I was talking with a friend today on the subject of abortion. She observed that, when it came to the question of rape victims, a number of theologians who spoke out strongly against abortion in other situations were less willing to rule it out altogether. This brought to mind some thoughts that I had following various items of news surrounding the recent Amish tragedy. When we see the responses of different Amish people to the shootings — the girls who put themselves forward to be killed to save classmates, the reaching out in forgiveness and reconciliation to the widow of the shooter — we are dumbfounded by their moral heroism. However, as Christians we are also troubled. We are troubled by how far we fall short of this standard. We are more deeply troubled by the fact that the Scriptures demand nothing less.
We want to believe in a morality that does not ask us to do the heroic thing. No reasonable person could expect a woman to forgive her rapist or to give birth to his child. However, deep down we know that this is exactly what God would call us to do. We do not suffer from a loss of our moral bearings so much as a failure of moral courage and faith. Christian faith is by nature courageous; unbelief is cowardly. Faith is able to do that which is impossible with man as it throws itself on God and finds strength in Him.
We serve a God who calls us to be heroes. This is where the stress on radical discipleship that one finds in many Anabaptist groups is such a powerful witness. We see Christ calling the Rich Young Ruler to give his possessions to the poor in order to follow Him and we instinctively shrink back in fear, lest God demand the same of us. God could not ask us to do such a thing! We would not be able to do it!
That is precisely the point: we are not able to do it. This is why such a morality is only possible for faith and, where it occurs, is such a profound testimony to the reality of faith. Only faith is able to admit its own impotence and step forward nonetheless. Only faith has the necessary strength to draw on, as it trusts in the God who created heaven and earth.
We follow a Master who calls us to willingly take up our cross each day. We will always be presented with easy ways out, but we are called to willingly reject them and follow Him. We want a God who will plug the gaps in the safety structures that we have built around ourselves. We serve a God who calls us to be prepared to leave such structures and trust him entirely with our security.
How is such heroic discipleship possible? Here is another lesson that we can learn from people like the Amish. Heroism is not purely spontaneous, but springs up from the deep wells of character. Such character is best formed and sustained in community, as faith is best formed and sustained in community. So often the premium that we place on security is born of pure unbelief that is unwilling to risk relying on God. This stifling fear is contagious. What we need are moral heroes. We need examples of those who have stepped out in faith. Indeed, we are surrounded by just such a cloud of witnesses (Henrews 12:1). Each one of these can testify to the trustworthiness of God, to the fact that that which is impossible with man is quite possible with Him. Within our own churches we see people who have acted in faith and proved God faithful.
The Church is also the place where faith can be sustained when it faces deep trials. The pregnant rape victim should not have to face her trial alone. The Church can be there with her in her darkness, share her tears and help her to fulfill that which God would have her to do, proving God’s faithfulness in the process. God does not call us to moral heroism to torture us, but to deliver us. Through the pain of what He calls us to do we know that He is healing that which might otherwise have destroyed us.