Over the years I’ve noticed one of the differences between the fear and love referenced in I John 4:18 is that love often asks how while fear is too busy asking why. Whether as a therapist or a pastor, I’ve encountered people on both ends of the love – fear spectrum and this is my most frequent observation.
The culture we Americans live in today often appears to me as living in the fear end of that spectrum. In truth, we seem stuck there. As in other stuck cultures or social systems, we are having much conversation about the wrong question. We are asking why, and we are never going to agree on the answer. And when we don’t agree, we may even ask “Why not?” and perpetuate an endless and hopeless conversation. We are in a vicious cycle with an emphasis on vicious.
The less we agree about why, the more we fear for the future direction of our nation. “Why?” and “Why not?” are like traps, a societal quick sand that leave us struggling to free ourselves. The more we struggle, the more stuck we become. As we reinforce our fears, they become what some may call self-fulfilling prophecies. Lacking any consensus as to why, we persist in asking the same question instead of changing the question itself.
This can happen as well in our personal and family lives. It can happen to organizations. Institutions. The trap of asking the wrong question and spending an eternity trying to agree on an answer. It traps us in fear and limits our ability to then love, or to enjoy the opposite end of this love — fear spectrum.
Such a fate is also happening in today’s churches. We have enough fears of our own that we have lost our salt and light. We are now what marketing experts call commodities. That is to say, Christians seem little different and no better than anyone else when it comes to love. We are commodities, like kernels of wheat. To say this makes us at least better than corn or rice just doesn’t change the world’s perception of us. We’re still just commodities. We’re the “so what?” people.
To me it seems that Christians, whether acting alone or in communities that claim a critical mass, have the greatest news of all for a culture of fear such as we live in these days. The news is love, the only proven anti-dote for fear. But our news has little credibility or receptivity because we, too, live in fear. Same as others, no different than frightened pagans. Stuck asking why and finding we can’t even agree with one another. Afraid of our enemies. Afraid for the future of Christianity. Afraid for our nation’s future. Still commodities. Still “so what?” people with little love that’s new or different from anyone else’s. We’re stuck!
So what if we changed the question? What if we drop this “Why?” nonsense that divides us into as many denominations as there are answers to that question. Perhaps we can get unstuck from our decline as Christians and as churches if we change the conversation to “How?”
How can we love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength? And our neighbors as ourselves? How can we love our enemies? How can we better go into the world, baptizing and teaching Christ’s commands? How can we better love one another as Christ has loved us?
Start a list. Brainstorm. Imagine all possibilities. Have a conversation. Create a new narrative of love that’s actually different from the world’s love of friends but never enemies, and that’s “good news” in relief of the world’s fear of enemies. Ask “How” instead of “Why” or “Why not” for a change.
To do otherwise is to remain stuck in the world’s narrative of “fear of enemies.” And to remain “so what Christians.”
When we Christians can get ourselves unstuck and unafraid, maybe then we can help our larger culture get past its fears, conflicts, hatred, and war. Maybe then we can be change agents for a new narrative of enemy-love instead of enemy-fear, of “How” instead of “Why,” and of God’s Kingdom of Heaven on earth. For a change.