Justin Barringer is a guest writer whose voice we’re honored to share. You can read more about Justin in his bio at the end of the piece.
Today as I was frantically trying to finish up some writing for a major project I had the TV on the in the background and Facebook open in another window. I was switching among the coverage of the American presidential inauguration, the commentary of my social media friends, and the document I needed to complete. I felt like I needed to say something because I have seen so many well-meaning Christian friends (and perhaps a few with less beneficent intentions) offer up words of apparent comfort but that have come across as mere aphorisms at best and as disdainful toward marginalized and frightened people at worst. Here is what I wrote.
In trying to think of something worth saying today I think of the various attempts at comfort I’ve heard from others.
The bible says over and over again “Do not fear” and I agree that followers of Jesus ought have our fear driven out by love. But, I also know that folks who are not feeling threatened telling folks who are feeling threatened not to fear sounds pretty trite and even patronizing. Likewise it has a way of pacifying those whose well-being is not affected. If you are going to tell others not to fear then be willing to put your life on the line to step out in the face of unkindness and injustice. When Jesus met the woman caught in adultery, who was no doubt terrified, he did not tell her “do not fear because I am the Lord.” Instead he made himself a human shield and assuaged her fear by making himself the target of the crowd’s rage. His actions of sacrificial love drove out her fear. Go and do likewise. “Words have power, but they can ring hollow when they are incongruent with our actions.”
I’ve also heard folks saying “pray for our leaders.” Yes, of course we should pray. However, what should we pray? Should we pray that leaders have wisdom? Should we pray that they take repentance seriously? Should we pray “let my people go”? Furthermore, it seems that our prayers are insincere if we are not willing to work for peace, hear the cries of the needy, and devote ourselves to the cause of the oppressed. Pray, but perhaps it ought to be something like Mary’s Magnificat.
People are declaring the truism that God is in control. Of course God is in control! That has never been an excuse for God’s people eschew efforts for justice or calling leaders to account. Saying God is in control also does not mean that people will not experience pain or tragedy or brutality. Just ask Jesus! “God is in control” often means that death precedes resurrection. Jesus sweat blood in his anxiety and no one dared tell him to suck it up or that Israel would go on because God is in control. He faced the cross because of love, but it sure seems that it was scary as hell. If you believe God is in control, then take up your cross and face that abuse on behalf of folks who are distressed.
Words have power, but they can ring hollow when they are incongruent with our actions. If you say to others, “Do not fear,” then live a life that fearlessly confronts unkindness, injustice, and dishonesty. If you tell people to pray then make your life a prayer of protection over others. Pray with your hands and feet and even your bloodied body if need be. If you declare that God is in control then live your life with the reckless abandon of sacrificial love. Give up your life so that others may live.
(Along with Scripture passages alluded to above it seems that Amos 5 and Isaiah 58 are appropriate reading for today.)
About the Author
Justin Barringer is husband of Rachel, father of Israel and Zoe, and friend of God. He is a PhD student in religious ethics at Southern Methodist University where his research focuses on a variety of justice issues through the lens of Spirit-inspired friendships. He is co-editor of the book A Faith Not Worth Fighting For.