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Faith not fear!

April 23, 2016

I have just read something that has saddened me. It’s upset me because it is from a very sincere Christian, is polite and earnest but is so fearful too. It took me right back to the dark times of the charismatic movement where I was warned away from just about everything outside of the church for fear of contamination by the world or from fear of traps set by demons. Don’t get me wrong there is real evil in this world, impersonal and very personal. But that does not mean that I should be constantly afraid!

But first let’s go back to that article. The article that started all this was a warning against adult colouring books because most of them contain ‘mandalas’. Mandalas are beautiful circular patterns that are used by Buddhists and Hindus as tools for meditation and worship. The concern was that by colouring these mantras Christians would be worshipping the demons behind these other religions. This was well meaning but wrong on so many levels.

Christians have been using these patterns for many centuries to aid Christians to meditate on Christ or the creating work of the Father. Just look at one of the beautiful rose windows in so many medieval cathedrals and churches (view a few English examples here), for example York Minster and Westminster Abbey. So by using many of these mandala designs Christians doing the colouring prayerfully are reclaiming part of their spiritual heritage.

Now I hear the wails, “but what if some of these mandalas contain specific non-Christian religious imagery?” Well, assuming that it isn’t anti-Christian (unlikely in this context) then my advice would be to either to miss that one out if you don’t like it. If you choose to colour that image, ask the Spirit to calm your mind and draw you into the beauty of the Father, offered through Jesus. In that way you are claiming that image for Christ. This is what Christians have done from the very beginning. Wherever Christianity has spread we have re-focussed what was deeply rooted in the non-Christian world and re-tasked it for our worship. That is why we celebrate Christmas when we do, to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the birth of hope, in place of a pagan festival.

This is nothing new. The very first Christians were worried that their relationship with God would be corrupted if they had anything to do with non-Jews and their pagan ways. This was quickly blown out of the water when the Spirit directed Peter to visit a pagan house (Acts 11.1-18), Peter obeyed even though it went against all of his religious teaching. Peter not only went into a pagan house he even ate their food, something utterly forbidden by the Bible (Leviticus 11:3–8 and Deuteronomy 14:3–21) and Jewish religious teaching. The result was that the Spirit came to those pagans when they accepted Jesus just as he had come to the disciples on the day of Pentecost. Peter was in hot water with the rest of the church until he explained how the Spirit had sent him and how God had blessed those pagans by making them Christians too. This was a huge step for those first Christians. This set a precedent. From that moment on Christians weren’t to be fearful of contamination by the world outside, they were to claim it for Christ and let the Spirit transform it.

This led to the freedom to eat meat sacrificed to pagan gods, even if that meant sitting in a pagan temple to do so (see 1 Corinthians 8). The lesson is simple if my faith is strong, I know that a mandala colouring book is just a book and all other gods are no gods at all. They cannot hurt me. This nothing wrong with colouring a mandala, unless (and this is important) unless by using my freedom I undermine the more fragile faith of another. It was this last point that led me not to argue with this person online. Until she can come to the point of freedom in the Spirit, I would just be challenging her faith. If I knew her personally I would hope to lead her gently to that deeper faith in Jesus that would give her the strength to look at the things of this world without fear. But I don’t know her, so a challenge would only be a confrontation designed to make me look good and her weak!

So why bother with this article at all? To show how superior I am? I hope not. No, I have written this because the principle here has far more importance than colouring books. By living in constant fear I would be denying the love of God that drives out fear (1 John 4.18). I would be giving the devil the glory for something of God (a beautiful picture) and worse still I would be giving the devil something that belongs to God – far too close to worship for my liking!

Worse still by focusing all my attention on colouring books, organising placards outside of book stores and shouting for these books to be banned I would be allowing myself to be distracted (by whom?) from real evil. Perhaps walking past the Oxfam shop, dodging the Big Issue seller and stepping over the homeless man on the way (Galatians 2.10)?

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