Fear is the Game (If You Play It)
I'm amazed at how often fear enters the conversation when we talk about God or theology. Fear has long been a tool by all sides to try to coerce or convince or persuade you to believe something or to do something. I want to share a recent exchange I had online that illustrates this well.
I posted a video of me talking about a passage in the Bible. I talked about how when it comes to arguments for nonviolence or against nonviolence—in regards to Christianity—both sides could use the same passage. But they use it in different ways. And I explained that if you are on this side, this is how they'd use that passage. And if you're on that side, that's how they'd use that passage. I also made it pretty clear which side I felt was more compelling.
I got a comment to that video weeks later that said: "Your theology is incorrect. Remember, if you are a teacher, you'll be judged more harshly by God."
Now let's unpack this for a second. First off, I love the smugness here of just defiantly telling me I'm wrong. No need to explain why I'm wrong or what is a better way to understand the passage I'm talking about, just simply an acknowledgment that I'm wrong. This clearly indicates this person is right, and their understanding of this passage is the right one.
But then notice where the fear comes in. It's not enough to just say I'm wrong. So now they add a level of fear. "Remember, if you are a teacher, you'll be judged more harshly by God." This is a verse that gets thrown around a lot, especially when someone doesn't like what someone else is teaching. I've had this verse quoted to me numerous times throughout my career. And it's a way to get me to be fearful.
I was having a bit of fun that day, so I decided to reply. Normally I let these kinds of comments go, but I gave a response to this one. I said: "Thanks for setting me straight." And then I did a little wink emoji.
Yes, this is sarcastic. I'll admit I took the bait. But I thought the smiley face emoji softened it a bit. It was a bit tongue and cheek. Maybe this person would humorously realize I don't agree with them either. I thought we'll see if this person responds or if this gets nasty or if we're able to both laugh at this. The point is I'm not taking your fear. You can have a back. I'm not interested.
Then I got a response back. The person said: "You're welcome. Be careful next time." With a heart, emoji.
Clearly the sarcasm I dropped was a little too subtle. This person is convinced their one or two-sentence rebuke of me—without evidence or any other solution to the passage—was enough to change my mind completely and shut me down.
I found this humorous. But here's the point: Fear is the game when it comes to what you believe. If you play the game.
I want to give you some good news. You don't have to play the game. If someone's theology is dependent upon creating fear in you to get you to believe it or to get you to do something, I'm going to suggest it's not of Jesus. Jesus didn't walk around scaring every single person He met. He didn't walk around scaring sinners into belief. He inspired them. He drew them in. People who were furthest from God in their lifestyle were the ones most intrigued.
Yet today, we've realized a lot of our theology and a lot of our answers aren't very compelling. So we have to scare people in order for them to agree with us or to do what we want them to do.
So I offer this as your reminder that you don't have to play the fear game.
You can keep developing a theology that looks like Jesus as you work through better ideas than the ones being offered. You don't need to scare anyone into believing something beautiful.
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