It is easy to live in fear these days. Perhaps it's always been that way. Maybe the times aren't any more fearful today, but rather humans are beings always prone to fear. Regardless of fear's source, whether in circumstances or in human nature, it's easy for those of us living in the present to see the fears which the modern world stirs up in our neighbors and in ourselves. But all this fear seems so odd in our enlightened age. One would have thought (or at least I would have thought) that a world which proclaimed itself as more "scientific," more "objective," and less "mystical" would be one in which fears would dissipate. In a world where malicious demons and capricious gods don't exist, we only have the rational world to fear. And what is there to fear in that which can be understood and controlled? The problems of modernity can be measured, assessed, and converted into probabilities. In a world where cause and effect are better understood than ever before, it seems like we should have a handle on most of our fears. Yet we find that in the Western world - the part of the world who thinks of themselves as the most advanced and scientific - fear reigns supreme. Whether you watch the news and take the temperature of the nation, whether you gather anecdotes from those in your community, or whether you simply look at rates of psychological/emotional issues and prescription drug use and drug abuse, you'll find that our world is one which is steeped in fear.
We Christians think we have the Apostle Peter pegged. Of all Jesus's disciples we seem to have the most insight into Peter's thoughts and actions. He was clearly a very eccentric individual, prone to speaking before thinking and prone to ideas of grandeur. He is the disciple who first proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God. He is the disciple who walked on water. He is one of two disciples who raced to Christ's tomb on Easter morning. Peter was always caught up in the action. And while he so apparently loved Jesus, Peter is most well known for his betrayal of our savior during Jesus's greatest hour of need. That act of betrayal seems to fit Peter's character pretty well. He is always so close to good, but ends up falling short. Peter's betrayal was just the last example in a string of near successes, but ultimate failures. Right after being the first disciple to declare Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus told Peter to "get behind me Satan," as Peter tempted Jesus to avoid the cross. Right after being the only disciple to walk on water, he began to sink because he focused on his circumstances rather than Jesus. And right after Peter declared that he would stand by Christ, he denied him three times. Peter's story is largely a story of "almosts." He almost got it right, but always messed things up somehow.
There are many directions I'd like to go with Peter's story. I think it's awfully sad that the disciple who trusted Jesus enough to recognize him as the Messiah and to trust him to walk on water gets such a bad reputation. But what I really want to focus on is how I think the whole denial story paints Peter as something he absolutely wasn't - a coward. I want to make a case for Peter's bravery, but even more than that, I want to make the case that the underlying issue with Peter's betrayal was much deeper than momentary fear. While there may have been some fear involved in Peter's denial of Christ, I think it's fairly clear that fear for his own wellbeing was not Peter's primary problem. So why do most of us think Peter was filled with fear? I think the fear narrative is easy for us to latch on to for a number of reasons, but most of all because if we say Peter's problem was fear, we in the West can subsequently disassociate ourselves from being in Peter's shoes. How often have we felt genuine fear for our lives because of our Christian beliefs? Almost every one of us would have to say "never." And so we never have to identify with a traitorous Peter who feared for his life. But as I will argue, Peter's reason for denying Christ should make us much more introspective about the ways we are constantly tempted to deny Christ in like manner. So let me make my case now for why I don't think Peter was a coward who feared for his life.
There are quite a few characters you can criticize when it comes to the story of Jesus's crucifixion. The disciples were cowards and ran, with Peter even openly denying Christ numerous times. The religious leaders hounded Jesus and held a kangaroo court to convict him. The fickle crowds who were praising Jesus only a week before, now yelled out for his blood. In Luke's account, we even see Satan come into play as he enters Judas and has his hands in the mix. But for as cowardly, evil, or lost as some of these agents were, there is one character we often overlook. Pilate.
I think Pilate gets passed by so often because we can empathize with his position. Whereas the disciples were committed to Jesus and should have been loyal, and whereas the religious leaders were malicious and pursued Christ's blood, Pilate was caught in the middle of something he didn't want to be a part of. He had no loyalty to Jesus, but neither did he hold any malice. He was as impartial a judge as we could hope for in overseeing Jesus's trial. In fact, as we progress through the story, we see Pilate recognize Christ's innocence and attempt to free him using the various means he had at his disposal. To most, it seems like Pilate is a fairly decent guy who is trying to do the right thing, but ends up having to make a difficult decision in order to do his job by maintaining order.
Most Christians, and those who live in "Christian societies" are familiar with the ten commandments. Don't steal, don't murder, don't covet, etcetera. But the ten commandments are just a small representation of the Bible's laws. You may not know that the Old Testament actually contains over 600 laws for the people of God to follow. In the New Testament, Jesus does us a favor and condenses all of the laws to two: love God and love your neighbor (Mt. 22:34-40). If we simply do those two things, then we'll never break any of the other 600 commandments. If we loved others, how could we murder them? If we loved, how could we covet what another has instead of being happy for them? If we loved God, how could we choose to avoid Him by not gathering together with other Christians to worship Him? Love is absolutely central to the Bible and to followers of Christ. In fact, Jesus tells us that it is a Christian's love which will distinguish them as a true follower of God (Jn. 13:35).
Ice age upon catastrophic ice age of selection
And only one result has trickled in
The house wins, oh, the house always wins
If evil were a lesser breed than justice after all these years
The righteous would have freed the world of sin
The house wins, oh, the house always wins
You don't have to be alone to be lonely
You might as well give in
You don't have to be sick to be dying
You might as well give in
You don't have to have lost to be lost
Oh, give in
"*Jean Claude! *Fran!" I yelled through the cold, morning air. I was yelling because my voice needed to travel through the haze from the still smoldering campfires and all the way through the slats in the small, wooden shanty to the seven occupants who resided inside. Without a door on the shack and with only blankets for windows, I didn't need to yell all that loudly for them to hear me. But my voice was the "doorbell" to make my presence known, and I wanted to ensure that I was heard. I didn't want any of my future visits to end up like my first, unannounced visit, when *Sam, Jean Claude's older brother, took me into the shack while the rest of the family were all still huddled in the same bed trying to keep warm.
The story of "The Prodigal Son" is a seemingly familiar story for most of us. However, as our men's group goes through this story again, guided by Tim Keller's book, "The Prodigal God," I am finding it more beautiful and convicting than ever before. In the first place, simply reading this story in Romanian has illuminated the passage. In our culture, the notion of "prodigal" has always (at least in my mind) meant "wayward." A prodigal is someone who has lost their way. However, in Romanian, the story is of the "wasteful" son. That makes sense, as the son wasted the love of his family and his full inheritance on that which was fleeting and meaningless.
This revised understanding of the meaning of "prodigal" opens up Keller's book title as well, as we understand that Keller wants to clue us in to the "wastefulness" of God. At first this notion perhaps comes across as blasphemous. But as Keller expounds on the story of the Prodigal Son, highlighting Christ's audience, Christ's character, and the overly generous love of the father, it becomes clear that God is "wasteful" in his love, at least in the eyes of the world. The Pharisees couldn't understand how Jesus wasted his love and attention on the sinners and tax collectors. Such a message is just as important for us today, as we likewise horde the love and forgiveness of God which we believe we have obtained through our merit, refusing to dispense any of it to those who we perceive to be less than us.
Our world is fed two narratives when it comes to democracies - either you vote and uphold patriotism, honor, duty, and morality, or you abstain from voting and refuse to participate in the world in any meaningful way. While I will acknowledge that many who abstain from voting likely do so because they are either lazy or uninformed, I believe there may often be a good rationale for Christians to abstain. I want to provide a few of the reasons which stand out most to me, and provide you with a few other resources to ponder if you decide to consider this option further.
Imagine that time travel has been discovered and you have the opportunity to travel anywhere in history you'd like. Being a Christian, there is nothing more you desire than to go back and be there for the most influential moment in the history of the universe, the trial and crucifixion of our savior Jesus Christ. As you enter history, you slip into the crowd standing before Pilate and hear the offer Pilate is making to free one prisoner to the crowd. Being a part of the crowd, you can choose to free Jesus, the innocent, Barabbas the murderer, or a thief. You know your Bible and understand that Jesus has no hope of being freed. The crowd wants his blood too badly. But maybe, just maybe you and those who traveled back with you could influence the result between the thief and Barabbas. Maybe you could have the thief freed instead of the murderer. While you might not be able to save Jesus, you may at least be able to lessen the injustice that occurs in this situation. So do you vote to free Jesus, the innocent man, though your vote will have no influence, and allow a murderer to walk free? Or do you vote to mitigate a greater evil by voting for the lesser evil which has a chance of winning, though it would mean failing to support justice for the innocent?
I am a product of America. I've been trained to be a good citizen of the American Kingdom. I've been supportive of upholding the Constitution and founding documents. I've been patriotic. I've taken on my responsibility to vote in every presidential election for which I've been eligible. But during the last election cycle I realized that while I had been well-trained and indoctrinated in kingdom ethics by my country and community, I hadn't been all that well trained in certain Kingdom ethics by my spiritual community, particularly as it pertained to politics. Growing up, I was always told who to vote for or what issues to vote for by my spiritual community, yet I was never taught to evaluate that decision making process. I was to be like a questioning Berean when it came to the scriptures, but not when it came to political parties and issues. This is probably because the moral answer was always so simple in the political sphere. The Republican party is the only party which has a chance of winning and which doesn't support the great moral evil of abortion. The Republican party obviously deserves my unquestioning vote. On top of that, the Republican party has become so tied to the Religious Right - a huge demographic - that they'll give my Christian community more power and influence. With the Republican party, conservative Christians have the greatest chance of making America godly, or at least the greatest chance of staving off the impending moral decay by holding back God's judgment on our nation through the legislating of morality. So I voted Republican for the first three elections of my life - quite literally without thinking twice.