God does not need to be protected.
Let me repeat that. God does not need to be protected.
The Alpha and Omega who was and is and will be has power and dominion over all. Neither dictators nor tyrants nor blasphemers nor any manner of evil or darkness can overcome. He’s God. The world killed Him and he rose in three days.
Nor does God require or desire the protection of humans.
In the face of His accusers, Christ was silent. The victim of unmerited cruelty, humiliation, degradation, and violence, He did not call on the intervention of angels, much less His band of followers. When Peter attempted to protect Him from those who had come to arrest Him, Jesus rebuked him—and miraculously made whole the resulting damage from the act.
And yet somehow, in spite of this, many modern Christians in America have framed out a narrative based on the principle that the purpose of believers is to protect God and His kingdom: to become like Peter with His sword, charging at those who would dare to assault the faith or its adherents. It goes something like this: in America, God is under attack. In America, the godless reign. In America, believers suffer and struggle. In America, no one takes Christianity seriously any more or treats God as though He matters. Therefore, we must fight back.
This narrative is a dangerous one.
The moment we view ourselves as Crusaders, as fighters in God’s holy war against [whatever sin/person/principle], we lose perspective. We view others as enemies to be defeated and vanquished, not as God’s children to be loved as we love ourselves. We often, unthinkingly, begin to occupy a moral and superior high ground–I’m on God’s side—that encourages us to excuse and overlook our own behavior. We are tempted to believe the ends justify the means, that it doesn’t matter what we do in the process of defending God and standing up for His name, so long as we accomplish the goal.
But God commands us to love our enemies. God tells us that before we ought to point out the speck in our brother’s eye, we should look at the plank in our own. God tells us that our behavior matters, that our intent matters, that our heart matters. God tells us that pride and arrogance in a sin and that even the angels are smart enough to cede the act of rebuking evil to God alone.
There’s nothing wrong, of course, with speaking truth in love, or holding fast to the convictions and principles we share as believers. We can and should speak clearly and freely (albeit again with love) about such things. But when we attack other people in the name of God, when we excuse ungodly behavior with the justification that we’re only trying to defend God and Christianity, we enter dangerous, soul-eroding territory.
Let me share a story.
Part of the job of a scholar is to read, consider, and then elaborate upon the work of others in your field. Perhaps you agree with someone and want to expand upon their ideas; you write a paper fleshing out concepts they have introduced. Or perhaps you happen upon a scholar with whom you disagree. You write a paper critiquing their ideas, and perhaps offering alternatives of your own.
Back in graduate school, I wrote the second type of paper all the time. I would stumble on a critic who read a text the wrong way, or said something philosophically ludicrous, and I would haul out my metaphorical baseball bat. Egregious misunderstanding of the text, I wrote with scorn. Completely reading the passage out of context, I accused. Abysmal argument. Useless cherrypicking.
I got good grades. But once, a professor of mine pulled me aside. She had underlined several of those passages in my paper. “The mark of an immature scholar,” she told me, “is this language here. In the face of perceived wrongness, young scholars aren’t content to differ or to simply articulate the disagreement they have: instead, they savage the other argument, beat it to death, for the mere offense of daring to be wrong in the presence of their rightness.”
I suspect many believers fall prey to a similar view. I suspect Peter did, in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he pulled that sword. We worry. We fear. We rage against what we know to be wrong and unjust. We love God and so are tempted to cut out the wrongness of not loving God, without taking much time to dwell on the wrongness in our own hearts. Like Peter, like me with my screeds, we want to hit back.
But Christ told us long ago that hitting back isn’t the answer.
And God doesn’t need our protection. God is scarcely worried about His reputation, either—if He was, I doubt He’d have placed it in the hands of a church that has at times sullied it profoundly and shamefully. God doesn’t need us to save Christianity. He doesn’t expect us to single-handedly rebuild His kingdom on earth in an effort to prove we’re on His side.
“What is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus was asked.
He replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
It’s not as glamorous as becoming a crusader, and it won’t sate our sinful desires for vengeance. But it is what Christ has asked of us. In zeal to be counted as the faith’s defenders, I pray believers do not forget it.