Dear one, are you ever afraid? Your nodding head tells me I’m not alone. But in this world, for such a time as this, we must be people of courage, taking risks for the sake of love. Catherine McNiel tells us that fear, while real, does not define the life of the Christ-follower. As she writes in her book, Fearing Bravely is part of our calling to reach our neighbors, strangers, and even our enemies so that evil can be overcome with good. It’s a grace to welcome Catherine to the farm’s front porch today….

Guest blog post by Catherine McNiel

My family has an enormous garden—which means that, in addition to an enormous harvest, we have an enormous weed problem. I have a special tool that uproots the weeds. A long, narrow strip of metal goes deep, deep underground; I give it just a bit of a nudge and sever the stalks at the root. Then, the entire plant pulls up easily. I go down the rows inch by inch, uprooting one at a time for hours. It would take much less time to simply pull them out by hand.

But weeds have not survived in my carefully cultivated bed for nothing: Their strategy is impressive. However small and delicate these plants look above ground, they are thickly and firmly rooted below. I could reconcile my garden quickly, making it look lovely and Instagram-worthy with little effort. But this will not even lightly damage the weeds. By the time the Instagram likes start pouring in, the thick roots will have sent new shoots above ground.

Surface-level repentance that demands forgiveness without change does nothing to produce reconciliation.

Our real-life sins and evils are just as difficult to uproot. Surface-level repentance that demands forgiveness without change does nothing to produce reconciliation.

When Isaiah talks about God’s new creation based on justice and righteousness, he describes the wolf living in harmony with the lamb, the leopard snuggling up to the goat, the calf with the lion, the cow with the bear, a human infant playing in a cobra’s nest! What is notable is not that the vulnerable in these pairings have learned to forgive; the point is that the predators have utterly and completely changed their ways.

How much upheaval to the natural order would I need to experience before I would place my baby in a cobra’s den?

In God’s justice system, there will be safety for all only when the powerful cease to cause harm. That’s the level of reconciliation the church is asked to take on.

Shortly after apartheid ended in South Africa in 1994, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established to allow both victims and perpetrators of gross human- rights violations to give their statement and tell their story.  Thirty- five years of human- rights abuses could not simply be left unaddressed if the country was to transition from oppression to democracy. Real abuse requires real truth-telling. The goal was restorative justice.

Those who were  there— and those who listened to the radio and television broadcasts  worldwide— recall the voices of men and women wailing, screaming, crying as they spoke the truth of what they had lived through, what they had seen, what had happened to them, and what they had done.

There was no asking the oppressed to be silent lest they hurt the feelings of their oppressors. The country of South Africa— under the leadership of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, among others—committed to a long, hard look at injustice and the tools of repentance, forgiveness, restoration, and reparation. The love that turns enemies into neighbors does not smooth things over with sweet words of unity but allows the ferocity of suffering to shout itself out, allows lament and restorative justice to do its work.

In God’s justice system, there will be safety for all only when the powerful cease to cause harm.

Love requires truth, pain, and confrontation. It requires the powerful “good guys” to publicly reconsider what role they play in the story.

On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Three days later, the USA dropped another bomb, this time on the city of Nagasaki. Over a hundred thousand people were instantly killed when the bombs leveled each city for miles. Another hundred thousand died from injury and radiation sickness in the subsequent weeks and months.

As the world faltered under the weight of two entire cities wiped from the planet— nearly all the dead were civilians, families, and children— the United States and her allies celebrated the end of a terrible war and the victory of justice over tyranny.

Koko Kondo was a baby when this bomb fell on her home city, trapping her in the rubble. Her mother dragged her out to relative safety, but the long-term impact on Koko could never be erased. Her childhood was filled with fear and hate, radiation poisoning, and a crystal-clear understanding of the enemy who had stolen everything.

At ten years old, Koko had the opportunity to meet the co-pilot of the plane, the American man who dropped the bomb. He told her what he wrote in his log that terrible day: “My God, what have I done.” When Koko saw the tears streaming down his face, she thought, He’s the same human being as me. If I hate, I should not hate this guy. I should hate the war itself, which we human beings caused. In this moment her life’s work began: fighting for peace and abolishing nuclear weapons.

In 2018, Rachael Denhollander spoke at the sentencing of Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics doctor. Near the end of her forty-minute talk, she extended forgiveness to the man who had molested her and countless other girls and young women.

A love like this, rooted in this counter-culture, counter-intuitive way of Christ, makes the world into more of a garden of hope, harvesting a yield that overcomes with good.

But her forgiveness did not stand alone. It was surrounded by a compelling speech in which Rachael vividly outlined Nassar’s evil acts, calling for the truth to be spoken aloud and for him to receive the fullest penalty possible under the law. These words came after years of costly truth-telling work to indict and convict Nassar.

What Rachael’s confrontation made clear is that in Christ, she forgave her enemy. But forgiveness was just the first step; justice against him under the law was still required. Even this form of justice was not enough: The truth must be spoken so resoundingly that restorative justice could begin.

Only with each of these in place—truth-telling, forgiveness, legal justice, and restorative justice—could the lamb consider approaching the lion. Only then does active, agapē love become sincere. With each of these in place, we are positioned to abhor evil and cling to what is good, to overcome evil with good.

Christ followers are called to enter this world and love. Love our neighbors. Take care of strangers. Love and pray even for our enemies. Jesus said His followers would be recognized not by our labels but by our love – a love that conquers fear.

And a love like this, rooted in this counter-culture, counter-intuitive way of Christ, makes the world into more of a garden of hope, harvesting a yield that overcomes with good.


Catherine McNiel writes about the creative and redemptive work of God in our real, ordinary lives. She is the author of Fearing Bravely: Risking Love for Our Neighbors, Strangers, and EnemiesLong Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline, and All Shall Be Well: Awakening to God’s Presence in His Messy, Abundant World. Catherine studies theology while caring for three kids, two jobs, and one enormous garden. Visit Catherine on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

[ Our humble thanks to  Tyndale House for their partnership in today’s devotion ]