In a few days, our country will choose its president and elected officials. The past two years have been increasingly tumultuous as this country has marched toward November 8, 2016. Future scenarios have been painted, policies and their impacts discussed, and candidates made spectacles in the public square. This election cycle may have established a new low in civility and public decorum. Our citizens have increasingly become more given to hate, anger, envy, rage, malice, deceit, hypocrisy, and slander. These characteristics are now the public norm for our country, and, unfortunately, for most Christians.
We could look at the past two years, and really human history, and notice a particular theme at large:
Not the sort of reverent, Godward fear the ancient writers exhort us to have in the book of Proverbs, nor other healthy fears such as the impulse to pull a toddler out of oncoming traffic or not to touch a red-hot ember in a fireplace. The fear I speak of is narcissistic and debilitating, focusing our attention inward and away from God. It occurs when we sense a threat to our identity– when something that makes us feel in control is threatened or taken away.
The belief that we are in control is an illusion first demonstrated by Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. The serpent engages our first parents by questioning God’s authority, “Did God actually say?” From this line of questioning, everything goes downhill. Our first parents not only question God’s authority, but also His design. The serpent convinces Eve that God has withheld something from them: “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Ge 3:5; cf. 2:17). Believing that lie is only furthered by the lie that God does not love them. Sally Lloyd Jones captures it well:
“As soon as the snake saw his chance, he slithered silently up to Eve. ‘Does God really love you?’ the serpent whispered…The snake’s words hissed into her ears and sunk down deep into her heart, like poison. Eve wondered. Suddenly she didn’t know anymore. Eve picked the fruit and ate some. And Adam ate some too. And a terrible lie came into the world. It would never leave. It would live on in every human heart, whispering to every one of God’s children: ‘God doesn’t love me.’”
Instead of gaining control, Adam, Eve, and all humanity acquired chaos. In the attempt to exchange love for power, we gained neither. And since that time a quest for control has marked every human because of fear—fear for loss of control, fear for what we do not have, and fear for what could be taken from us.
In an issue of The New York Review of Books last year, Pulitzer Prize author Marilynne Robinson penned, “First, contemporary America is full of fear. And second, fear is not a Christian habit of mind.” She is right. But more alarming is the number of fearful Christians. So what is the distinctly Christian response to this turbulent season and going forward after November 8?
1 Peter is very fitting for this time in our country and for us as Christians. Peter writes to an audience of Christians living in very unsettled times as royal and holy vagabonds (1 Pe 1:1; 2:9). Caught between living in the height of Roman occupation and their holy calling, Peter responds with how Christians are to live in such times.
First, let us remember from where we came. Peter writes that we were called out of darkness into marvelous light. Nothing we have done merited God’s grace in calling us into His marvelous light. This act of mercy “caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pe 1:3). This glorious grace of God has relieved our worst fears, dispelled our dark nights, and will one day guide us safely home. Fear is what drove us from God, but His irresistible grace is what brings us to Him.
Second, let us remember where we belong. 1 Peter goes on to say that this grace brought us into a family: “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.” Once we were all strangers, and now we are family. Only God’s grace can take diversity and bring unity. Knowing that we are united together in Christ gives great assurance that we are to face whatever comes together and not alone. Furthermore, the witness of our togetherness is what the world will see and come know of God (John 17:21). Or as Richard Mouw states, “If we are not able to point to our own communal life to illustrate the righteousness we want for everyone, our message is not credible.”
Third, let us remember how we are to act. Understanding where we came from is not an attempt to bring about any sort of shame, only to remind us that the great work of making the dead come to life is God’s work. So if we are brought out of the darkness into the light, then such things as malice, deceit, hypocrisy, and the host of other vices should be put away (1 Pe 2:1). But that is not all. Christians, of all people, should remain humble (1 Pe 5:5-8). Have you noticed that humility is lacking in the political discussion? Humility is often seen as a vice than a virtue, which is reminiscent of Peter’s day when humility was a reprehensible quality. Christians are called to enormous task of living in a world that does not recognize them. This calling, as 1 Peter 2 reminds us, is to “keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable” (v. 12). But our conduct is to be honorable for one very good reason—“they may see your good deeds and glorify God.” Our conduct should be seen as kindness, warmth, and empathy, or as 1 Peter 2:17 states, “Honor everyone.”
What is perhaps the most disconcerting and heartbreaking observation in this season is the ferocity with which people have attacked each other. Francis Schaeffer wrote, “All men bear the image of God. They have value, not because they are redeemed, but because they are God’s creation in God’s image. Modern man, who has rejected this, has no clue as to who he is, and because of this he can find no real value for himself or for others. Hence, he downgrades the value of others and produces the horrible thing we face today—a sick culture in which men treat men as inhuman, as machines. As Christians, however, we know the value of people.”
Whatever comes next Tuesday, and the days and years following, our clear calling in this world does not change. As sojourners and exiles we have a clear mandate to proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into light and to “not repay evil for evil…but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called” (1 Pe 2:9; 3:9). Christians, let’s be done with fear and instead love as it was shown for us and given to us in Christ.
Lloyd-Jones, Sally. The Jesus Storybook Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007.
Mouw, Richard. Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World. Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2010.
Schaeffer, Francis. The Mark of the Christian. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1970.