Vindictiveness and anger are the playbook of life around us today – in the bedroom, social media and the corridors of power. How can we respond?

Forty-five years ago, the historian and social critic, Christopher Lasch, published The Culture of Narcissism: There he wrote, ‘Our society has made lasting friendships, love affairs and marriages, increasingly difficult to achieve. Social life has become more and more warlike and personal relationships have taken on the character of combat…’ He said this before the advent of social media.

Driven by changing and conflicting world-views, society today has become more and more divided. For centuries, the Judaeo-Christian world-view formed the social bond in the Western world. But these days the progressive world dismisses God: we are now adrift on the ocean of life without an agreed moral compass. Persuasive voices appeal to our emotions. Profounder, wiser voices of experience that speak to the depths of our souls are drowned out.

In his book, God Is Good For You, Dr Greg Sheriden, a respected Australian commentator and author, writes: ‘The primary challenge today is not intellectual but cultural…’

For the last five hundred years or so, Christian theologians and church leaders have seen the need to address people’s intellectual questions – about the existence of God, authenticity, suffering, and science and Christianity. But if Sheridan is right and the challenge now is cultural, we need to ask, ‘how do other people see us?’ Is there any difference in my lifestyle and worldview from people around me?

In chapter 3 of his Letter to the Colossians, Paul the Apostle identifies character changes God expects in his people. In verses 5 through 11 he sets out examples of inner transformation. And, from verse 12 he writes of transformed relationships.

In verse 12 he writes: As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.

Changed attitudes. Paul tells us that if we are to experience and enjoy good relationships ourselves, we need to change our attitudes towards others. We need to put off the anti-social vices of indifference and thoughtlessness in our relationships with one another. Paul puts his finger on 3 attitudes that can cause conflict.

Instead of compassion and kindness, it is easy to distance ourselves from the pain and the suffering of others. Instead of humility and meekness, how easily we focus on our own interests and achievements so that we, even unconsciously, look down on others who are not as ‘together’.

And how quickly we become impatient with those around us because we’re not prepared to put up with their faults or failures. Indifference, pride and impatience can lie at the root of violence and hostility in any human society.

Forgiveness. Paul continues: Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you.

Let me ask, have you forgiven in your heart and before God that person who so badly hurt you? Have you let bitterness take root in your attitude towards them? If we know God’s forgiveness because we have turned to the Lord Jesus in repentance, how can we not forgive those who have offended us?

Martin Luther King Jr. echoed Paul’s words when said: “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love”. He also said, “Forgiveness is not an occasional act. It is a permanent attitude”. And he further commented, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools”. “With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope”.

Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you, Paul exhorts us.

Love. And put on love which binds you all together, he continues. Paul knew how easy it is for God’s people, indeed for everyone, to be divided. He understood the corrosive effect of wounded feelings. But he also knew of the one quality that can heal, and enable God’s people to grow into maturity: Love.

He is not speaking of a sentimental, emotional love, but of a love that is grounded in truth and is committed to serving the best interests of others.

This is where we who are God’s people are to be so different from the wider society. For the New Testament insists that God’s people be the one community where the ethics of love and mercy in serving the best interests of others, prevail. As God’s people, we are to pray for our enemies. God expects us to live out the grace of compassion and care for others – especially for one another as God’s people.

How are we to respond to the vindictiveness and division around us? The starting point is to pray that we might live out the life changes that the Lord has brought to bear on us as his people.

Tertullian, the 2nd century church leader commented of the way the wider society saw the communities of God’s people: ‘It is our care for the helpless, our practice of loving kindness that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents’, he said. “Only look,” they say, “look how they love one another”.’

A prayer. Eternal God and Father, by whose power we are created and by whose love we are redeemed: guide and strengthen us by your Spirit, so that we may give ourselves to your service, and live this day in love for one another and to you; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.  Amen.

© John G. Mason