When does one acknowledge that we have entered an extraordinary period of history? I am prone to downplay statements which say these are unprecedented times. But it seems we would be wise to acknowledge that we entered an age of extremism several years ago, and extremism only seems to be increasing.
The 9/11 attack is the iconic event of this extreme era, but the sentiment is diffused globally and over many years. Every nation places itself in the center of all things important, and America excels in doing so. So now the focus is on how Americans who went to fight for the Islamic State may return to America and commit acts of terror on our soil.
I have begun to ponder how I, one who aspires to follow and emulate Jesus Christ, should think about the possibility that a fellow American citizen could open fire in a shop or restaurant in which I am sitting. Should I begin to suspect everyone around me, especially those of black or brown skin, especially those with beards? Should I buy a pistol and keep it near me at all times? Should I move my wife and extended family to a remote area of the country, construct a fortress, and live out my days as a recluse?
As I reflect on this, and interact with other Americans, it seems we have adopted the belief that to be an American is to be safe. Wars are fought “over there” now. Not only can we send soldiers over there to fight to keep us safe, but we can do more of it with drones and rockets than ever before.
But I think I have been duped. My desire to live for Christ has been polluted by this American ideal of safety. Thomas Jefferson and friends, Adams and Franklin, gave an ideal of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This Declaration of Independence has been wonderful to enjoy, but it is not good Christian doctrine. It is extreme humanism, or at best, deism.
And so this age of extremism is calling Jesus-followers to respond accordingly. I wish it could be all of us, but the myth of safety and happiness so possesses the Church that I am sure it will be only a Christian remnant that will change.
Jefferson prophesied for us “life.” Jesus blesses us with life abundant.
Jefferson declared for us “liberty.” Jesus calls us to servanthood.
Jefferson envisioned “the pursuit of happiness.” Jesus relishes the pursuit of righteousness.
If anything, I sense that the call of Jesus is a call to risk. He said that anybody who desires to follow Him must deny self, take up the cross, and follow. I am called to an extreme love for my enemies which, to the degree it emulates Jesus, ends in death.
And some other words of Jesus help me envision how to be an extreme Christian. He told us (Matthew 10) to be wise as serpents and harmless (or innocent) as doves. To be innocent as a dove means to avoid evil, to commit no sin or crime, to continue to look at others with love and optimism even though I may be taken advantage of or harmed.
To be wise like a serpent is to know the danger of the times, to stay razor-sharp in faith, to know the wickedness of the human heart and not give my allegiance to any political or economic saviors but to Christ alone.