Monday, November 14, 2011

Love and Fear

I saw a bumper sticker at Whole Foods yesterday...

Let me pause to say that I know you are automatically thinking "Tari saw a bumper sticker that was so far to the political left it made her head spin around 360." But you'd be wrong, because this is Houston. And while there are more than the usual percentage of "Democracy Now!" bumper stickers at Whole Foods, there are also quite a few other points of view, as this piece illustrates.

So, back to the bumper sticker. It read:

"Most people who plan on turning to God in the eleventh hour die at 10:30."

I've been chewing on that one off and on for a while, and I have this to say:

Yes, I will admit, the Bible does discuss the necessity of being ready for God's return. The parable of the wise and foolish women with their oil lamps comes to mind right away. It's a valid point, and the idea that one should follow God faithfully because no one understands his timing is certainly not heretical.

But. However. On the other hand.

As CS Lewis put it very succinctly, we are always moving either closer or farther away from God. There is no stasis in life. Our thoughts and actions propel us in one direction or the other, and we need to be mindful at all times of that direction. As an aside, I have to tell you that Two loves it when we talk about this subject; he turns one light off in my room and walks back and forth between the light side of the room and the dark side of the room, thinking about what it all means (and talking all the while, of course). What Lewis wrote is also what the Orthodox Church teaches quite clearly. Our lives are meant to be a journey in which we move closer to God and become more like him: this process is called "theosis" and is the center of Orthodox theology and praxis. It is the reason we fast and pray. So we have at least two Christian traditions, both teaching the same thing: the necessity of living a life that brings one closer to God, both in action and thought.

Where does fear fit into that picture? If our work in life is to become more like God, how does acting based on the fear of damnation - as this bumper sticker is clearly encouraging people to do - bring us closer to Him? Is God a god of fear (in the "terrified" sense of the word - not "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" sense. Darn English language)? No, He isn't. Perfect love casts out fear, doesn't it? And God is more than anything else the embodiment of love. And seeking Him, following after Him, becoming more like Him, should be a process that fills us with love and light, that heals us as our habits of sin fall away from us slowly.

What do we want others to think of us as Christians? What do we want them to think motivates our decision to draw closer to God? Do we want to preach fear or love? This isn't just a question of catching more flies with honey than with vinegar. This is for real: who on earth wants to draw closer to a Creater of whom (s)he is terrified? Instead of hapharzardly scaring the pants off people, let's instead show them God's love, the power He has to heal our souls from the scars of sin, and the mercy He waits so patiently to drop like a balm on the head of the broken.

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