Joseph Stalin, as a youth, attended a Russian Orthodox seminary, preparing for the priesthood. Abandoning that vocation, he became perhaps the greatest mass murderer of all time, signing papers authorizing 3000 executions per day. He had no use for religion, killing many Christians and destroying churches. One day he saw in the paper that a particular Russian Orthodox bishop was going to be traveling through Moscow. This bishop had been a fellow student and friend during his seminary days. Stalin sent a letter to the bishop commanding him to appear before Stalin while in Moscow. The bishop, in great fear for his life, deliberated on how to dress for the occasion. Finally he decided to dispense with his clerical robes and wear a business suit to the meeting. When Stalin saw him, he convulsed in laughter for several minutes. He then said to the bishop, “I see you fear me more than you fear God.” Stalin had only wanted to see his former friend and find out how he was.
How many times do we act like the bishop as we interact with the secular culture in which we live? The majority of persons in the media and academia discount and belittle religion. They have no use for Christianity. How often do we attempt to disguise our faith in God for fear that we will be ostracized and laughed at for the worldview we hold? We may find this particularly true in our work and educational environments where Christianity is often scorned at and considered to be of no value. This attitude is particularly evident in our universities, as the movie “Expelled” so vividly illustrates. Therefore, to appear to fit in, we become part time Christians who believe Christianity is true only on Sundays. The rest of the week we may ignore the same morality, principles and faith we espouse on Sundays. When we do this we become hypocrites. In reality we have compromised our faith in God.
We don’t run the risk of losing our lives for our faith here in America. We live in a different world than that of Christians living in Muslim countries today, or those who lived under Communism in the last century, or of the early Christians in the Roman Empire. Whereas they courageously faced death because of their faith, we only fear being belittled or ostracized. We fear the negative impact a public declaration of our faith may have upon our career advancement or social status in the community. But either objectively or unconsciously, we all face the question “How much am I willing to risk for my faith?” How we answer that question may tell us how much we are willing to compromise our faith as we go about our daily lives.
Unfortunately, it is a question that cannot be easily answered. It is easy to say that God is the most important person in our lives. But is he still when our faith in him might cost us our job or career? The question requires us to inspect our own lives. We have to take a hard look at ourselves. When we do, the answer will tell us a lot about what we really believe in. We will then learn what we value most in life. Is it God or something else? But ultimately, like the Russian bishop, in the midst of living our lives we must all face the simple question “What do I fear more than God?” It’s a question worth asking ourselves once in awhile.