Bitterness and anger are the playbook of life around us today – from the bedroom to the corridors of power, from social media to the unrestrained looting in the streets. How should we respond?
Back in 1979 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…’
Even though Lasch was writing some 40 years ago, his thesis is still relevant. 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 popular view is to throw God out. And because we are now adrift on the ocean of life without an agreed moral compass, persuasive voices appeal to our basic, albeit unthinking instincts. Profounder, wiser voices of experience that speak to the depths of our souls are drowned out.
Indeed, in a recent book, 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 the intellectual questions people were asking – questions of 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 life and my character from people around me?
In the flow of his Letter to the Colossians, Paul the Apostle indicates in chapter 3 the changes of character God expects of his people. Last week we touched on examples of inner transformation. Today we touch on transformed relationships.
In verse 12 Paul 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 – especially in this world of Covid-19. Instead of humility and meekness, how easy it is for us to be so focussed on our own interests and achievements that we, even unconsciously, look down on others who are not as ‘together’. And how easy it is to be 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?
Clara Barton was the founder of the American Red Cross. The story is told that a friend once reminded her of a particularly cruel thing someone had done to her. Clara Barton didn’t seem to remember it. ‘But you must,’ her friend insisted. ‘No’, replied Clara Barton. ‘I distinctly remember forgetting it.’ 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, insipid 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 is insistent 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
New – ‘An Anglican Understanding of the Bible’: https://anglicanconnection.com/gods-word-written-an-anglican-understanding-of-the-bible/