Being a Non-Anxious Presence in a Stormy Culture

And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” Matthew 8:26-27

Have we ever been more starved for peacemakers among us…for those who maintain a non-anxious presence in the midst of these current storms? These are anxious times. You may have noticed. The list of words and phrases that immediately invoke anxiety in our culture is growing: debt, cancer, abortion, immigration, guns, impeachment, republican, democrat, etc. In a world of fear run amok, anxieties are off the charts. At the same time, our common ability to engage in civil discourse seems to grow smaller by the minute. So here is an interesting question: what role is the church to play in such a storm? And by “church”, I mean you and me, individually and corporately, in our respective communities.

In the gospels, we read that the disciples were overcome with their own anxieties in the face of a storm. Jesus was a non-anxious presence in that situation. Jesus’ disappointment with them for their tiny faith is convicting. They seemed to know at least enough to turn to him with their fear, but then they show genuine surprise when he actually resolves the problem for them. In other words, their fear of the storm far outweighed their faith in Jesus. And their words and actions showed their hearts. Do ours? As Christ followers stewarding the gospel message in this broken world, are we the non-anxious presence we should be?

Adding to the Noise

In an outrage culture where we hear only the most extreme voices, does the church really further God’s kingdom by adding to the screaming? Is there anything genuinely transformative about making our voices extreme enough to match our opposition? We scoff at the nonbelievers. We scowl at the sinners. And we scream into the idealogical chasm that divides them from us (or even us from each other). We do all of this in the name of “speaking truth”. We get so caught up in being advocates for God’s truth (as if God’s truth needs advocates), we lose sight of actually connecting with people. Is there no place and time for us to stop and assess whether our stewardship of the gospel is even productive? And is that place and time not here and now?

How Big is Our Faith?

When we spread fear and anxiety in order to send our message, how are we different from the disciples and their “little faith” on the stormy sea? Doesn’t our own defensiveness and weeping and gnashing of teeth over the current moral revolution at least signal a possible lack of faith on our part? Our responses to our culture should reveal an assurance that God really is in control. Our posture should demonstrate that truth needs no defense from us, and that creation itself bears witness to a sovereign God, whether anyone “believes in Him” or not. In short, the most compelling authority of any peacemaker is his/her confidence that God’s will always prevails. After all, the gospel of Jesus Christ transforms lives not by its unassailable arguments, but by its quiet strength and unconditional love. We should be carriers of that quiet strength and love.

The Outrage Culture Detests a Non-Anxious Presence

Unfortunately, our current culture demands anxiety and outrage. It stands in accusation of those who refuse to engage in its extremes. Much of today’s outrage is aimed specifically at the lack of outrage in some camps. If I pull back from the outrage or demean it in any way, it must be because I just don’t care. If I don’t join the extreme voices, then I am obviously against them. This current culture feeds off our anxiety. A non-anxious influence, then, is not welcome (or is at least ignored) in our public discourse. How, then, do we exercise that peacemaker’s influence? How do we get our truth across?

Wouldn’t it be great if the Truth we speak did not need our vocal inflection and our communication gimmicks? If only our Truth could stand powerfully and profoundly all by itself, with no help from our raised voices, flashing eyes and furrowed brows. And if only our truth were a “…true light, which gives light to everyone and was coming into the world.” If only it was “…life, and the life was the light of men.”

If only.

© Blake Coffee