Two southern Baptists decry the treatment of Christian martyrs overseas.
In the next sentence, they doom local Catholic and Orthodox attendees to hell all by themselves, for their idolatrous practice. Maybe they know those martyrs overseas were Orthodox, maybe they don’t.
A short drive north from there, similar-minded evangelicals are praising the Catholic souls trying to save lives in front of an abortion clinics. “These are true Christians!”, they say. But in the next breath they’re dooming them to eternal suffering again, for their Marian idolatry.
Why does this disconnect happen, and why are our hearts so inconsistent?
It’s been a disheartening experience as a Westerner to watch pretty much all narratives out there becoming gradually more polarized, at the expense of our Heavenly mandate to love everyone as our neighbor. I’d like to take a moment to explore those narratives.
Narratives: Why do we have them?
All narratives that we find in between the lines of any rhetoric out there are meant to lead us in a certain direction. Sometimes, it’s a benevolent guide. Sometimes it’s a charismatic salesman. Other times, they’re like carrot dangled in front of our faces, and we’re the stubborn donkeys being led to which wherever the narrative is trying to guide us. Narratives are inescapable, even in this very article.
And where is it taking us? What does it sell? All the narratives I encounter in the wild are leading its witnesses to some aspirational, idealistic future that I don’t believe we’ll ever see in reality. It’s all based on what the person pushing the narrative considers ideal and aspirational as well.
The evangelical republican sees the endgame as a beautiful, white picket fence future where the only people who fail at life in their eyes are those unwilling to make use of their bootstraps. They’ve washed their hands of any and all societal and church failings, in providing for the least of these.
I could say the same about the radical “liberal”, and whatever social-program utopia they’re picturing, where not a single person ever falls through societal and church cracks. An ideal world where everyone is willing and able to accept help, and use it to make new bootstraps to pull themselves by. My bias is probably showing here, in thinking neither are so different.
The endgame is what it’s about. It’s what is being pushed, without saying it in so many words. And we build our own personal narrative based on what we picture as an ideal outcome to life. It’s also how is can become and idol in our lives, or at least an area of over-focus. And the Gospel can save us from that. The Gospel already has a narrative and an outcome all laid out. The battle was already fought and won, and we’re just waiting for how things are around us to conclude.
Busying ourselves with the work Christ gave us, prevents us from internalizing too much outside narrative. And our work is so simple: Love your neighbor, take care of each other, make new disciples, etc… Hard work, yes. But very simple too. Christ calls us to live for others, and it thankfully helps us live outside our own heads. I don’t think that’s just a happy accident either.
The problem with narratives is that we become reactive to opposing narratives too. And we see diametrical opposition where there rarely is any (see my example between two popular narratives above, for reference). Being neighbors means we have way more in common than we don’t, even in our faults and faulty thinking. Being reactionary to what we perceive as opposing views literally cuts our growth in the fruits of the Spirit. When we’re reactive to opposition, are we patient? Self-controlled? Peaceful? Gentle? Kind?
Not likely. Instead, these flare our passions, and we give into anger and impulse. We’re told to evaluate things by their fruit, and contrarianism is a fruit born of narratives. So is dreaming of idealistic futures we made up with our limited understanding of the universe and ourselves, instead of focusing on the one God already gave us in Christ.
I do believe a lot of this stems from our willingness and desire to do good in the world and promote positive change until Christ comes again in glory, although our efforts are so often misguided. But it also comes from a place of wanting to control what we can’t and understand what ours isn’t to grasp.
I firmly believe that doing our best to resist being pulled into worldly narratives is accomplished in great part by trusting our Father, and trusting that He is in full control, and understanding that he’s working through us. There is so much we have the power to accomplish as individuals, and in groups of believers, but the credit always goes to God. Our actions are better guided by the Holy Spirit than it ever will be by plans and mandates that can only send us on a voyage to human fantasy. God is the only real story we can cling to.