Last night at Bible study, we talked about what it means to deny ourselves. After some discussion, we concluded that denying ourselves meant turning control of our lives over to God. There were lots of sober looks around the circle. Not an easy thing to think about for people like us, raised all their lives to be Number 1.
The conversation led to deeper reflection though. Isn’t the Christian faith offered by some as just another way of saving your life? Jesus, the path to prosperity, the road to riches, the answer to all life’s problems.
Listening to Jesus though, the Christian faith sounds more like the way to lose your life not save it. So that you may save your life and not lose it. It all sounds like your moment of Zen.
Then this morning, we woke to news that the American embassies in Egypt and Libya were attacked by angry mobs. In Libya, the mobs overwhelmed Libyan security forces and four Americans, including the Ambassador, were killed. In a twist of irony, the US Ambassador, Christopher Stevens, was an ally in helping the rebels overthrow Qaddafi.
The mobs were incited by an obscure internet video that insulted the Prophet Mohammed. Bad taste in the Western world. Blasphemy in the Muslim world.
The video would have gone unnoticed if it weren’t promoted by Terry Jones, the obscure and forgettable Florida pastor who captured the global spotlight with his threat to burn the Koran last year. A threat he eventually carried out.
His hateful, despicable act, sparked riots in Afghanistan that left many innocent people hurt or killed. It also won Jones a permanent place in the Low-Life Hall of Shame. But, when your religious belief is all about you, and self-promotion is your life blood, the only bad publicity is no publicity.
When asserting your own prerogative, trumps self-denial, faith is not what you’re willing to die for. It’s what you’re willing to kill for. Or perhaps more succinctly, what you’re willing to let others be killed for.
No matter how deep the provocation, or how righteous our anger seems, there is never a religious justification for violence. It is always wrong.
Tim Kreider, reflecting on the eleventh anniversary of September 11th in the Huffington Post, wrote: Anger is just fear that feels good.
How much of the American response to September 11th in the decade that followed that tragic day was really self-indulgence? Feel-good fear?
How much was the disproportionate response to a crude, and yes offensive video, by some in the Muslim world, exactly the same? Self-indulgence.
And why is it that the innocent always wind up paying the steepest price for the self-indulgence of others?
Jesus said deny yourself, not assert yourself. Where we look to take up arms; Jesus says take up your cross.
Real leaders call us to rise above fear. They call us to the hard work of self denial. And they offer us the freedom to allow God to make sense of our lives. It’s the only way any of it makes sense.
May the Ambassador Stevens, his American colleagues, and all victims of fearful self-indulgence, rest in the peace of God.