Fear – Part Five

The World

For us to have great heroes, we seem to need great villains. There would be no way to display the genius of Sherlock Holmes without the equal genius of Professor Moriarty. George Orwell’s 1984 would not have the same punch without Big Brother watching you. People might still like clowns if not for Pennywise–actually, maybe not. Clowns can be creepy no matter what. Even Jerry the mouse has Tom the cat and Mickey Mouse has Pegleg Pete. We need good villains to have good heroes. 


If you notice, I said we seem to need great villains. I phrase it that way because we have learned from ancient philosophy and tradition to look at our environment in terms of dualities, opposing forces that balance one another. This way of thinking reduces most stories to good versus evil. These good versus evil stories satisfy a need for perceived balance and justice–since good should win it usually does, even if it takes a while to get to that. Some people might want to throw in stories with antiheroes–good guys who do bad things for good reasons and do the right thing eventually–but even these become a type of hero since they do the right thing in the end. The use of dualities makes it easy for us. We see the good as good, the bad as bad, and everyone knows on what side they belong. 

Except we don’t always get it right. Sometimes, we pick the side that ends up being more about convenience or maintaining comfort and personal culture rather than the right side. Sometimes, we pick the side that helps us and makes things easier on us rather than the morally correct side. We, especially as Americans, don’t like to lose so we choose the winning side–the bandwagon if you will–rather than losing side, even if the losing side is right. 

With that in mind, let’s think about the world. Through the centuries, the church has supposedly been at war with the world. Why? Because we read things like, “We know we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one”[1] or “The world can’t hate you. It hates me, though, because I testify that its works are evil”[2] and assume there is nothing redeeming in or about the world. 

But maybe we’ve got it wrong. Maybe we need to rethink the dualistic mindset and look at things another way. What if there are no bad guys but simply people who haven’t yet heard or learned of the Jesus Way? Not the cheap knockoff imitation we have created to make it easy on ourselves, but the true, disciple’s way. What if we, like Jesus, are called to be restorers of Creation–the natural world, the people living in it, the ways of life they lead? What if the world isn’t really the bad guy we think it is?

When we talk about being afraid of the world or hating the world or being at odds with the world, we are not talking about Creation in the physical sense. What we are talking about are the ordered systems of government, cultures, religions, and other man-made institutions. John 3:16, like every verse in the bible, is a product of certain translation choices. The word kosmos or world in Greek can mean the world systems and cultures, as well as humanity in general. So, we could read John 3:16-17 to read, “God so loved humanity that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. God didn’t send his Son to humanity to judge humanity, but that humanity might be healed or restored through him.” We could also read it to say, “God so loved humanity that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. God didn’t send his Son into systems of government/culture to judge humanity, but that humanity and the systems of government/culture might be healed or restored through him.” What it is saying is the Jesus Way seeks to redeem what has been presented to us as the bad guy. The Jesus Way is not here to destroy the world but to repair the damage done by our selfish choices and broken ideas.

The truth is we got it wrong. Christianity is not a dogmatic system to be imposed on humanity–Constantine and the fourth century church made this mistake a universal problem–but a way of life to be lived. Yet that system is what came into being to control the masses who may have reverted to pagan worship. For the Protestant Reformation the same thing applies. If they hadn’t found ways to keep people in their churches–mostly the same fear-based theologies of their predecessors, the people might leave and go elsewhere. The dogmatic, fear-based systems maintain the institution at the expense of what I see as the true message of Jesus and the true motivation for living it.

I believe we have nothing to fear from the world system if we approach Christianity as a way of being and doing rather than trying to create an alternate dogmatic religious/political/social system. Both the extreme religious Right and the extreme religious left are guilty of this kind of thinking. Their mindset is pass laws and create systems to protect our people from their people. So, it becomes about controlling other people. The fear most Christians are expressing when they say they are afraid of “the world” is they are afraid if losing control over how they practice faith. I believe it is a fear fed to Christians by religious-political groups within Christianity who fear a loss of church attendance (money and control) and relevance in the cultural sphere of ideas. In the process of ‘protecting the faith,’ these people have driven the last three generations away from what those generations see as a dogmatic, hate mongering, selfish expression of religion that looks and sounds nothing like Jesus’ teachings.

Even knowing this, some have been so ingrained with this fear of the world mentality it will be difficult to see past it. But what we are really saying when we say we fear the world’s various systems is we fear not being in control; we fear our way of practice being opposed, called into question. Worse, we fear the answers we have to offer to ‘protect ourselves’ and our way of practicing religion are insufficient to answer questions posed in society from those who regard Christianity as no longer being a relevant system.

There is no doctrine of Christianity calling us to control anything: to care for creation, yes; to serve others, yes; to exemplify the work and way of Jesus, absolutely; to run or control the world, no. We are not called to control anything. Control, from our perspective, is an illusion we create to make us feel less afraid of things going on around us. We are called to submit to the way of Jesus and trust God. Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”[3] Jesus’ example is that he gave himself to repair the brokenness of humanity and the call to us as those who chose to be disciples is to do likewise. We must let go of all these fears we have talked about and embrace fear’s opposite, love. 

If God so loved the world, if God seeks the redemption of it in all the forms we spoke of, shouldn’t we?

[1] 1 John 5:19

[2] John 7:7 

[3] John 6:51