I'm sure you've been struck by this week's headline about Gillian Gibbons, the British woman in Sudan who was tried and convicted for naming her teddy bear "Muhammed." (see the latest report at http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1689769,00.html) Surely, we can acknowledge, this was a culturally insensitive (and certainly politically-incorrect) thing to do on her part, particularly by an ex-pat schoolteacher who ought to be aware of such religious repercussions in a strict Muslim country. However, doesn't it strike you as terribly unreasonable, to say the least, to spend that kind of legal and political energy arresting, trying, convicting, and punishing a foreign national for this kind of offense--and incurring the international ire of media and others?
But even more so, doesn't this Islamist impulse expose a characterological flaw in this kind of religious devotion? What kind of god needs us to defend against such religious peccadilloes? Certainly not a very big god, I'd say. It made me wonder if a distinct mark of fundamentalism is its humorlessness--and, paradoxically, such an ardent devotion that counterintuitively exposes its relatively weak deity. Pity us human beings when our gods need us to defend them!
And lest we Christians smirk or point our fingers, haven't we done similar things in our history--and most recently in light of popular culture that offends our religious sensibilities? Dan Brown and his DaVinci Code, Martin Scorcese and his Last Temptation of Christ--we've been there and done that, haven't we?
The challenge for us is to trust in our Big God, a God who is so sovereign and so majestic and so mighty and so gracious and so loving that he allowed himself to be ridiculed, rejected, humiliated, blasphemed, stripped, exposed, beaten and trampled upon by religious hypocrites and defiant pagans. This God willingly became vulnerable to human beings who spurned him. He was that strong and that secure. This God doesn't need us to defend him, believe me.
“‘Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.’”
–Jesus in Luke 16:10
I wish you could meet Hannah, our 5 year-old female Golden Retriever. Not that I’m biased or anything, but she’s got to be the sweetest dog around: she was bred not to bark (seriously), she loves children, she’ll sidle alongside you, sit quietly, warm your heart with her big brown eyes, and then put a paw on your lap. She’s perennially happy, but not manic about it. She’s peaceful, friendly, compliant, and wears well over time. A great psyche, she has.
But. But there’s this one little area that’s problematic. For the most part, Hannah is very obedient and responsive—even to inflections in my tone of voice. However, when she’s off the leash, lounging in the front yard, if she sees a rabbit or another dog across the street, all the calling and commanding cannot keep her on our property; she’ll race headlong across the street, deaf to our commands, defiant, stubborn, and willful. We worry that one of these days, a car will come along and that will be the end of our dear Hannah. It’s that one little thing in her character, that niggling bit that 99% of the time doesn’t appear and doesn’t create a problem. It’s that 1% that worries me.
I got to thinking: can’t we law-abiding, church-going, well-meaning, polite and friendly folk be somewhat the same, sometimes? Aren’t we for the most part like Hannah’s 99%--compliant, responsible, trustworthy, honest, even lovable? But. But there’s this niggling bit, this teensy problem buried deep down somewhere in our psyches. The apostle Paul calls it the flesh, defined by some as the “self” spelled backwards, sort of. It’s the persistent remnant of self as god, one’s will still on the throne of one’s life. It’s the bit that given enough leash (or removed from the leash entirely), will dart impulsively after that attractive, alluring something or someone, deaf to the cries of the Master. I suspect that the goal of Christian growth is to convert even this 1%, this deep-down resistance to the Master’s guidance. The challenge is how: how does the goodness of God seep into this little stronghold—and what, if anything, can we do to cooperate with this problem? (Surely a subject worthy of the pastor whose title calls for strategizing the spiritual formation of God’s people, eh?)
I suppose the process begins by identifying the niggling bit and calling it out. What’s your niggling bit? Be honest now!