I’m currently listening to instrumental Christmas music that my wife has playing in the background of our Sunday evening. Some say it’s too early. We don’t care.
Growing up in a Christian home, and in a pastor’s family especially, one of the expectations is that people are “nice.” I kind of laugh when I think about this, not in a cynical way, but because there are so many problems with the notion. One of them is indeed that you can find just as many mean people in a church as outside of it, in many cases anyway. I personally find the difference to be that in a church, at least in one of any measure of health, you will also find confession, repentance, and forgiveness as well. This is what makes the church, the healthy one, different. Not the absence of conflict, but the presence of forgiveness at scale. Another reason I laugh is all the ways that niceness has been perpetrated to some of the most tragic and unkind ends. I once had a pastor who said “it’s not kind to be nice to an evil person.” The idea is if you welcome an abuser in to your life, or home, or the church, and in order to be nice to them you let them do whatever makes them comfortable, you are in fact being unkind to those they harm. You may in fact have to be something other than nice to them to truly be a kind individual.
I find this to be resonate throughout the biblical narrative, something that perplexes the hyper-moral secularist, and even progressive Christians. They love to cut out the Old Testament, or say God didn’t really kill his son Jesus for our sin, or some other thing that cuts some of the blood and guts out of the persona of God that they don’t find to be very “nice.” I find in every context I’m in the norm for deciding when, how, how often, and to whom to be nice too will reveal the real worldview of the community. In business who gets the default, the leaders, the employees, or the clients? In a school, is it the administrators, the board, the parents, the teachers, or the students? If the debate is brought to a vote, because some issue has been raised, who is going to be treated the nicest? Who gets their way and why?
One of the things about Jesus I honestly love is that he rips in to the Pharisees, and hard. Some of them come around and join his team. By the time we get to the Acts of the Apostles, there are Pharisees in the Christian church. That’s amazing. Hard words led to soft hearts. I think it’s because those who were humble could see he was right about their hypocrisy. But in chapters like Matthew 23, Jesus just straight lays into them. It’s brutal. And the more you study the history and language of the time, the darker it is. But you don’t need to dig too deep to know that saying things like like this are harsh, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.” (Mt. 23:15 NIV). I know there are times I need a hard word. I’ve had abusive people lay in to me needlessly, sure, I’m no glutton for that kind of punishment. But the idea that the God-become-flesh nicest man on earth laid out some sick burns against the prideful who were leading others away from him gives me peace. Because when you really go through you life, you see the need for this kind of leadership. Sometime you have to say hard things, and it doesn’t make you a mean person, it makes you kind to the right people, the innocent, the helpless, the weak. And in Jesus’ case, it makes you exceedingly honest and committed to the truth. Everywhere I have been there has been a need for that kind of leadership, and a craving for it. There hasn’t always been a knowledge or an initial acceptance of what it looks like, but when it is manifest over any amount of time to any effect, it is appreciated by the right people.
I want to be a kind person, and have always tried to be. Most think I am. I was voted the friendliest guy in my senior class in high school. But to do so I have to be guided but what is just and righteous, and that involves hard things and harsh words sometimes. There is definitely a balance, and a need to default to being as kind as possible. Too often it is believed that as a personal of faith, it is only possible to be kind, and that is only true if you know when, how, how often, and to whom to be kind to. Jesus knew, and I’ll keep trying to follow his lead.