded with Earthly bliss or financial gain. That is not the way of the cross nor the historical experience of the Church.
I have the luxury of tackling this as an academic question, living a relatively comfortable life in a safe community of California. I’m not under the threat of death or harassment, as some Christians are in other parts of the world. Nor does my ethnic background make me a target for the unholy and growing call to discriminate against those who come from elsewhere.
Yet to be true to our call, it means solidarity with those who are threatened by the darkness. Do our prayers reflect a way to embrace their experience? Do we find ourselves overcome by fear and does this impact the work that we do? I too am tempted to embrace a mode of living that withdraws too much from the world and focuses excessively on material comforts.
Jesus tackles the topic of fear head on. One passage that I return to is Luke 12:7: Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.
Certainly, this is no guarantee of physical safety or material comfort in life, even if we are faithful to our call. The most recent example of that is Father Jos Vanderlee, a Belgian priest, who was attacked with a knife after letting an asylum seeker into his home to take a shower. He did exactly as God asks, letting in the stranger and providing comfort for one who needs it. By God’s grace he lived, though surely left with the scars that comes from unnecessary suffering for one who does what is right.
Where is the reward? What is the efficacy of making the moral choice if the end result may be our own death? It seems we need to reframe the question and even our own understanding of what it means to do good works and live out this calling.
I usually think first to Our Lord, who endured the cross as the fulfillment of his Earthly mission. Also, consider the Apostles and so many of the Saints, whose tales of martyrdom remain with us to this day. Such a crucified life continues, with Father Jacques Hamel, the 86-year-old Roman Catholic priest murdered by ISIS-inspired militants.
It is not necessarily that “I will rescue you” but it’s that I am with you always. The great mystery is not that we should find reward or comfort in our suffering or close brush with evil. It’s that we are not alone when we do it
Fear isn’t supposed to rule us. This was summarized well in a short but prescient tweet from Pope Francis: “Anyone who performs works of mercy is not afraid of death.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury also offered similar thoughts, reminding us of our enduring call to work for the furthering of God’s Kingdom.
“We call upon all people of goodwill to pray and work for justice and peace. In particular, we implore everyone to help people everywhere to pursue the path of peace and human flourishing – which is the will of Creator God.”
Finally, we have a special gift as Anglicans: the sacred mystery of the Holy Eucharist is there to sustain us. It is particularly an essential piece of our life as Anglicans, where each week we can be fed and commune with God in the most powerful and intimate way. This alone is a proper antidote to the fear of our world. Not one that washes such problems and tribulations away, but empowers us for the daily living that comes with a world that is not yet one that matches our future existence with Him.
My hope is this short reflection can offer some strength and comfort as a layperson who grapples with these and many other questions along the journey of faith. The days ahead may not get better, but we have an everlasting assurance that there is One who bears our burdens and endures suffering with us.
Article by Derek Walter @derekwalter on 15th August 2016 at 11:00am BST
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