Unhindered by Christian History
Having studied History at university, I have been deeply saddened to learn about the evil that has been justified in the name of God. For example, an English military and naval adviser, Christopher Carleill, argued in 1583 that England had the right to establish control in America because they would be ‘reducing the savage people [who lived there] to Christianity and civility.’ In doing so, he portrayed the native people as wild and inferior, in contrast with the Christian Englishmen who would save them from their uncivilised culture and unbelief. But it was no secret that Carleill was largely motivated by the wealth which England might acquire through their natural resources.
My historical research on European Christians using the gospel as a means of immoral, political, and economic expansion has unsettled me. However, I only realised how far this feeling had twisted my view of missions and God after arriving at Youth With A Mission Perth. Here, I have wrestled with questions like: who is God and how does He choose to act? And in a world where suffering and evil conduct are universal, could I earnestly believe, and tell others, that knowing Him is the solution for all?
With all of these questions, I was directed to read 1 John. I was eager to find out what God wanted to say, and He did not disappoint.
I am your first love
The message I received from the Apostle John’s first letter was strong: I could either live according to my love for the world or God. By ‘world’, I believe he was referring to cultural beliefs and practices which are contrary to the principles laid out in the Bible. This is evident in his bold claim that we should ‘not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you’ (1 John 2:15). Whilst the pleasures which our man-made cultures offer are temporary and fade away, God offers us contentment through to eternity (1 John 2:17).
As I reflected on this scripture, God reminded me of Jesus’ greatest commandment, firstly to ‘love the Lord your God’ and then ‘love your neighbour’ (Matthew 22:38). The two are inseparable, but there is a significant ordering: our relationship with God precedes, and lays the foundation for, our love for people. Then realisation hit me: I became anxious when I concentrated on how European Christians have mistreated native peoples and how others might perceive me if I identified as a missionary. I was focusing more on people than God.
“Rather than viewing God through the lens of circumstances, we should view circumstances through the lens of who God is.”
My heart breaks
A few days later, I had a vivid picture in my mind of me sitting next to God, flipping through a history book. “Why can’t I see you, God?” I asked as I pointed at the pages, and His reply was direct: “Because you weren’t looking.” My heart sunk as I realised that, whenever I had read about cruelty carried out in God’s name, I had never stopped to ask how this made Him feel. In doing so, I had overlooked the truth that ‘God is love’ by definition (1 John 4:8) and it breaks His heart even more than it breaks mine to observe corruption in our world. For ‘the Lord [has] observed the extent of human wickedness, and…It broke his heart.’ (Genesis 6:5-6) How compassionate He is for continually pursuing a relationship with us, in spite of the pain we cause Him.
Refocus your mind
Like many Christians before and after him, Christopher Carleill misrepresented God through his actions. This is significant: human behaviour does not always represent the character of God. A seemingly simple point, but it is one which I too often forget and must remind myself of. For so long I had driven myself to concern and confusion over how Christians had acted in the past, and how people might judge me in the present. I had missed the mark. The target of my life is to know and serve God, which requires an intentional, continual perspective shift. Rather than viewing God through the lens of circumstances, we should view circumstances through the lens of who God is. Knowing and loving God should be our vantage-point.