Pastor’s Friday Comments (02.12.21)

Citizens of the United States are often stereotyped as people of “rugged individualism.” We pride ourselves on being able to stand on our own, dependent on no one. It isn’t true of all of us, but stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason. You might try asking someone from another country about their impression of US citizens and, though they might use less flattering terms (self-centered, arrogant?), they would confirm the general idea.

This individualism also characterizes our unique brand of Christianity, especially that of evangelicals. We tend to focus on the need for a personal relationship with God through Christ. You don’t hear much about our relationship with the rest of creation. 

This is unfortunate because, while personal responsibility and the need for commitment are certainly part of the gospel, they are by no means the whole picture. In fact, when Jesus spoke about taking up our crosses and following him, he always connected that following to our relationship with others.

Someone once wrote, 

A human being is a part of the whole, called by us “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. 

That “someone” was Albert Einstein, who knew a thing or two about the universe and humanity’s place in it. Notice how he says that our “optical delusion” restricts us “to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.” From my observation, that is a fair description of North American Christians. We care deeply about the people who are closest to us. Our prayers reflect our personal desires. But we seem to have little interest in the larger world.

If we were more interested in all of creation, wouldn’t we work harder to alleviate the suffering of people around the world? Wouldn’t we do our part to ensure that the only world we have is left in as good a shape as possible for those who come after us? Wouldn’t we abandon the tribalism that creates such deep divisions among people? Wouldn’t we be better stewards of the tremendous bounty that has been placed in our hands?

The track record in these areas among American Christians isn’t very good.

I am grateful beyond measure that the Lord God Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, chooses to have a personal relationship with each of God’s creatures, and that relationship sustains me every day that I live. But surely God expects more from me than simply to be grateful. If God and loving others are the supreme commandments, then it naturally follows that we would take an interest in the whole world, not just our little part of it. We have some horizon-broadening to do.