When Faith Begets Courage, Courage Begets Resistance
Like many of us, I suspect, there comes a time in the 24-hour news cycle following a tragic event—particularly an event that speaks of little but the human capacity for evil and ugliness in the world, as we witnessed in Charlottesville—when I just begin to feel weary. It’s a weariness that springs from a deep-seated yearning for peace and justice—for a world that resembles the Promised Land I’ve read about in scripture all my life. Surely, I think to myself, such yearning is as much a habit of humankind as breathing, or sleeping, or eating. So why, I ask, does it seem to take so much energy and effort to satisfy it?
It’s a naïve question, I suppose, and in reality the answer may be pretty simple. We have a difficult time satisfying that yearning because we’re greedy, and selfish, and perhaps worst of all, fearful. Mostly, we fear that we won’t get our fair share—whether that’s a share of food and shelter, or of education, or of dignity, or simply of the freedom to pursue our dreams, for example—if we turn our attention to ensuring that others are not deprived of theirs. We fear things we don’t understand and people whose skin color, nationality, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, language, gender identity, politics, or culture differs from our own. We fear loneliness, but then want relationship only on our terms.
In short, we have little or no faith in God’s promise that acting out of pure love—love without motive—toward others, regardless of how they may differ from us, will bring us the peace and justice for which we yearn. Is that kind of faith possible for us mortals? Maybe, maybe not; but in any event, it seems to me that the extent of our fear has a pretty close correlation to the amount and strength of the faith we have in that promise.
Perhaps, though, the weariness comes from something else as well. Perhaps, as I heard suggested recently, our weariness might also be born of the flaccidness of privileged birth. Unaccustomed as many of us are to systemic oppression, injustice, racism, bigotry, and other such indignities, perhaps it becomes easier and easier for us to just get tired of hearing about it.
While refugees and immigrants fleeing violence and oppression in their own countries seek shelter on our shores, we sit safely inside our comfortable homes, affirming faith in the letter of law rather than in the God of compassion.
While our black brothers and sisters are forced to work and play beneath the monumental eyes of men who are revered for their participation in a struggle to maintain the enslavement and oppression of their ancestors, we expend our faith on history and heritage rather than on empathy and reconciliation.
While a rapidly shrinking world turns to us for moral leadership and a model for progress, we put our faith in isolation, pragmatic wealth, and the politics of division rather than in God’s intention for us as a family dependent on relationship and mutual respect for a sustainable future.
The strife in our communities’ streets doesn’t affect us directly, so we post our outrage online and then move on, finding ourselves lacking the courage to speak truth to power, especially when that power has itself become complicit in the evil we seek to escape. We seem to have forgotten that faith is the lifeblood of resistance to the evils that work in opposition to the kingdom of God.
Yes, it’s kind of a pessimistic view of our condition, but the good news—as we know—is that there is a way out… Faith, the stories of God’s people tell us, begets courage, and courage, the nourishment of strength to resist the evil that sometimes seems poised to overtake us. Jesus himself, in human form, responded to the evil he faced by allowing his faith to subsume his fear. In the absence of fear, courage filled the void. And strengthened by that courage, his resistance against the powers that not only might have undone his life’s work but would have continued the oppression of those he knew as “the least of these” prevailed, leaving us with the greatest story ever told.
Certainly, Jesus was called to deliver good news to a world desperately in need of it. God knew that only by God presenting God’s nature in human form could humankind ever come to fully appreciate the depth and breadth of what a life devoted to love could be (we’re still working on that, I think).
But Jesus was also called to resist the temptations to which humankind often falls prey—the temptation to seek safety over self-sacrifice, greed over generosity, loathing over love, and cruelty over compassion. He was called to resist the powers that found their power in intimidation, chaos, and indifference to the health and well-being of others. Jesus, I think, is our best and most compelling example of what it means to resist evil, with complete faith that our resistance will always prevail.
Resistance to evil, as Dr. Martin Luther King reminded us time and time again, does not require violence. It does require our faith that God will use our peaceful resistance to evil—whether through sheltering the stranger, saying “no” to the beguiling promise of wealth and greatness, or standing in the way of those who would codify injustice—to rob those who cling so desperately to vestiges of hate, bigotry, exclusion, and oppression of the energy they seem to find in embracing those vestiges.
Faith, courage, resistance…that is a path toward the Kingdom that I think we Christians can and should embrace.