Defiance is a Christian Virtue
The moments in my life that have been most sure and which have left me with the most peace and joy have been moments of defiance. The times when, even though no one else would get it, I knew the path I needed to take forward and I took it. These are my reckless moments. Those things that caused offense, consternation, even concern for my sanity among those watching.
I am often a very cautious person. I don’t go shopping without knowing what I’m going to buy and how much I’ll pay for it. I skip the “trust” part of “trust, but verify” and go straight to verify. I can explain the things I do and the choices I make down to a level of detail that could put a hyper-active 7 year old to sleep. I think of what I’m going to say before dialing the phone. I think of questions I can ask people and topics to discuss before I get into conversations. I bite my tongue often. I handle my relationships with kid gloves lest I damage them or hurt someone unintentionally.
So these moments of defiance must seem out of character to anyone who doesn’t understand what’s going on beneath the surface. But these moments of defiance are my most true moments. They are the moments when what is beneath rushes to the surface and propels me forwards, regardless of all the consequences. Because I already know all the consequences. And not one of them – not disapproval, the loss of relationships, poverty, pain or anything else – is nearly enough to stop me from doing what I know I need to do. I can be reckless because I know that I’m doing something I have been specifically called by God to do or because I know that the damage done to myself if I do not do them is far greater than any of those consequences could be. I can be defiant because I have examined the matter through and through and I know that it’s coming from a pure place in my spirit. You have to be willing to be defiant if you are going to follow God and allow him to restore your heart.
This defiance is something I love about Christianity. The bible is filled with people recklessly defying expectations, norms, social pressures, sometimes reality itself. When Peter or Paul sat in a prison cell, often beaten, and sang songs of praise to God, that is defiance. When Hosea married a faithless woman and wooed her back to himself over and over, that’s defiance. When the woman with her jar of perfume washed Jesus feet with her hair, that was defiance.
Some of the strangest stories in the bible are one where God appears to approve of or reward those breaking the rules. The prophets who bargained for a better deal from God to protect their people from the full blast of God’s wrath. Jacob who deceived his own father and wrestled with God. The parable of the crooked steward who bargained with his master’s debtors to gain favor with them when he realized he was going to be fired or even imprisoned. These are all stories of people who said, “not good enough” and bargained, schemed and acted to forge a different path in defiance of all expectations.
Jesus’ entire life and ministry were defiant. He wasn’t the warrior the Jews were looking for. He talked to people he wasn’t supposed to talk to. Made outcasts, the inconsequential and the unclean the heroes of his stories. When faced with an attempt to force him into a damned if you do – damned if you don’t choice (should we pay taxes? stone the adulteress?), he found a third answer no one else had seen before. He broke rules that were misinterpreted and misapplied and made those who tried to shame him for it look the fool. When he did not even say a word to stop his own execution, it wasn’t the enemy gaining the upper hand as it appeared, but a defiant willingness to walk a path no one could have predicted. And in the end, he defied death itself.
All these millenia later God is still calling us to be faithfully defiant. So we sing through our tears. Forgive the unforgivable. Confront those who spread pain, fear and suffering about them. Love the filthy and mean and undeserving. When we serve small children and drug addicts and those left behind. When we fall down and get back up and fall down and get back up and repeat as many times as it take until we succeed or we die, we are faithfully defiant.
This sort of defiance is freedom and peace and goodness in action. It washes away doubt, discards baggage, untangles unhealthy entanglements. When we follow in the footsteps of the defiant faithful who have gone before, we truly are taking the road less traveled. It’s not paved or smooth or even particularly safe. It’s the narrow winding road that few find and fewer stay on. Often to those watching, it looks like we’re wandering in the wilderness with no direction and no sense. And yet, as long as we continue to use our spiritual eyes, nothing can convince the faithfully defiant to abandon it for the more sensible, well traveled path. Because a journey begun in faithful defiance is guaranteed to lead us closer and closer to God – no matter how dire our circumstances. If we end up alone, despised, poor, crushed and even dead, we do so gladly, in defiance of all expectations and external pressures. And I would rather be crawling on my belly in filth and misery along the narrow way than walking in comfort on the wide path that my God has told me leads to no where I want to be.
140 years ago, a man and his family were living a blessed life. The father was a successful lawyer, with healthy children and a wife who was admired and respected in the community. They lived in Chicago where the family fortune was largely invested in a thriving real estate market. They moved in prominent circles and were good friends of DL Moody, the famed evangelist. 139 years ago, their only son died at age 4. 138 years ago the family’s wealth was wiped out in the great Chicago fire. 137 years ago, the man placed his beloved wife and four daughters on a ship to England to start a new life in England working with Moody. He stayed behind to attend to loose ends before following them across the sea. But the ship his family was on collided with another ship on the open sea. His precious daughters were ripped from their mother’s arms by the force of water that sank their ship in only 12 minutes and drowned. On the voyage across the ocean to join his wife in her grief, supposedly while passing over the spot where that ship went down, Horatio Spaddford sat by himself in his cabin and penned the words to “It Is Well With My Soul”, of the great, defiant songs of Christianity. Because defiance is a Christian virtue: