Will You Run In
You see this all the time now, regarding tragedies like the Boston Marathon earlier this week: while others ran away, they ran in. “They” is usually public safety professionals, but sometimes it is average Joes and Jills instinctively reacting to crisis by going towards others’ need rather than their own safety. Whether it is because it is your job or because you have a loved one in danger or because you are just responding out of instinct, it is a remarkable and heroic impulse.
I don’t know about you, but these tragedies cause serious self-reflection on my part, and I usually don’t like what I find when I’m searching my soul. Because I’m pretty sure that, in the moment, I would run away and not run in.
I would almost certainly act out of self-preservation rather than out of seeking to be as helpful and useful as possible at a time of great need and great uncertainty. It may seem better to say that such a reaction is not out of any fear of danger or harm as much as it is a commitment to my wife and kids, who need me and who would suffer tremendously without me. But that is no less true for the policemen and fire fighters and ordinary citizens who yet rushed towards the explosions to help those who were hurt. Wouldn’t their families and workplaces and faith communities and neighbors mourn their losses just as much as mine would?
I think this is part of what it means when Jesus talks about hating your family and even your own life in order to follow Him (Luke 14). “Hate” is such a strong and ominous word, and it poses a challenge in interpreting what Jesus means by using it so forcefully in the context of following Him. Some say he’s speaking metaphorically – our love for Him must make all other love connections like hate in comparison. Others use this command to justify their animosity towards family members – “I never did like my parents, and now the Bible is telling me I don’t have to have anything nice to do with them.”
It’s hard to say this in a Christian culture in which family is so important. The Christians I know tend to value family very highly, which is reflected in having lots of kids or cultivating multi-generational linkages or guarding quality time around the dinner table or on special occasions. These are, unequivocally, good things.
And yet the journey of the Christian disciple is such that anything – anything at all, including and perhaps especially very good things like family – that gets in the way of total commitment to following Jesus can be considered an idol, something that takes away from our worship of God and something that therefore should be put to the side.
This, I believe, is the context of Jesus’ command. He is at the peak of His popularity, with crowds hanging on His every word and action. Knowing what true Christian discipleship requires – knowing what it will require of Himself – He turns around and warns all of the hangers-on that you can’t be a follower unless you hate your family and even your own life.
Consider the analogies that bracket this arresting statement – someone just bought a field, someone just bought five oxen, someone just got married, someone is thinking about building a tower, someone is thinking about going to war. The message is clear: you are either 100 percent about this or you are not.
Being 100 percent for Jesus sometimes looks like hating your family and even your own life. It means that while taking care of yourself and your loved ones is important, it is not always paramount. In extraordinary situations, we may be called on to do something that puts ourselves in danger, and in doing so exposes our family members to great loss or harm.
I truly believe that God is a protector, and that He works all things out for the good of those who love Him and who have been called according to His purpose. But that does not mean that we will not suffer harm or even loss of life in the act of following Jesus, and that does not mean we will never have to choose between being there for our family members and doing what is required in the heat of the moment.
My assumption is that after Jesus issued this jarring statement, many who were once high on the miracle man from Nazareth turned away, deciding they didn’t or couldn’t hate their family and their own lives in order to follow Him. And so it is today. Some of us live bland, half-committed lives to God, which are really not lives to God at all. Some of us are faced with the starkness of Jesus’ command, and choose to walk away. And others say yes, and entrust themselves to Him whose own road of Christian discipleship entailed laying down His own life.