There are many things that Christians are doing in this postmodern era that are exemplary. The renewed call to global, faith-fueled activism spurred by the overwhelming number of texts in scripture regarding God’s heart for the poor and marginalized is hopefully changing the stereotypical negative views of the Church. It was the Roman Emperor Julian who violently hated Christians and irritatingly wrote in a letter that, “These impious Galileans not only feed their own poor, but ours also; welcoming them into their (love-feasts), they attract them, as children are attracted, with cakes. Whilst the pagan priests neglect the poor, the hated Galileans devote themselves to works of charity…”
But I’ve noticed something that slightly troubles me, though. In a culture that places a premium value on tolerance and acceptance (a just reaction to hate-crime violence and shrill web voices), it’s natural to assume that we, as Christians, want to be loved, experienced and viewed as tolerant and accepting people, especially as The Church, the fountainhead of grace. After all, if that’s how the culture defines love, we need to speak in a language they understand. That’s what good missionaries do. And who wants to be experienced as intolerant and unaccepting? Certainly not followers of the Friend of sinners.
Besides, weren’t the people that argued the most with Jesus the religious types? Those were the ones who put God in a box, right? Those were the ones Jesus said travelled over land and sea to find one convert and make him more of a child of hell than themselves. Can you imagine Pharisee hashtags if Twitter existed then?—#killthecultleader.
But before we look down our noses at “religious people” and “church folks” (an easy target since it’s always the people other than us and our little circle of enlightened bloggers and friends), it might be circumspect to consider passages where the “culture” or the “world” is clearly viewed as no friend of the Church...
When an adulterous woman is misogynistically dragged before Jesus (where was the loverboy?), Jesus expressed compassion and zero-condemnation. But He added a postscript: “From now on don’t sin.”
It was Jesus who reminded His followers, “When the world hates you, remember it hated me before it hated you. The world would love you if you belonged to it, but you don’t. I chose you to come out of the world, and so it hates you.” (John 15:18–19)
To the self-professed sinner—Peter—who was part of Jesus’ inner circle, Jesus snapped, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me.”
It was Gentile Roman military men who mocked Jesus’ kingship and drove the nails and divided up His clothes at the cross.
It was the businessmen and profiteers who wanted to kill Paul in Ephesus. They did it under the guise of pagan religion, but the bottom line was their bottom line (Acts 19:23, 27).
After a new age-type psychic lost her ability to tell fortunes because of an on-the-spot exorcism by Paul, her infuriated Gentile business managers have Paul and Silas arrested, beaten mercilessly and thrown in jail. Follow the money.
Before the brother of Jesus is martyred, he penned this reminder: Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (James 4:4)
It was an exiled John who reminded Jesus freaks: Don’t be surprised, dear brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. (1 John 3:13)
Paul was beheaded at the hands of Gentiles. Previously he wrote: Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. (Romans 12:2a Message Version)
In Athens, Greece—ground zero of Western philosophy—it was the Gentile intellectuals and poets who sneered at Paul’s discourse on the resurrection.
It’s the nations of the world who despise God in the apocalypse: “The nations were angry with you, but now the time of your wrath has come.” (Revelation 11:18a)
...In other words, it’s not just the “religious/legalists/fundamentalists” that we may be at odds with.
Here’s the problem: I’m finding myself becoming uncomfortable with how little I’m disliked by people outside of the faith. Okay, I realize I may have some deep interpersonal issues to work out here. And I’m not into creating self-righteous confrontational situations by which I can claim persecution…like your average run-of-the-mill American cult. It’s way too easy to slip into a messianic/persecution complex. Been there, got the t-shirt. Seriously.
But I’m wondering: is my life a fragrance that demands a reaction from different people à la 2 Corinthians 2?—or am I just a nice guy who people generally don’t mind being with? There was a reason that Paul said he was not ashamed of the gospel; it implied that it was something to be scoffed at, to be derided as intellectually silly, as a weakness rather than a position of philosophical strength.
There is a reason why Paul wrote the following words at the risk of appearing super-spiritual or attempting to justify himself: I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the stormy seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be Christians but are not. I have lived with weariness and pain and sleepless nights. Often I have been hungry and thirsty and have gone without food. Often I have shivered with cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. (2 Corinthians 11:26b–27 NLT)
Am I so cozy with my life or the culture and so careful to not come off as one of “those kind-of-Christians” that I’m safe as milk? Why am I not disliked by some? I expect to not be liked by some believers for being, well, whatever. Grace feels threatening to some. But where is my interaction with people outside of the Church that causes them to scoff, derisively laugh, or actively oppose the message of the Cross and resurrection? I made fun of people who believed in God before I became a Christian. Where are those who are making fun of me? I’m afraid I’m too insulated and safe in the current zeitgeist of tolerance and acceptance.
The power of the gospel is the Cross…where mercy and judgment meet in space and time. But there is no sense of mercy without a realization of judgment. And somehow, mysteriously, the Cross shouts a more-than-subliminal message of both.
Why don’t people hate me? At least some? It's got me thinking.