Fear, Distrust and the Gospel
‘The whole sordid American presidential campaign is being blown along by an acrid gust of distrust.’ So writes American columnist David Brooks in an article published this week.
He reflects that the failings of both main candidates (e.g. to disclose relevant information, and avoiding honest and authentic dialogue with voters) are the result of a general society-wide shift away from vulnerability, authenticity and trust.
Whereas communities were once more likely to be bonded together with a fair degree of trust, people are increasingly inclined to treat their neighbours with suspicion. And when we choose the political representatives that most reflect our own tendencies, the cycle is complete.
Brooks concludes that ‘the great religions and the wisest political philosophies have always counselled going the other way… They have generally championed the paradoxical leap – that even in the midst of an avalanche of calumny, somebody’s got to greet distrust with vulnerability, scepticism with innocence, cynicism with faith and hostility with affection.’
If it’s true that we are most likely to be distrustful when we ourselves feel insecure, the Christian gospel gives us wonderful resources to counter this trend.
When our security is found in what God has done for us in Christ, and when we therefore know that God loves us deeply and irreversibly, we are freed to live the counter-cultural life to which Jesus calls us. The extent of God’s love for us, revealed in Christ, means we need no longer worry we will be short-changed.
‘There is no fear in love’, says St John, ‘but perfect love casts out fear, for fear has to do with punishment.’
If Jesus called us to follow him – to turn the other cheek, to forgive our debtors and enemies, and to live generously – from a position of insecurity in which we were constantly in doubt of God’s favour, it would be an impossible task.
However, we are not facing that task. Rather, the high demands of the Christian life are faced from the even higher security of a life ‘built upon the rock’ of Christ.
* First published in the New York Times, reprinted in the Canberra Times, Wednesday 14th September2016.
* 1 John 4:18