Have you noticed how much young people love to tear each other down? I’m not just talking about bullying, which is horrible; I’m referring to the casual way teenagers rip even their friends to shreds. Why do they do that? More significantly, why do adults do that? Why is it that people in general seem to enjoy verbally attacking others?
For example, pick a blog on any controversial subject and read the comments. Worse, take a article from or about a prominent figure, and then examine the comments. You will find the most vile, hateful remarks. I enjoy reading Matt Walsh’s blog; he’s a Christian and conservative blogger who writes some very thought-provoking articles. I agree with him often. When or if I don’t, I have no particular desire to be nasty. I would rather raise a question or offer my own point of view. Recently, he chose not to wholly embrace the changes made by Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner. I am impressed that he has the courage to read what his attackers have said and thoroughly disgusted with his attackers.
Then there’s gossip. Oh how we love gossip, getting the dirt on someone, and almost literally rolling in it. This is nothing more than reveling in the sins of others, vicariously enjoying whatever unpleasant behavior took place, but acting with superior outrage at what they did. We love to exploit “Oh, how the mighty have fallen.” Those who do this act like they are better, more virtuous in pronouncing the failings of others. It is pleasure for them to recount the grimy sins of others—a neighbor, a co-worker, a family member, or a celebrity. It’s a special delight to expose a fallen politician, especially of the “other side,” as if their moral failure proves their political beliefs to be wrong as well. So seldom, any more, do we hear “There but for the grace of God, go I.”
Of course, Christians live in this spirit of self-awareness of their own leanings toward sin, right? The first time I recall taking on this topic was speaking at a Christian school chapel. As a substitute teacher, I had seen so many vicious attacks between students. As one who has long pondered on the “one anothers” in the New Testament, “encourage one another” quickly came to mind. Instead I was seeing the exact opposite commonly carried out among these largely Christian young people. Why did they so easily “tear each other down,” instead of building each other up? Why do Christian adults seem to get so much more satisfaction in discouraging than encouraging?
A friend just posted on Facebook a summary of some of the especially nasty kinds of things she’s been told as the mother and adoptive mother of emotionally handicapped children, several of whom were drug or fetal alcohol babies. The least offensive were insensitive and unkind. The worst said things like blaming the parents for the child’s problem, even adoptive or foster parents, and accusing them of having sin that was the cause of a physical or emotional disorder.
I must be honest. I could easily conclude that many of these harsh, judgmental people are simply not Christians because this is not the spirit of Christ. This is hardened religious hypocrisy. This is gross judgmentalism. These people are not obeying God, not in the least! We believers of Jesus Christ, we who have accepted his gracious forgiveness for our sin, we disciples of the one who is love have no excuse or justification for behaving like this. Even the disciples who questioned Jesus about the blind man, as to whether his handicap was from his or his parents’ sin, didn’t accuse the man.
Indeed, John chapter 9 is illustrative of human attitudes. After Jesus explained the the blindness was an opportunity for him to display God’s glory through healing, the religious leaders sought to make such a joyous miracle into some proof of sin, to the point of throwing the man out of the synagogue for refusing to lie. And, of course, the greater glory of God was displayed in the coming of the former blind man to Jesus in faith!
Many folks are discussing the seeming decline of the American Church and the departure of many from organized congregations. I’ve seen some thoughtful insights, but I’ll be honest. I think the failure of Christian people to love may be the root cause. I’ve been telling people for years, to anyone who might listen, that if we truly loved each other and those whom we live and work among, our churches would be full.
I’m a 66-year-old man, and you know how little I feel the love of my Christian brothers and sisters? Granted, I express my love to a great extent to the students I tutor, to the young people I have occasion to mentor, and, believe it or not, to the passengers in my van. I long ago came to believe that, to have friends, I had to be a true friend; I have made every effort to do that. I try to be kind, compassionate, patient, encouraging, thoughtful, interested in others, forgiving, and helpful, even to the point of sacrifice. When I was separated from a teaching job, only one student and no one else ever asked why I left or how I was doing. For most of my adult life, I have worked among Christians in various kinds of ministry, and I can count one long-standing friend from those co-workers. Don’t misunderstand. Many are very nice people, and I don’t doubt their genuine faith in Christ. I just feel as though there should be more.
I guess I’m making a connection between.discouraging, tearing down, judgmental unkindness and a kind of vague emotional apathy among believers. I recognize that some of my dissatisfaction could be me, but then I think of those parents who have been condemned very clearly. We focus so easily on the deficiencies, perceived or genuine, of others when God says, “Love them like you love yourself!” “Show the world my love by loving each other.” Do any of us imagine we are coming close to that?! Is apathy or self-involvement really much better than aggressive unkindness?
I know exceptions. The Amish people who loved the wife of the man who killed their school children are unforgettable. The woman who shared the gospel with the man who held her hostage at gunpoint had more love and guts than I do. Just recently a Michigan man showed compassion to the woman who killed his wife because she was texting. Sadly, the examples are notable for their rarity. This should be the church of Jesus Christ.
I’ve never married, and I have no children. I always hoped to be a dad, but that wasn’t the plan. That’s how I ended up a tutor, among other things, but none of those young people is my son or daughter. I do have some influence for a time, and I’m dealing with young folks who are, by no means, perfect. I find it a challenge to find the right balance between “preaching righteousness,” if you will, and loving them unconditionally. It’s not easy offering wisdom in a kind and timely fashion in the face of what often appears to be obvious foolishness on their part. Sadly, I find some encouragement for my approach in their stories of mistreatment by their parents, other family, friends, or church folks. My goal, however well I reach it, is to show them what authentic, loving Christianity is supposed to be. I want them to have no doubt that one old man, who had no other reason to care, loved them without a doubt, because of Jesus.
Before you think I’m bragging here, permit me to say that some of the exemplars of Christ-like love are those adoptive parents of drug and fetal alcohol children. One of those moms has amazed me, time and time again, for her patience, love, and sense of humor, even as she must deal with difficult and sometime even scary situations. I recall another couple who kept their virtually brain dead daughter in their home and loved her for over 40 years. Wow! Then I think of the pastor virtually driven out of ministry by hateful church folk. What can we say about a supposed Christian who says, at the death of a former pastor’s child, “Serves him right!”? I may not be among the most virtuous, but God help me never be among those bizarre, hateful people.
Here’s the bottom line, at least for this piece: We are all sinners, saved by grace, which is a gift of God. We don’t contribute to getting saved or keeping ourselves saved. The good we do is a gift back to our loving heavenly father. Our love is nothing more than obedience, in one sense, or holy admiration for his unconditional love that we must copy, on the other. We are perfected, in his eyes, which means he counts nothing negative against us but rather the righteousness of Christ on our behalf. Yet, we are imperfect in reality. No one has the right to look down in scorn on another believer; even unbelievers deserve our compassion and understanding. The worst, most horrible, most despised criminal may come to Jesus to be cleansed and forgiven, and it should be our goal to bring them. Our attitudes toward each other, as believers, as brothers and sisters in Christ, as equally children of our heavenly father, are to love, to build up, to encourage, to be kindly-intentioned toward each other, to be forgiving and not judgmental, to lift up and not bring down, to be comforting, to be burden bearing, to be patient, merciful, and gracious, never forgetting that a merry heart does good like a medicine, as our Savior and God act toward us.
Here’s my prayer for this article. I pray someone will read it and be challenged, sufficiently challenged to make a commitment to be more loving, more encouraging, less mean-spirited. I pray they or some other will pass this on to someone else who will likewise be challenged. I’m praying that my own words will challenge me where I am weak and deficient in the very areas I’ve discussed. I pray I can be a better example, and I’m grateful I’ve become more content and less unhappy being alone. I pray for a multiplication of influence from this simple conversation. Is that possible? I pray it is. The world needs more of the love of Jesus Christ…in us!!