Friday, April 19, 2013

Hurtful Responses to Tragedy: Hate or Fear?

In the past month, it seems, there have been so many instances of very publicized, very tragic events. Right now, it feels like our entire world is in a state of shock and fear, particularly America. Often, we see people come together in amazing ways to support and lift up those who are hurting during such tragedies. However, there are also those who seem to add hurtful words, condemnation, and blame to situations that are already painful enough. 

This problem is disturbingly rampant within the body of Christ. Often, the rest of us focus on their inappropriate responses and think they are merely hate-filled people. Though I certainly do not condone their unjustifiable actions and words, I do seek to understand people better, especially fellow believers. My question is this: are they really reacting from hate, or are they more likely reacting from fear that has resulted from an unhealthy worldview? To answer this question, I turn to some typical aspects of a western worldview and how they have affected Christians.

I would like to point out three huge assumptions by which we (at least those of us with a western worldview) construct meaning from the world in which we live.

1. I can cause my world to be benevolent. - This is not the belief that the outside world is good. This is the idea that if I do the right things, my world will be good. Frequently, with Christians, this manifests in the idea that as long as I act according to God's will, I will always have positive outcomes.

The problem with this worldview is that we are expecting God to act in accordance with our expectation of what a positive outcome actually is, not to mention the fact that we are attempting to manipulate God into acting according to our will by a distorted sense of our own personal ability to be holy apart from Him. This worldview essentially places the theological cart before the horse in that it creates a scenario in which God responds to our actions. In truth, our obedience is supposed to be a loving response to God, Who first loved us. Thanks be to God that His lovingkindness and care is not contingent upon our perfection. It is rooted in the fear of failure and abandonment.

2. Justice is the pivotal force in the world. - This is belief in the dualistic view of punishment and reward. Frequently, with Christians, this manifests in the idea that all negative events are punishments and all positive events are rewards.

The problem with this worldview is that again, we are dealing with a reactionary view of how God operates. Not only does this view imply that God only acts in response to our actions, but it is a distorted way of dealing with good and evil. It implies that all bad events are punishment for personal sin and all good events are rewards for personal goodness. This worldview often leads Christians to condemn others based upon circumstances that are outside their control. The truth is that good things sometimes happen to people who live contrary to every command of God and bad things often happen to people who truly seek to serve Him with a pure heart. We live in a fallen world and negative events do not always reflect some personal sin or grievous error made by the afflicted person. It is rooted in the fear of retribution and the unknown.

3. My worthiness is based on how I live. - This is the belief that adherence to religious or moral standards proves the worth of the person and that the status of being a "good person" makes them better than someone who does not practice the same set of high ideals. This is perhaps the view that causes the most trouble with Christians.

The problem with this worldview is that it causes a holier-than-thou attitude. It results in much division within and without the body of Christ due to denominational bickering and hypocritical condemnation of the unchurched. It promotes legalism and arrogance, and it is rooted in the fear of rejection and the revealing of personal flaws.

All three of these problematic worldviews are deeply rooted in fear and distorted views of God. They are all oversimplified ways of coping with a world that is confusing, infinitely complicated, and unpredictable. When our lives is challenged by a traumatic event, whether it is our own trauma or another's, we fall back on these old ways of understanding the world around us, often to our detriment and that of the people around us. This explains why we see others blaming certain people groups for tragedies like the Boston Marathon bombings. I even heard people say that our own government had set up the blasts! Many other hurtful responses have occurred after trauma as people attempt to make sense out of a situation that is senseless and defies explanation. Often, our first response to fear is attack, and what do we fear more than the unknown and unexplainable?

The good news is that through the renewing of our minds, we can come to a more healthy way of responding to crisis and tragedy. By developing a more accurate view of Who God is and how we relate to Him, we can understand that we don't have to make sense of the world around us. In the end, God is good, and all His promises are Amen. It doesn't matter what happens in this fallen world in which we live. We can all come together and lovingly support each other, regardless of whether we always agree. The one thing we can all agree on is that every one of us wants love and understanding. We may not be able to make sense of what happens, but we can make the bearing of it all a little easier if we set aside these harmful ideas and offer each other the grace that has been given to us.

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