“….The reason the people in the world do not know us is that they have not known him. “
1 John 3:1
In the late 90’s, somewhere in post-communist eastern Europe, a flood swept through urban areas, destroying homes and submerging government buildings. An IMB worker in the area met with community leaders, conveying prayers, condolences, and a large amount of financial support from Baptist disaster relief organizations. Stunningly, local authorities initially rejected the money, shoving it aside with a wave of suspicion that rivaled the still-receding floodwaters.
“Money? Why? What for? What do you hope to gain from us in exchange for this ‘assistance’? We’re not swallowing a gilded hook, no matter what our needs.”
Cultural perspectives played a significant role in the exchange; unconditional altruism does not prevalently exist in many places in the world. Our American Judeo-Christian tendency to reach out simply for the purpose of helping another confuses folks, and raises suspicions of guilt-based manipulation. However, the assumption of dark ulterior motives stems from something more than an East-West culture clash. Countries outside of Eastern Europe have confiscated properties and monies from mission agencies, utilizing an assumption of hidden agendas as a tool for forcing evangelical personnel out of the country. Human aid ministries have been turned away across much of the developing world. Christian behavior often strikes people as being just a bit odd.
Perhaps the Freudian notion of the uncanny plays a part. Multiple authors, including old Sigmund, have written about the human tendency to reject emotionally any behavior that seems almost human – but not quite. The notion of what defines normal human behavior lies largely in one’s perspective, of course, and therein lies the rub.
We Christians live and act in this world. We’re in the world and, in the sense that our acts occur within a social milieu that influences and evaluates us, we’re part of that world. We love and hate, approve and judge, vote for or against. We reach out to those who hurt and sometimes we do the hurting. Even so, we try pretty hard, I think, to properly represent the imago dei. We have the all the best reasons for our ideas and opinions (assume this to be true), and yet still we find ourselves arrested, accused, tried, and convicted in the court of public opinion.
People in the world often reject our actions because they distrust our motives. Do you support complementarianism? Must be a chauvinist. View homosexuality as, ultimately, a sin? You hate-mongering homophobe. Oppose abortion? A misogynist working to control women. Stunned, we search our hearts and hopefully find the claims unwarranted. We learn the other perspective – discussing matters large and small with liberals, sociological and theological – and work to rephrase our positions. Pastors challenge and writers explain, and we come away with better ways of understanding the other perspective, but the opposing camp seems unwilling to reciprocate.
We operate at a bit of an advantage – we’ve known sin and blindness and weakness. We know what it’s like to overlook the truth, or reject it outright. What they are, we once were. If we’re not careful, we stand to return to something that closely approximates that lifestyle.
Our detractors cannot understand us, though not because we are above or beyond or more transcendent than they; oh, never that. John provided us with the nose-on-your-face obvious answer: they do not know us because they’ve not yet known Him. It’s really that simple. They do not know us, nor our hearts, nor our reasons for our opinions and actions. They do not – cannot – grasp why we would do what we do because they have not known Jesus.
Our attempts to love people with whom we disagree with never be clearly understood. Our ability to accept tensions within our belief system will remain just out of reach. The church’s desire to help people simply to help will forever look like conditional acceptance. Doctors treating victims of epidemic will be labeled as colonialists or imperialists.
Don’t allow the disconnect to discourage you. It’s normal, expected, and quite frankly understandable. Continue your misunderstood love and maligned actions. Never stop self-evaluating, since no one remains forever above reproach, but never stray from what we have learned to be true. Accept that you’ll never be accepted until He is fully accepted.
That’s the goal, right? For them to know Him?