Thursday, 30 May 2013

Peace and Principalities

Many in the early Church were explicitly against war and violence, to a degree that might shock many contemporary Christians. The relationship between our faith and government, violence, war, defense, are all tricky issues. They are issues that I have been wrestling with a great deal lately, and which I have been researching (at least in terms of early Christian views on these issues). Scholars disagree on the nature of this pacifism in the early Church. Some argue that they were more concerned about the idol worship associated with being in the army than a condemnation of violence per se. I am quite  convinced by George Kalantzis's (of Wheaton College) new book (Caesar and the Lamb) arguing, to the contrary, that an overwhelming majority (practically unanimous) of the Fathers were solidly against violence itself; they were rather explicit about it.

Regardless, these issues are tricky. It was much easier to be a pacifist when Christianity was a minority religion in a pagan empire. When Christians gained political clout and eventually became the majority, these questions became a lot more complicated. So, like I said, it's tricky.

I don't presume to give an answer, but a few reflections.

Many in the early Church held to a deep sense of hope that I think is sometimes lacking in the Church today. While living in an empire that persecuted them, tortured them, killed them, and that operated on war and power and greed, the early Church had hope because they knew that they were the living body of the resurrected Christ. Christ had died and been raised again. This was a solid fact to stand upon. A solid hope in the midst of all the darkness. A brand new world was breaking forth into the old one, and everything was different now. The power of God had been unleashed on earth and death itself had been turned upside down. Carl F. H. Henry put it well: "The early Christians did not say ‘look what the world is coming to!’ but ‘look what has come into the world!’" 

When it came to their views of violence, they were wildly full of hope. Violence and death are not parts of the world God intended; and they had hope that God can and would put all things to right. A hope grounded in the resurrection. Miracles can happen. They have happened. Things can change. 

Perhaps we have learned some valuable lessons and gained a wise caution, by having a bit more reserve about how imminent we understand the Kingdom to be, than many early Christians possessed.  Seeing the Kingdom as too imminent (or imminent in the wrong ways) has led to some great atrocities. Many of early Christians (up until the 3rd century or so) believed the end was right around the corner. We no longer think this way and often talk about the way things 'must be' until the end comes. There is some wisdom here, but this can often be rather fatalistic in a way that I don't think is Biblically warranted. 

There needs to be some balance. But I think we could use a healthy dose of their hope. 

We may decide that violence is a necessary evil until the end is actually here. We may not be able to agree with many early Christians' almost entirely unequivocal pacifism. But there is something from them to learn. If we decide to believe that war is a necessary evil, let us never forget that it is still an evil, and that we are given power in Christ to pursue a different way. We must be spokespeople for peace, and for hope. 

I will leave you with a paraphrase of the words of Origen (3rd century). Origen had seen a lot of violence. His father was violently persecuted while Origen was but a boy. His spiritual mentor was also killed, along with many others in the city in which Origen was living. Yet, he remained hopeful about a different way to live in the world. 

A man by the name of Celsus had written a long treatise condemning Christianity on a variety of levels. We don't have the original document - we only know that Origen responded (extensively) to Celsus several years later, and his response has been preserved. This is my paraphrase of a part of that response: 

"Celsus has argued that we are detrimental to the wellbeing of society, because we refuse to fight in the emperor's armies. 'If everyone became Christians,' he argues, 'the empire would collapse because there would be no army.'  

Celsus, don't you understand? We are actually the best soldiers the emperor has. We take up arms with something much more powerful than a sword. We wage war with prayer. We do battle against the forces of evil which are the true and ultimate source of violence. We pray for peace. We pray for the advancement of the Gospel of peace to all people. And we live and pray knowing that our God has already won the victory."

Our battle is not against flesh and blood. It is not ultimately against nations, or religions, or even ideologies or 'extremists.' We may disagree with Origen and decide there is a time and a need to physically resist evil actions and protect the innocent.  There are a lot of good reasons to come to this conclusion. But we must never confuse that type of war with the greater war, against powers of evil and sin. These are powers that cannot ultimately be defeated by the sword, but by love; a love that is willing to die for the wellbeing of others, including enemies. That's the power in us, that's the hope we have, because it has already been accomplished. Love incarnate in Christ gave everything and death was destroyed. 

He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword. He who dies by the sword shall live, and shall conquer. Indeed 'more than conquerers.' 

 We live in the hope of the resurrection, the hope that there is a power greater than the sword that will, and can, beat spears into pruning hooks. That is the power of God. 

"For when we, so large a number as we are, have learned from His teachings and His laws that it is 'not right to repay evil for evil;' that it is better to suffer wrong than to be its cause, to pour forth one's own blood rather than to stain our hands and conscience with the blood of another: the world, ungrateful as it is, has long had this benefit from Christ by whom the rage of madness has been softened and has begun to withhold hostile hands from the blood of fellow beings."
-Arnobius of Sicca (4th century)  

In other words, Arnobius writes: 'you should be grateful for our example of submissiveness to suffering and our non-violence. It's changing the world.' Perhaps he's a bit naive. Perhaps he's too much of an idealist. But I think we could use a bit of this hope and conviction.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

The Long Dawn: A Call for Prayer

"Then Samuel said,
Do you think all God wants are sacrifices—
    empty rituals just for show?
He wants you to listen to him!
Plain listening is the thing,
    not staging a lavish religious production.
Not doing what God tells you
    is far worse than fooling around in the occult.
Getting self-important around God
    is far worse than making deals with your dead ancestors.
Because you said No to God’s command,
    he says No to your kingship."
-1 Samuel 15:22-23, The Message

Let me tell you a truth: I am not a good person. Some of you are not surprised by this comment, others of you might think I'm being too critical. Bare with me.

This week I was reminded again, in various ways, of my own selfishness. I lusted, I hated, I discriminated, and I valued myself higher than others. And those were just the sins I kept out of the view of the world, forgetting, of course, the more public displays of my own inequities.

I am not good because I make my view of the world about me. That's self-centered and narrow minded. My view of the world needs to be about so much more than just me, my successes and my failures.

Too often, I try to hide up my inadequacies with religious words or actions. Today, I want to back away from any attempt to write a profound post but simply to ask you to pray with me. God does indeed invite us into relationship with Him and prayer is how we consummate that relationship.

So, today (and on many subsequent days), I invite you to enter with me into the Kingdom of God here on earth. . . What I like to call the Long Dawn and Kyle likes to call the first building blocks of the New Kingdom. Let us enter into the Kingdom by asking God to be with the dying and hurt in this world.

For the families of those killed in the Bangladesh factory collapse, may You, God of those in pain, reveal Yourself and Your love.

Lord, have mercy.

For the family and friends of the British soldier hacked to death in London, God, be present in their suffering.

Lord, have mercy.

For Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, for the ongoing violence there and for the promise of peace in that region.

Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Last Things and the Modern Age: Reflections on Re-Visiting the Alma Mater

Psychoanalyzing one's theology can be illuminating.

There are days that I wonder if Freud and certain other modern atheist psychologists were on to something. Some have followed the trend of reducing man's religious impulse to naturalistic explanations - often some sort of unmet emotional needs, or at least contending that they develop to as serve some other practical purpose for individuals and/or societies. There are days that I might seem like one suffering from a religious neurosis. There are days that I am quite ironically aware that my theological tendencies or opinions can often form under the need to comfort myself, or in order to fulfill feed some psychological deficiency. 

This is perhaps especially true of the direction my thoughts often turn as I consider the eschaton; that is, my thoughts on the last things, the end of the world, and the nature of the Kingdom of God.

The modern world, as many have noted, is hyper-mobile. In pre-modern societies, it was common that an average individual would spend their entire life in a single community. Their relationships, significance, and identity all revolved around and existed in this one place that remained in some comparatively significant degree, intact. In the modern world, we are constantly in motion. Alvin Toffler writes brilliantly about this in Future Shock, in which he considers the consequences of the hyper-mobility of the modern age: relationships are always transient, identity is constantly fluid and infinitely reconstructable because we are constantly moving from one place to another and so is everyone around us, etc. We're constantly coming together and breaking apart, and expecting most things in our life to be temporary. We guard ourselves against intimacy, rootedness, or having a solid identity. 

I don't like this arrangement very much. I hate change. I hate goodbyes. I hate transience. These can be relatively normal and expected feelings of mine. I don't think this hyper-mobility is terribly healthy or quite 'natural,' and to be discontented with it is understandable.  On the other hand, however, this situation is somewhat unavoidable and must be adapted to in some meaningful way. And living in fear of or constantly at war against change is harmful (and always has been). I am self-aware enough to realize that my disdain of change can go too far, and that I can have real attachment issues by which I can cling too tightly to the past. 

and sometimes my psyche and all its deficiencies, I nowadays quite readily acknowledge, likes to play with my theology. 

I am currently visiting my alma mater, one year after my graduation. On this visit, I watched yet another graduation take place. Watching other friends graduate and see them gearing up to spread around the world and see the end of their temporary time together was painful in and of itself; both via empathy and because many of them are my friends. They have been many miles away from me throughout this year, of course, but having them all here in one place was comforting, with some notion in the back of my mind that back there things are continuing on in some sense like they used to (read: as I had lived it). But more than this, it was even more painful to watch and see it serve as a catalyst to re-living my own graduation and all the emotions that came with it. To put the icing on the cake, there is also the renewed realization that little by little, my visits will become less frequent as those I know leave, and others I have never met replace them. Not to mention that the dispersion of my own cohort becomes ever wider. Some, thankfully, will be moving closer to me in coming years. Some are going far away. 

In short, I was very quickly a basket-case of emotions, bemoaning change in all the many ways it came to torment me. 

Even though we would laugh about the inane over-usage of the politically-correct term 'community,' thrown around at my alma mater, having since met people who went to different sorts of schools does give me a renewed appreciation for the sorts of seemingly unique relationships and dynamics that are/were formed at my alma mater because of the sort of place it is. My school was small, and drew students of particular tendencies, qualities, and interests (as I guess all schools do - but a Christian liberal arts school has a somewhat consistent aura that fits me better than other contexts would). There was some sense of consistency - seeing more or less the same people on a regular basis. Most people were known/recognizable to most others and as I result, I had some sense of feeling known. Many in the community had long roots there, and I was constantly meeting grandchildren of my old family friends, meeting professors who taught a parent or an aunt or uncle, etc. I often walked over the bridge where my grandparents got engaged. We were small enough to have a deep sense of sharing in a great many of the same experiences; many inside jokes, pains and joys experienced together, stories about peers and professors that we could all feel some sense of attachment to. And, most importantly, I formed many deep and extremely meaningful relationships during those years.

We all knew that this arrangement was going to be temporary. That we were living there in order to establish ourselves for our futures; which could take us any number of different directions. But the sense of place, belonging, intimacy - yes, community - and its relegation to the past is, quite naturally, painful. One of the relatively unique pains of the modern world.

Of course, I have realized, it's not just this mobile world in which things change. Even a life lived in a consistent, pre-modern, community will be filled with various vicissitudes (nice alliteration, eh?). There is a great deal of truth to the realization we attribute to Heraclitus: you never step in the same river twice. This world is inherently transient. Nothing is permanent. Even those things we hold as whole memories ('my time in high school') are nothing but a long list of changes with perhaps certain regularities we can point to to give it some sense of completeness, sometimes perhaps rather arbitrarily. When you put the present under a microscope, you realize how unique are the particularities of each specific moment. These things we feel nostalgic about are, in some sense, mental constructions. A formulated sense of permanence that didn't ever exactly exist quite in that way. 

In a vast sea of different theological views opinions about the end of the world, all with long names, I find myself jumping around a few different camps. I tend to believe, quite strongly, that the resurrection of Christ is intended to announce that the New Creation long promised by Yahweh has now begun to exist and grow right here in the middle of this old world. The Jews were expecting a resurrection at the end of history. For Jesus to be resurrected in history was the announcement that the new world had started right now. He was the first fruit of a new creation that we take part in. In Him we are a new creation; the old has gone the new has come. We are being made new day by day. This new world, among many other things, is one of restored intimacy and community. It also provides a certain sense of place, for we are being formed for life in a city (a New Jerusalem). 

N.T. Wright has made this powerful statement: 

"What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God's future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether (as the hymn so mistakenly puts it…). They are part of what we may call building for God's kingdom.” 

And here's when my psyche waltzes in, to play speculative theology.

I believe that the fellowship we share in this life are among the first building blocks of the New Kingdom. In some (limited) sense, we are literally entering into Kingdom, eschatological, life right now through our relationships in Christ. I wonder if this might also stretch beyond just people, but also places and experiences and times. 

I wonder if our Christian communities, friendships, and the senses of place that we build around these fellowships have some part to play in the Kingdom. And one day, everything old will collapse and all the transient pieces of the Kingdom will no longer be hidden and ephemeral, but NOW. Things are not merely to be wiped away and started anew - the new is already here and there is a clean relationship between the new in the now and the new in the future. Our intimacy, community, relationships, are the beginning of heaven coming to earth; the descent of the New Jerusalem. 

I am tempted to believe believe that, in a real sense, my time at my alma mater (and in some ways, 'parts' of every moment I have lived in Christ) is the beginning of the new world. Those moments, those places, those memories, those relationships, will in some real way be there because they have already begun to be part of the coming-here, which is eternal. Maybe we will visit the 'places' that form part of our life of the New Kingdom in our pasts. There is a certain eternal permanence (which is at the same time pregnant with infinite possibility for newness) hidden, mixed up, in the things that when we put under a microscope are nothing but a long list of changes and minutes passing.

In our hyper-mobile world, the promise of the eschaton is particularly poignant in its promise to fulfill the things our transience has taken ever more irrevocably from us: true intimacy, community, permanence, a substantial and lasting sense of place and belonging and roots. Perhaps nostalgia is a particularly modern form of 'longing' for heaven. A particularly modern form of desire, like the 'stabs of joy' Lewis wrote of. I recall when I first read about this notion of Lewis's being struck with a sense that I knew exactly what he was talking about. I believe many have felt the same. Lewis often described feeling these stabs of joy in certain aesthetic moments. And indeed, I have too. But I often find (especially as I live through one of the most transient periods of my life - young adulthood) that these longings appear most often in an intense and piercing desire for the 'past.' Nostalgia. 

I still believe we can live forever 

You and I we begin forever now

Forever now


I still believe in us together
You and I we're here together now
Together now
(Switchfoot: Where I Belong)

We (or at least I) desperately grasp on to whatever ephemeral moments of Kingdom-life we can hold on to. That last coffee with a friend before she leaves without any clue when you will see her again. That moment you catch yourself dozing and wondering if your old roommate and friend is across the room, sleeping, like he used to be. Cueing up that piece of music you performed when you were in the college choir. Trying to catch a glimpse of a tree blowing in the sunny spring wind, reminding you of a myriad of beautiful spring moments spread across the years - playing in my backyard as a kid, sitting at my desk writing poetry in high school, napping out on the quad in the middle of finals week. That gathering back at your old favorite restaurant with your high school friends, while you're all back home for the holidays. Taking an extra long stare at that shirt which reminds you of the one your dad used to wear when you were a kid and would go outside to wash the car with him.

 In these 'Gatsbian' moments "... we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." (Fitzgerald, in The Great Gatsby);  trying desperately to hang on to the past, and find a fulfillment for the nostalgia.  

As stated above, senses of nostalgia are based upon partially romanticized versions of the past - attaching a sense of permanence and place to things that are really somewhat arbitrary and ultimately transient; piles of particularly prevalent particulars. But maybe our senses of place which largely form our senses of nostalgia represent a longing that will have some very literal fulfillment in the end. Maybe the things, places, sights, sounds, memories, of our past will in some way or another be part of our eternal Home. Nostalgia is a longing for reunion, for intimacy, for so many things that 'once were' yet are at the same time nothing that this world can fully satisfy until time as we know it has collapsed in the final death of death. Nostalgia for something that sort-of-has-existed, but which is also still yet to come. A going-back that sometimes I mistakenly believe I can clasp and possess, but is actually only to be found in going forward. That's the trickiness of nostalgia, I guess. You don't feel it until things have passed, and that which you long for is somehow more substantial and more permanent than it was when it was the present. It is at once a longing for the past, and a future permanence that is both 'old' and 'new.' Somehow past, present, and future. 

Going forward will feel a little bit like going backward. 
Maybe Plato was onto something. 

And here we get to the long and short of it.  If nothing else, these ideas helps me with my attachment issues. They will get me through another night with tears at the brim - thinking of that afternoon I said those last goodbyes on graduation day. It provides a way to deal with the memories that find themselves rolling down my cheeks and landing in a wet spot on my shirt.

 I need to something to hold on to in order to believe that this pain means something, and that it will be healed. Maybe an individual of greater faith than I can be more at peace in trying to desire Christ above desiring my memories and my time with my friends. To have a faith that is ready for anything, and to be satisfied in all things in Christ. And I strive for that; to be satisfied in knowing that whatever the end will look like, it will be good. But this pain wants them and that time and that place. And I need to believe that this pain is from a hole that they, along with and through Christ, will fill. I don't think this has to be a contradiction, but maybe my desires need further sanctification since they are, after all, suspiciously similar in content to the neuroses of my own psyche. But I need them tonight. 

There is work to be done and we must go about it somehow, striking a balance between stoic peace and passionate longing, being in peace no matter what happens and yet allowing ourselves to ardently hope to find whoever may be counted among your 'you's; the 'second-persons' in your life; the loved ones who have been right in front of you at various stages along these rivers and these roads: the 'you' of you, that you are longing to one day reach again in a state of permanence, the desire for which I suspect is at the root of our nostalgic longings.  It is good to maintain connections with old friends, enjoy the past, celebrate the good, make friendship and community a priority. We should be cultivating healthy longings for heaven - healthy senses of nostalgia. We must be cultivating in ourselves a love so rich and so intimate that the 'not yet' of this life indeed causes us pain as we wait for what is to come. And yet we must continue on; trying to remember that we are pilgrims, following Christ from one station to the next, trying to be contented in Him and at peace with where He has us. Trying to also live in the Kingdom-life that is right in front of us: loving those with us, relishing the communities we have in this season. We can long, we can desire, we can relish and encourage closeness and community and intimacy. But we can also follow Christ into the transience with hope. I hope some day I can be better at doing so. 

Until then, my heart hangs onto whatever semblance of a theological explanation and source of comfort that I can pull together. 

a year from now we'll all be gone

all our friends will move away

and they're going to better places

but our friends will be gone away

nothing is as it has been

and i miss your face like hell
and i guess it's just as well
but i miss your face like hell

been talking bout the way things change
and my family lives in a different state
and if you don't know what to make of this
then we will not relate
so if you don't know what to make of this
then we will not relate

rivers and roads
rivers and roads
rivers 'til i reach you

(The Head and the Heart: 'Rivers and Roads')


Saturday, 4 May 2013

When God Wastes His Love

Under what circumstances should you be willing to lay down your life for someone else? 

I believe that God is frivolous. His nature as eternally loving leads him to be ever excessive and reckless with His love.

Romans 5:8 has been one of the main culprits in putting this belief in my head.

 "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." 

This verse presents one of the most remarkable images of grace. Before we have done anything, Christ dies for us. Before we come to faith, Christ dies for us. His love precedes anything we do and is in no way contingent of who we are. His love is abundant and acted upon merely as an end in itself. Simply because He loves human beings (my theologian friends will note that I am somewhat diverting away from an Anselmian view of the atonement, at least in part).

Consider some of the wider implications of His death in terms of such meditations on grace. He died knowing that many would still reject Him. He died knowing that those of us who accept Him would still continue to frivolously waste His love and His grace. He died knowing that we would continue to fail and be unworthy of what we have been given. Even during His death He extends love to His enemies, imploring the Father to forgive those who put Him to death, much less the rest of us.

In making the ultimate sacrifice in spite of these aforementioned circumstances, is His motivation that He believes saving some is a worthwhile reason to give everything? Is it a pragmatic calculation to save  some, even if it's just a few? Or is it because He loves to great excess, with no reservation or equivocation, pouring out love for no reason except its own sake? Extending love to all people unreservedly? Pouring out love even on behalf of those who would waste it; wasted by those who will always be in rebellion against Him and those of us who are His but still often squander the gift?

 Lately, I have been convinced that it is the latter, and I think there is an important difference.

He is like the father who gave his wayward, selfish, disrespectful, prodigal son an inheritance even before his death. He must have known what a waste this could be. But he gave it anyway, frivolously; without demanding his son's love, nor giving it contingent on the son's obedience. And even when the son was disobedient, squandering the inheritance on complete frivolities, the father welcomed him home with open arms and threw a party. His love knew no limits and was not contingent on anything. He was motivated by nothing other than the love of his son. This moved him to be reckless.

He is also the Messiah who healed 10 lepers knowing that only one would come back.

The other day, a professor told our class a story of an unbelieving man who was healed after believers laid hands on him and prayed. This man never was thankful and amazed by the healing, but never came to Christ - although the believers in his life kept proclaiming the Gospel to him and telling him that it was Christ who had healed him. If we assume God's foreknowledge, why would God heal someone who would never come to faith? Perhaps the man will yet come to faith. And perhaps God had secondary purposes; to glorify Himself in this way. But I believe at the heart, He was simply motivated by His love of this man before and beyond this man doing anything for God. It's one of the mysterious dimensions of God's love that is hard for us to understand in categories we are comfortable with; His frivolous excess of love, that is always gracious and abundant and appears in ways and places that shatter our expectations. It is for this reason: His primary and fundamental motivation is love. 

What else should we expect from a God who is a Trinity? Three persons in eternal love and communion? Eternal giving is at the core of His being, as He has been revealed to us. Love as an end in and of itself is His central characteristic, as He has revealed Himself to us. This is not to deny that God's love is sometimes 'tough' and directed toward greater ends than penultimate goods (which we may not always recognize as penultimate). Sometimes our love must likewise be 'tough' and must weigh between different ends. But toughness can never be an excuse for reservation, or an excuse to not place love to the point of complete self-sacrifice as an independent end. An end unto itself.

Will we follow the example of Christ and give ourselves away to those who are still far from Him? Even those who may never come to know Him? Acting as such because we are full of a love that does not depend on whether they are grateful for it and turn to good? A love that depends only on imitating God's frivolous, excessive, infinite love for all? No ulterior motives, no expectation (but yes, hopes) or stipulations? Only concern for the wellbeing of the other? To fall short of this is to fall short of the love of Christ.

We are limited human beings and can never know what may happen in the future. But I believe this key question still gets to the root of our motivation: Would we die for someone with perfect foreknowledge that said person would never come to faith?

Often we speak of righteousness, or 'loving actions,' in terms of being a 'good witness,' as if our witness should be our motivation for righteous deeds. I believe that's ridiculous. If our impetus is to be a witness and not to live full of God's love for its own sake, love itself gets lost. And we fail to be like Christ, and fail to imitate the loving communion of the Trinity. We become something else altogether.

When one's heart is overwhelmed by Love, caring for another becomes its own end. Christ, I believe, shows a love that is love for its own sake.

We, of course, hope and pray and work for the salvation of all, and should never tire of preaching the Gospel to those around us. But we must ask if our love is as frivolous as God's, that we would give and give and give to all whether they respond or not - simply for it's own sake? Should our loving be limited to them responding in the way we ultimately hope and pray that they will? No, because we should love them. Pure and simple.

 Christ did nothing less than this, and so should we.

Will you love the Muslim in your neighborhood? Would you embrace them even when the rest of our society is scared of them and are rushing to blame them, in light of the violence we have recently suffered? Would you count a Muslim's life as worth no less than your own? Would you be willing to die for him or her? To suffer discrimination with him or, and stand in the gap for them?  Even if they never shows any hint of conversion? What about a poor person? A thief? A mentally ill person? An unborn child? A homosexual? A single woman facing an unplanned pregnancy, perhaps caused by violence? An atheist? A murderer? A dementia patient?  Any human being, independent of who they are or what they have done or what you expect they will do deserves that sort of love for no other reason than God Himself has declared it so, both by word and by His own deeds.

This is the insanity of righteousness: it's out of our control. When we try to control it and use it as leverage for other ends (even good ends), righteousness is sacrificed. Love, if it is love, must be consumed with nothing short of the complete fixation on the good of the other, at all times.

Yes, always be prepared to give an answer for the hope you possess. But that command of Paul presupposes that you are living in hope. You are not living in hope so that you might give answer for why - but for its own sake. 

And our hope is this: the frivolous love of God that did not hold anything against us or demand anything of us before giving everything to us, simply because He could not contain His love.

That is the paradox: Our greatest witness comes when we have no motivation than love, not even 'witness.'

"For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps."
-1 Peter 2:21 ESV

If you could know with perfect foreknowledge that a particular non-believer would never come to faith - would you give your life for theirs?  I believe we should. Our love should, like God's, be 'wasteful.' When this ethic forms the foundation of our actions, only then can we say with some validity that we are beginning to become like Christ. Indeed, only then will our witness be pure and powerful and will we have any hope of calling the world to follow Christ.

"If you see anyone in affliction, do not be curious to enquire further... [the needy person] is God's, whether he is a heathen or a Jew; since even if he is an unbeliever, still he needs help." 

-John Chrysostom (Homily on Hebrews 10.4)

"If a man has no worries about himself at all for the sake of love toward God and the working of good deeds, knowing that God is taking care of him, this is a true and wise hope. . . .  A true hope seeks only the Kingdom of God… the heart can have no peace until it obtains such a hope. This hope pacifies the heart and produces joy within it."
- St. Seraphim of Sarov

"God is glorified not by mere words, but by works of righteousness, which proclaim the majesty of God far more effectively than words."
- St. Maximos the Confessor