Mild excitement breathed beneath the surface as I finally sat down to read the book When People Are Big and God is Small. Fully expecting that this book would be predictable while still upbuilding, I was deeply intrigued by the word “self-esteem” being thrown around by the first chapter.
The author, Edward T. Welch, categorizes peer pressure, people-pleasing, and codependency under the fear of man. Welch recalls a time when he saw the controlling factor of the fear of man in his own life. This led to his decision that man’s opinions of him did not matter because God’s opinion of him was “rooted in the finished work of Jesus” (12). I rejoiced that the answer was divulged so quickly. But then I read the next several paragraphs as he goes on to discover that it’s not enough to know man’s opinion of a person doesn’t matter. I was hooked; I knew I needed to read this book.
Secular and Christian culture alike struggle with the fear of man. Welch gives an extensive list for the reader to check to see where this controlling factor reigns in their lives, and no one is left untouched. Numerous secular books have diagnosed the problem to be the cause of low self-esteem and codependency. While the world’s answer is to simply learn to love yourself, Christians have modified it to say that we need to know that God loves us. Although God’s love is an incredible answer to human problems, Welch presents the idea that we use it to the point of watering it down. “Sometimes it still allows us and our needs to be at the center of the world,” and our self-esteem demands to be inflated (18).
Welch does well in separating the differing fears of man and their legitimacy, peeling back layers to reveal vulnerable shame. Addressing physical and sexual abuse, Welch recognizes that the fear of what a person can do is real and not easily overcome. While being sensitive to victims and their fears, Welch also doesn’t give them excuses for sinful choices they make in the wake of another’s sin against them. When someone is sinned against, God takes it seriously, and so should we; however, the victim does not need to remain in a paralyzed state of fear in relationship to God and others. The reason for this is Jesus and His redemptive work on the cross.
Christians today have bought into the idea that we have psychological needs that need to be filled for us to function optimally. Secular culture influences us more than we realize, and sadly, there is no difference between Christians and the world when it comes to focusing on ourselves. We just make it a little more spiritual.
The second part of the book goes into the remedy for the fear of man, and (spoiler alert) it’s not getting rid of negative people in your life so you can vibe with your tribe, and it certainly isn’t making sure you are filled so that you will be able to pour out to others. Fear of man will only be taken down by a greater fear of the Lord.
It was about this point when I ignored the book for a full day because I was so convicted and wasn’t ready to change. But when I went back to it, I was intrigued by how Welch saved the best for last. God answers each and every legitimate fear we have. For although we do not have psychological needs, we are a people in need of “forgiveness of sins, covering from shame, protection from oppressors, and acceptance into God’s family.” (171)
In the last several chapters of the book, the author does well by answering the question of how we should relate to people. “The task God sets for us is to need them less and love them more.” (19) Breaking it down a little, Welch looks at what it means to love your enemies and neighbors, and brothers and sisters in Christ, in light of fearing the Lord first. I wish Welch would have broken it down even further and given some idea as to how a victim is to respond to their abuser with the love of Christ, but I allow that the subject may be too large to be opened up in this book. Personally, although I advocate for a victim to find healing and forgiveness, I do not believe pursuit of a relationship with an abuser is always safe or necessary.
I appreciated this book and the message the author is passionate about sharing. The fear of the Lord is not something we hear a lot about these days. Keeping in mind the balance Welch brought out about “knowing God as All-just and All-merciful” (224), we need to have it hammered in our hearts who is it we are serving; either fallible individuals who will only fail us, or the one and only, almighty King of kings who is glorious in power and might, the HOLY God of Israel.
|Linda Coblentz is a young wife seeking to encourage Christians to be true followers of Christ. Raised in Wisconsin, she spent a couple years in Sinaloa, Mexico. She also spent time in Indiana before getting married in central Ohio. She believes the greatest thing a Christian can do is to do everything as if it was to Christ Himself, even in the menial task of day to day living.|