“God loves you.” It is assumed, I think, when these words are spoken or printed, that this is the message we most need to hear. The answer to our core question. The solution to our fundamental problem. And it’s a great message. But not the most important one.
“They can’t do that; I have a right…”
Replace “they” with an enemy, substitute the encroachment of your choice for “that”, and finish the sentence how you like. This template for a common lament can be enfleshed in myriad ways. Many of which do not seem to mirror the way of Jesus.
It’s not that Christians should not care about others’ safety, freedom, or dignity. But the language of rights, while potentially a mechanism for care and protection and respect and arguably a legal necessity, is too often co-opted by persons speaking out of a sense of entitlement, self-centeredness, and anxiety. Christians can do better.
We all know fear. Our fears are crippling. Fear thwarts authenticity. Our ability to act. Our acceptance of ourselves. The quality of our listening. The good we might do. Fear is a constant and looming enemy. One antidote to fear is the virtue of courage.
Courage ought to be a conspicuous virtue in Christians. The linchpin of our faith himself is an exemplar of courage. We may not notice this when we only think of cool, confident, or even stoic Jesus, acting good with relative ease thanks to his God-powers. But when we remember that Jesus was human and likely faced the same kinds of fears that we face, the depth of his courage becomes remarkable. Jesus was really, really brave.
Should Christians expect our leaders to be virtuous? Absolutely. Whether you lead our country or lead our churches, the burden of virtue ought to be placed upon you. Three reasons for this come to mind.
1. Virtues are more sustainable than promises to constituents, advocacy for causes, or stances on issues.
For one, leadership is so alluring to some that the means—even pandering promises or elaborate deception—justify the ends. Our leaders often tell us what we want to hear to secure their role, maybe even convincing themselves of what they are saying.
A Super Short Story
Consider Josh and Deb. The two, happily married for ten years, are chatting over drinks while awaiting their food. Deb begins to share about a difficult conversation she had with her brother that day, clearly seeking understanding and support from Josh.
Josh, a generally supportive husband, seems to be listening but eventually bursts out in frustration: “listen, Deb, I just can’t deal with this right now!” Josh’s hands are shaking. “I’ve got so much on my plate at work, and a lot of problems I’m trying to solve, and I can’t solve yours right now. I can’t even figure out how to catch my breath!”