Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Fear of Transparency - Eleanor Shepherd

Ipsos-Reid, in a survey undertaken by for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada discovered the majority of Canadians who are not practicing Christians expect Christians to talk to them about their faith. At the same time, the majority of Christians fear people will respond negatively if they talk about their faith. Sometimes we create our own barriers to the spiritual richness of sharing with our friends.

Armed with the knowledge most people want to hear about our faith, we need to approach them respectfully and never stridently proclaim what we believe. Our desire to listen to their real questions and hear the cry of their seeking hearts must be genuine. That attitude demands we put aside our preconceived notions about these strangers and choose to risk hearing their real questions, for which we may not yet have satisfactory answers ourselves.

We want so much to be sure, that we find it frightening to risk this kind of vulnerability. We need to reflect about the nature of our faith. By definition, faith requires us to live with an element of mystery. If we knew everything about our faith, it would not be faith but rather absolute certainty. Faith is not based on a collection of data that can be proven true beyond the shadow of a doubt. Nor are most of the assumptions that we believe and base our life on every day. I cannot be certain that I will safely go to work and return every day. The probability is in my favour that I will, but it is not certain. That does not stop me from leaving my home.

While we do not have all the answers and we must live with mystery, as Christians, we intimately know One who does have the answers. It is our confidence in Him that gives us the courage to act on what we do know. As we explore faith, we discover He is our all-loving, all-knowing and completely reliable and faithful Heavenly Father, Lord and Saviour and Spirit who inhabits us. In the triune God are found answers to our most profound questions, but these are not readily accessed. Sometimes the answers are more profound that our ability to understand with our finite limitations. We must be honest about our limitations in understanding God. To pretend to our friends that we have all the answers is to pretend to be God for them. They will see the absurdity of that.

What we can offer to our friends is our availability to listen and consider together possible clues that move us closer to some answers to their questions and our own. We have to be honest about our incomplete understanding of faith and be willing to expose our own doubts appropriately. We need to share our anxieties as well as our hope, offering a balanced perspective on both our fears and our joys. In the context of this kind of transparency, our dependence on God and the truths we believe from His Word ring true.

This transparency is in tune with the current highly regarded value of tolerance in our society. Attitude studies show that tolerance is the most highly regarded value in our present Canadian culture. Vulnerability rather than dogmatism creates a setting that allows others to adopt tolerance to our perspective. By modeling this approach we invite them to take the same risk and disclose to us their values with the expectation that we will greet these with a tolerant attitude. One of our challenges will be to prepare ourselves to listen to their perspective with the same kind of tolerance that we want them to show to us. That means exercising the discipline to refrain from offering our solutions to what we perceive to be their problems. To do so would deny them the opportunity to work through issues that will arise in their lives from embracing non-Biblical values and will impede them pursuing the path to faith.

This weekend, I read again, the story of Gideon and the way that God used him to bring peace to his environment in Judges 6 – 8. The people of Ephraim were annoyed with Gideon because he had not asked them to help him in his conflict with the Midianites. Gideon had chosen to go with a small army, according to the instructions of the Lord. Instead of responding to their anger with a superior approach that he had been acting on God’s instructions, Gideon responded with humility and praised these people for their accomplishments. He even told them that they were superior to him in their achievements. That kind of approach opened the way for genuine dialogue. Their anger was diffused.

When we show that kind of honour and respect, to those who want to know about our faith, God will be able to touch their lives with His love through us.

1 comment:

Peter Black said...

Such a thoughtful and well-written piece. It is very instructive for those of us who desire to reach out to others with the Good News of Jesus.

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