Love of Neighbor or Fear of Neighbor?

Oxford University is concerned about pork. They wrote that writers should avoid mentioning “anything else which could be perceived as pork.”  And while it is certainly good and loving to try to avoid unnecessarily offending each other, the timing of this adjustment is a bit curious. Why after hundreds of years of publishing did Oxford University press decide this was the time to make that specific adjustment? Coming in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo tragedy  by a violent group of Muslims, it isn’t hard to see why Oxford might make this move for Muslims, while forgetting a wide range of other religions’ preferences. Violent Muslims are striking fear in the hearts of their neighbors.

But violence isn’t the only action that produces fear. A fire chief in Atlanta was fired for his views on sexuality, even though he was said to have never discriminated against anyone. Bakers and florists are being forced to provide services for weddings that they believe are wrong. College student ministries are being removed from campuses because of their views on sexuality. Even here in Nashville I’ve heard stories of employers asking their employees their views on sexuality.

It would be easy for Christians and people of good will to act out of a fear of their neighbor—whether it’s a violent Muslim, a religious liberty hating American, or anyone else that might seek to do them harm. It would be easy to live a life in a constant state of fear that there might be some misstep that could cost you your reputation, your job, or your life.

But does anyone want to live in that kind of world? Does anyone want to live in a world where that kind of fear is the norm? I don’t. A world where fear reigns is a world were creativity, beauty, truth, and goodness disappear. It’s a world where the unique gifts and skills that each person has to offer are missing. It’s a world that doesn’t achieve greatness. It’s North Korea.

But a life motivated and controlled by a fear of our neighbors isn’t the only way to live. There’s an alternative. We can choose to love our neighbors, opening ourselves up to whatever may come. We can choose to create a world where love reigns. Because when love reigns, creativity, beauty, goodness, and truth flourish. But in order to love in this way—to create this world—we’ll have to access the unique resources offered in Christianity’s gospel.

In short, a fear of neighbor can only be overcome when our fear of death is overcome. As Christians, we uniquely believe that our Savior defeated death through his substitutionary death on the cross and his subsequent resurrection. We believe that he now freely offers forgiveness of sins and eternal life to a world that can receive this gift by faith. When we receive this eternal life we don’t have to fear our neighbor—even if death makes it to our front door—because we believe our Savior will undo any terrible act done to us. In Christ, death becomes a comma, not a period. Our best life is on the other side of the grave and it’s eternal.

Christians are uniquely equipped to create the kind of world we all want to live in because we are able to deal with this ultimate fear—the fear of death. In Christ, the fear of death is overcome which enables us to overcome fear of neighbor. This frees us up to love our enemies, to give our lives to creating a world where this kind of love reigns supreme, and to create the conditions needed for creativity, beauty, goodness, and truth to flourish.

If there’s no Christian God, then there should be great fear. After all, in this view your life is only in your own hands or the neighbor that intends to surprise you with great harm. Those that would intimidate your life control your life because there’s no God big enough to control them or undo their horrible acts. So fear is the rational response of those that don’t have a God powerful enough to raise them from the dead.

Let’s not live that way. Let’s not create that world. The world needs love, not fear. Only Christianity has the resources not to fear even the most fearful situations—the possibility of death. Why? We believe in a God who promises to raise us from the dead. Let’s not flinch, and let’s not hate in the face of intimidation. Let our fearlessness in Christ drive us to love our neighbors, whether they take our jobs or kill us for cartoons.