Reprinted by permission of www.sojo.net
by Soong-Chan Rah 10-01-2008
More reflections from the North Park Theological Seminary’s Scripture Symposium on “The Idolatry of Security.”
One of my favourite papers was presented by theologian and ethicist, Scott Bader-Saye. In his paper, Bader-Saye contrasts the perception of security in two different gardens found in the Bible: the Garden of Eden and the Garden of Gethsemane. In the Garden of Eden, Adam responds to the possibility of insecurity with fear and an attempt to trap and control God’s blessing. In contrast, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus responds to the possibility of insecurity with faithful obedience, yielding his blessed position for the sake of the cross.
A common thread in the two gardens is that there is an imminent state of emergency. In a state of emergency, the temptation is to change the rules that we live by. Fear of the unknown, fear of loss, and fear of insecurity can lead to the shutting down of the “ordinary processes of deliberation, reflection, and conversation in favour of quick and decisive measures.” In some sense, the idolatry of security leads to the loss of freedom and democracy. National crisis leads to national panic and insecurity, which can yield unprecedented power to the government without civilian/citizen oversight.
Case in point: the suspension of many democratic principles in order to fight the war on terror. In a state of emergency, those who idolize security will do everything possible to preserve their way of life. Concessions will be given and drastic measures will be taken to help our nation out of the crisis.
The stark difference in the two gardens is in the response of Adam versus the response of Jesus. Adam responds in crisis mode seeking to preserve his own life and preserve his own assets –- even to the point of hiding from judgment. Jesus, on the other hand, states: “Thy will be done.” Jesus seeks the blessing and salvation of others even at the cost of his own life.
In this state of emergency, the temptation will be to preserve our own security at the expense of others. There will be the temptation to uncritically accept hasty solutions that benefit some but not others. If Christians idolize security more than Christ alone, then we will also fall into the trap of doing everything to preserve our own security rather than caring for the poor among us.
However, I believe that the call for the Christian is to be even more concerned for the very least of these, the marginalized in our society, rather than to protect our own assets. Wall Street will not be the first to feel the pain of this economic crisis. While the parachute may not be golden, it’s still a parachute -– something that the poor among us do not have at all. Brokers and bankers have enough of a nest egg that they won’t be out on the street anytime soon. But there are many low-income and middle class families that are already feeling the pain. They have already lost homes and jobs. Already marginalized, the margin for error just got a lot smaller.
I am not stating a position on the bailout plan. Nobody cares what my position is on the bailout plan. I’m asking Christians to consider what values are being exhibited when we discuss and reflect on the bailout plan. Is our first priority caring for the poor among us or the preservation of our right to worship at the foot of the idol of economic security?
I close with a citation from Dr. Bader-Saye’s paper:
And so we are left with two gardens and two choices in the face of fear -– one is to hide and sacrifice the other for our own safety, making security the highest good; the other is to embrace a cruciform ethic of risk, losing our lives to find them, extending blessing in the face of curse because we trust that our flourishing comes not from controlling or consuming the good but from extending it.
Rev. Dr. Soong-Chan Rah is Milton B. Engebretson Assistant Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary and a member of the Sojourners board. He blogs at www.xanga.com/scrah.
Scripture for the day