Basic Christian Faith. That phrase was also the title of a college religion course that I was required to take back in the day.
Many of us taking the course found it complicated, dense and challenging to our previously held beliefs. And that was a good thing, because beliefs should be challenged to see if they are deeply rooted.
Maybe I was young and naïve but I never thought that education – even higher education – would destroy my faith. If it did then that faith was probably not much of a faith to begin with.
The response to the COVID-19 crisis in America is certainly testing my beliefs. I got to thinking about this when reading a commentary by Paul Krugman in a recent edition of the New York Times. He was lamenting the seeming selfishness of a segment of the American population when it comes to cooperating with common-sense guidance to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
In the end, he said this: “What the coronavirus has revealed is the power of America’s cult of selfishness. And this cult is killing us.”
That got me thinking about what scripture says about selfishness, liberty and freedom which caused me to look more deeply into what I was discerning. I think it is this: Perfect love casts out fear.
This phrase from I John 4:18 has several interpretations, and I prefer the one that looks at everything God does as being motivated by love. To my way of thinking, everything that God does is motivated by and grounded in love. Not just any type of love, but agape love, the love that has at its core the selfless concern for others.
Reading the headlines daily, I don’t see as much evidence of this love as I wish I did. A grocery store in a neighboring town posted a sign on its door stating that the management did not support the wearing of masks, and linked the COVID-19 crisis to the LGBTQ community. The owners of the store profess to be devout Christians, so I do wonder if that agape love resides there.
I saw a truck with a decal in the window that superimposed an AR-15 on top of the image of a cross, and I wondered if that individual believed in perfect love.
I read of a church that proclaimed that they didn’t need masks because God would protect them and others. I wonder if those church members understand the depth and breadth of agape.
I see people of faith disagreeing on politics, which is fine, but the rhetoric becomes toxic and I wonder if those who do not proclaim the faith wonder what we supposed believers in perfect love really believe.
So why is it so much to ask that we wear masks in public, keep our distance and do without normal socializing until the crisis passes?
Some say it’s a conspiracy by some “deep state” group to undermine our country. Others say that liberty and freedom mean that they do not have to surrender their rights to intrusive laws and requirements.
Going back to that perfect love concept, the Christian faith is rooted in freedom, but not a freedom that is limited to only what I want. The story of Jesus Christ, as it comes to life in his followers, is a story of freedom. Just check out the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians and some chapters in his letter to the Romans.
It is a story of freedom, to be sure, but a freedom constrained by the Cross and deeply at odds with individualistic notions of liberty and so-called selfish freedom.
Basic Christian faith tells us that none of us is free until all of us are free. That means we each have to give up some things so that the larger community may have what it needs to be all that God intended.
That is the heart of the biblical concept of shalom. And no, such a concept does not fit comfortably with libertarian views of American life, nor Republican views, nor Democratic views. It calls for a new ethic that sheds the luxury of deciding to be selfish just because we can be.
Krugman is right, America is caught up in a cult of selfishness, and it is killing us. Literally.