Who Is My Enemy?

who is my enemy

We live in a state of high alert. In that state, we seek someone to blame. But we in North America, live in a time of safety unlike any in human history. So, it might seem strange to ask, who is my enemy?

The Enemy in the Machine

Despite the experience of a global pandemic, the number of things that can do us harm or cause death has significantly decreased. Life expectancy continues to increase here and around the world.1

We have medical solutions that treat all but a few diseases. Now, the greatest causes of death are heart disease and cancer,2 and these non-communicable conditions are often the result of lifestyle decisions. Our cars are safer and although the miles traveled increase each year, the number of deaths per vehicle mile has dropped dramatically.3

Yet our sense of anxiety is increasing. Apart from accidents and Alzheimer’s disease, the greatest increase in causes of death has been suicide. According to a recent study, the causes of anxiety, particularly in younger adults but to some degree across the entire population, relate to “24/7 media” and “social medial.”4 Overall, we are safer, but our sense of fear continues to rise.

What is portrayed in the media has is connected to our sense of fear and anxiety. And the role social media plays is being scrutinized to an even greater degree. We seem determined to created enemies for ourselves even where we have none, and to make the fewer enemies we have increasingly larger than life.

Who Is My Enemy?

This creates a paradox for Christians. In Matthew 5:43-48, Jesus commands us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Yet, how many of us can definitively answer the question, “Who is my enemy?” The most common response would be someone either far away (Islamic terrorists) or some broad, impersonal group (politicians or activists on the other side). How am I to love them?

This becomes even more pointed when we consider the command to pray for those who persecute us. Again, few of us living in this nation can think of a time when we have been actively persecuted by another human being. But the sense of persecution among Christians in the west is rising steadily,5 and this has become a reason to fight back politically and socially.

So, how do I pray for “those people” who are persecuting me? Is it possible we are all victims of a system that’s making us enemies of each other?

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_expectancy
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7377530/
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motor_vehicle_fatality_rate_in_U.S._by_year
  4. Goodwin, Renee D et al. “Trends in anxiety among adults in the United States, 2008-2018: Rapid increases among young adults.” Journal of psychiatric research vol. 130 (2020): 441-446. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychires.2020.08.014
  5. https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/apr/5/christians-facing-increased-persecution-america-po/

Perspective on Culture

Culture can help us see the bigger picture in the Bible. But before that, we need to get some perspective on how we think about culture now.

Culture has always existed but something is different in how we think about it now. 50 years ago, culture used to be rarely mentioned. But now you hear about it all the time.

Has something changed with culture, or are we now just more aware of it? The answer is both.

On one level, culture has changed. But on another level, culture never changes. In the same way, we have always been aware of culture, even if we didn’t call it that. But now we seem to be noticing and talking about it all the time.

Culture relates to everything we do, which is why it can be difficult to talk about.

God has woven culture into the fabric of his creation, and he has a purpose for it.

God has a purpose for culture. Because we are created in the image of God, we have a unique role in his purpose for culture.

As Christians, we have an opportunity and responsibility to shape the culture that we are part of. But how can we do that if we are not sure how it works?

Challenges in Our Perspective on Culture

Part of the challenge is that we all have a personal perspective on culture. How I see and experience culture will be different from you, and different from everyone else.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t come to understand how it works. The patterns we observe will be the same for each of us, even if the outcomes look different.

This brings us to another part of the challenge in learning about culture. We all will react differently to what we see (Read more at FaithCulture.org).

A lot of our conversation about culture is driven by the feelings these issues create in us. It’s easy to think that for someone to agree with me, they have to react the way I do. But that’s not always the case.

But we might not consider how someone else may see the same thing, but react differently. In that case, we loose a valuable perspective on what we are trying to understand.

The Redemptive Leader Framework helps us understand our unique, personal experience with culture. And that allows us to relate that experience to other’s experience of culture.

Culture and The Bible

Culture and The Bible

How do we connect culture to our faith? To answer that we have to understand the connection between culture and the Bible.

In my previous post I referred to a common definition of culture as the the “shared beliefs and values of a group of people.”

That definition has been used to define culture in Christian settings as well. But the problem with understanding culture only as values and behavior is that it makes the Bible a book of values and behaviors.

If we accept the definition of culture that has been given to us, we end up fitting our understanding of the Bible in to that definition. But that’s not what the Bible is.

The Bible on culture

The Bible is God’s Word to us. It is a book, but it’s a book by a Person. That Person, who we refer to as the Trinity, is beyond our ability to comprehend in every way. And yet God made himself one of us so that we relate to him.

So yes, the Bible does teach values. But it’s really teaching us to value what God values, and not just what set of human values should be in charge.

And yes, the Bible does teach us about behavior. But it is really teaching us what behaviors reflect who God is, not just which behaviors will win in God’s world.

To understand culture in a biblical way means looking at the Bible in a bigger way, and noticing where our views line up, and where they don’t.

This is actually where culture can help us. Since there is a connection between the God’s Word and culture, what we know about culture can help us look for this bigger picture in the Bible (Read more about this at FaithCulture.org).

We must always be on guard against interpreting the Bible to fit our view of culture. Culture may be part of God’s creation, but God’s Word has authority over creation.

Culture and Christianity

Culture and Christianity

Christians often talk about “the culture,” referring to the non-Christian values on display in the media and entertainment industries, or we expand that to include the influence of a secular world-view.  For some Christianity is at war with culture.

But we don’t just talk about culture in a negative way. We also use culture positively to describe things that are difficult to understand, but are causing good results. Whether it’s a winning sports team, or a company where people love to work, culture seems to be part of the answer.

Christianity and Culture

As Christians, we have started using culture to describe the kind of change we want to see in our churches and communities. We will talk about a “culture of discipleship” or a “culture of serving.” In that sense, we are describing an attitude, or willingness to act and think in a certain way.

But it’s more than that. We’ve always had expectations of how we act and think. But now our emphasis has shifted away from those behaviors being enforced from the outside, to some kind of internal motivation.

There’s a motivation, or sense of momentum that we want to describe as “culture.”

Something about that term captures what we want, and it seems that others understand its significance. (Read more about this at FaithCulture.org)

But what exactly is “culture?” Culture is a difficult thing to describe. The usual definition is that it is the “shared beliefs and values of a group of people.” I recently heard this shortened to “values + behavior = culture.”

While that definition may be true, it’s not necessarily helpful. It still leaves us with the question of values, and how values relate to behavior. How do we change values, and how does behavior change when values change?

That “beliefs, values, behavior” definition doesn’t help us know how to respond to issues of culture. In fact, it may be why culture seems so difficult to change in the first place.

It turns out there’s much more to culture than meets the eye. And the deeper we dig, the more connections we find to scripture. But maybe not in the ways we expect.