Faith...Public or Private?
One of my favorite songs is “Soldier”, by Gavin Degraw. Not only because I married a soldier, but because it really speaks to the few who display true courage in this world. I have had the experience of seeing evil and darkness through my training in Psychiatry as well as on a personal level. Sometimes it just feels like there are few champions out there that are willing to be a comfort, a protector, and a close friend when suffering and trauma occur.
Another aspect of courage is courage to live out one’s faith. It is difficult in a world where many of us have learned from a young age that religion and politics are to be kept private and not displayed in the workplace, school, or the public. Fortunately, I was never taught that in my family, although the political aspect of it has gotten me into trouble on a few occasions.
In the Christian faith, we follow by example, the example of Jesus Christ. He was the most courageous human to ever live; as He left His throne in Heaven to take on a feeble, human body in order to show us how much He was willing to fight for us. He was ridiculed, despised, rejected, in order to prove that He can empathize with us in our human condition, our struggles with the suffering in this world, and with loss (Hebrews 4:15). He is the ultimate soldier, who runs into the darkness to save those who are lost. He literally took on the darkness, or the sin of the world, so that every human being who has ever lived could find eternal life through His sacrifice and resurrection from the dead (2 Corinthians 5:21).
His last words to His followers before He ascended to Heaven were to tell the world of Him so that the world could find forgiveness, unconditional love, and eternal life (Matthew 28:19-20). Why would we want to keep this private? If we truly believe that, why would we not want to tell everyone we care about, the good news? This is the rub in today’s culture. What has more influence in our lives, people’s opinions and favor, or God’s desire for the world to know Him?
The story of Jonah begins with Jonah unwilling to follow God’s command for him to go to a nation that was the enemy of Israel, and tell them they were going to be destroyed unless they repented. The message was to warn the Assyrians of imminent destruction due to their extreme evil against humanity if they didn’t change their ways. When repentance is used in the Bible it refers to an action to prevent temporal judgment, it is not referring to something that needs to be done to receive eternal life. However, given that Jonah was God’s prophet and frequently shared the saving message of the Messiah coming one day to provide a sacrifice for all sins through trust in Him alone for eternal life, he doubtlessly was to tell them that as well. However, instead of Jonah obeying God, he found a ship that took him to the end of the world as he knew it in those days, Spain. It turns out that one day, the Assyrians were going to conquer Israel and enslave and intermarry with the Israelites. Jonah wanted nothing to do with their temporal salvation or redemption to the point where he even risked death so the Assyrians wouldn’t be spared. Jonah wanted to keep the saving message to himself, and not share it with his enemies, for fear that they would be saved.
However, while Jonah was on a boat fleeing his mission, a great storm overtook the boat. The people on the boat who did not believe in Jonah’s God were beside themselves. They were trying so hard to stay alive, and Jonah was asleep. This is a good example of how we can have a false sense of peace, or complacency , but are actually not in line with God’s will. Every man on the boat was crying out to their “god” to save them, but nothing happened. When they awakened Jonah from his deep sleep, they were desperate to know how he could use his relationship with God to the advantage of everyone on the boat. They wanted to know about his faith and were upset he kept his faith to himself and didn’t use it to help those around him (Jonah 1).
As we follow in the footsteps of Jesus, we develop more of His character, and begin to love like He loves. (John 13:34-35). We put our faith into action, helping others who are poor, sick, needy, and hurting. We are able to forgive and offer grace and mercy to others instead of judgment and punishment. The world needs more of these people who display their faith, live it out, and don’t keep it private. It is not the “bible-beating fanatic” on the side of the road telling everyone how sinful they are. It is not the “holier than thou” person who looks down on anyone who isn’t abiding by the checklist of "do" and "don’t" he or she has in his or her mind. It is the humble servant who follows what God says is right, good, and true, yet doesn’t think they are better or deserve more than anyone else. It is the fruit of the Spirit on display that the world needs to see. Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. It is the unconditional love of God that paid the price for our sins so we could have eternal life that the world needs to know. It is the freedom from the fear of death, hope and peace that passes all understanding, and the power that can break the chains of addiction, that the world is crying out for.
This is the message of redemption that God wanted Jonah to bring to a dark and violent people, the Assyrians. This is the message God wants His followers to share with the world. Are we going to be like Jonah and run or keep it to ourselves? Or are we going to be courageous and share the message of love to those around us out of the outpouring of love that God has shown us? Let us follow in the footsteps of Jesus and the apostles who were all willing to give up their lives sharing their faith. Let us follow in the footsteps of those Christians in Rome who saved those abandoned children and raised them in good homes, who risked their lives as they took care of plague victims in the middle ages, and who developed the first hospitals. Let us not be those who shrink from threat, danger, or discomfort (Hebrews 10:39), but boldly follow our Savior into the darkness to set the captives free (Luke 4:18).