Saturday, July 25, 2009

religion of niceness?

A friend gave me a book a while ago that I've just got around to starting to read in the last week or so. It's definitely a good book - a challenging one too. The book is Jesus Mean & Wild: The Unexpected Love of an Untamable God by Mark Galli. The title definitely grabbed my attention when I saw it.

The book is based off of the parts of Mark's Gospel that we so often like to just skim over when we read or study it. This book takes a look at the times when Jesus said or did things that were hard and may have offended people. We so often look at the loving, compassionate side of Jesus that I think we sometimes get this picture of Jesus as a meek, mild, quiet, crowd-pleasing person, when in reality Jesus was anything but. Jesus called people to love their enemies, to give up everything (including their families) to follow Him. Jesus called the religious leaders of His day on their hypocrisy. Jesus fashioned a whip and cleared the Temple of vendors and money changers in anger. These aren't the things that we like to focus on, but they are just as much a part of Jesus as the loving side. We need both.

There was a section in one of the chapters that really got me thinking, and unfortunately, realizing how true it can be of those who claim to follow Christ today. The book puts it better than me, so I will just quote it.

Today we are adherents of the Religion of Niceness. In this religion, God is a benevolent grandfather who winks at human mistakes, and it goes without saying that he always understands - after all, it is human to err, divine to forgive.
Christians are often fascinated with the Religion of Niceness because it appears to champion biblical virtues such as humility, forgiveness, and mercy. This religion so permeates our consciousness that when we hear someone quote the second Great Commandment, the epitome of Christian ethics, we tend to hear: "Be nice to your neighbor, as you would have your neighbor be nice to you." (Jesus Mean & Wild, Mark Galli, pg. 62-63)

I have seen this play out many times, and in many situations in my life.

It is the easy way to operate - the easy way to live. But, our being nice for the sake of being nice all the time, is not what we are to do. There times when "being nice" is probably the last thing the people we are being nice to need us to do. There are times when we may need to say things that aren't nice for the good of others. A little later, Galli says, "Simply put, when Jesus is not nice, he's trying to get people to do the right thing." Sometimes we need to say things to one another that aren't nice in order to help them get back on the right track.

Galli closes the chapter of the book on this with the following that I think it is also important that we remember.

Two qualifications are in order. First, most circumstances call us to be civil, courteous, patient - nice. We're not going to get much of a hearing for the Good News if we are rude and uncivil. While we need some prophetic, even angry, voices, to remind us of sin and injustice sometimes, we also need those who call for civil and patient conversation. Niceness may not be a synonym for love, but it is the usual (if not the only) way that love is expressed.
In addition, we must note that more is at stake than behavior modification.
. . .
Jesus was a sharp judge of character, and he employed anger even when he was aware that it wasn't going to do any good. Why? Because sometimes the most honest and truthful response to foolishness or evil is anger. Jesus couldn't have integrity if he was indifferent. The person who is always nice, always decorous, always even-keeled is likely a person who ultimately does not care about what God cares about. (pg. 69)

Just some of the things I'm thinking about these days: Have I been caught up in the "religion of niceness"? Am I willing to speak up when it is appropriate to do in a way that may not be nice? Or do I keep quiet because I want to be nice, even when it may be to the detriment of someone else?

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