My last article was about the fear of becoming a self-righteous zombie. In other words, the pain from seeing so many around us “check out” of the world because they live in their own heads, and the fear of becoming that way myself. The problem with self-deception is that you’re always the last to know. In so many ways, the core purpose of the devout life is to acknowledge and be vigilant from our own ability to self-deceive.
The opposite of this self-deception is clarity, and clarity is an amazing gift. In my search for it, I have found a few “pillars” of clarity which I hold close to me and meditate on, especially when I feel myself slipping into hate, despair, or depression. I do not claim this is an exhaustive list, but it has served me well.
1. Never Classify People as Evil
‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged;” - Matthew 7:1 (NJB)
There are two main times we are tempted to classify people as “evil.” The first is when we are hurt by someone, and can find no path to reconciliation. When we are hurt, it can feel easier to dehumanize those who hurt us as “bad people.” The second, is when we think we are “good” and therefore demonize those who are different, or believe and think differently, from us as “evil.”
Hurt people hurt people, and behind every bully is someone bullying them. The capacity to show mercy to those who hurt us is how we work to end these cycles of pain and violence. Likewise, when we try to discourse and argue with those who think differently than us, we need to give them the benefit of the doubt: that maybe, they too, are just following their conscious. If you think someone is evil, you will not listen. If you do not listen you will not hear the good in them. Now you are creating evil.
2. Never Classify People as Good
Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.’
- Mark 10:18 (NJB)
When we classify ourselves, our heros, or our mentors as “good” we are setting ourselves up for disappointment, disillusionment, and confusion. We are all just PEOPLE, we all have a capacity to do good and do evil. If we ever forget our capacity for evil, then we are more likely to commit evil. If we forget our capacity for good, we often fall into despair. Sometimes we do good things with bad motives, sometimes we do bad things with good motives.
We are the children of God, and that is good. What we do with that is up to us. Instead of thinking as people as “good or evil” we have to learn to see everyone as having VALUE. All people have value, are important, and deserve our respect. This is why we pray for our enemies and love those who hate us.
3. Hold Your Beliefs Accountable to Actions
And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. - 1 Corinthians 13:2 (ESV)
For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. - James 1:23-24 (ESV)
It is so easy to be proud of our beliefs, even if they are completely useless. “I can’t believe that guy believes in ________, how silly!” Oh, you are so superior in your understanding? Other than finding another way to be contentious, in what ways does your belief change your behavior? Senility is a thought-life which never translates into action. If we live our Christianity in our heads, what can be said but we live in our own private hells.
If your belief in the incarnation of Jesus Christ compels you to love others, lift up those around you, and seek peace then it does you well. If your belief in the incarnation causes you to separate from others, demonize those who disagree, and elevates you above your fellow man, then it is heresy.
[Heretics] have no regard for love; no care for the widow, or the orphan, or the oppressed; of the bond, or of the free; of the hungry, or of the thirsty. - Ignatius of Antioch
This is not about being “saved by works vs. saved by grace” this is about examining your heart and your mind about what your beliefs and priorities actually are in the first place.
4. Don’t Love the World While You Hate Your Neighbor
“Jesus said love one another. He didn't say love the whole world.” - Mother Teresa
One way churches and Christians delude themselves is by loving the “world” while hating those in their own families, communities, and culture. We pat ourselves on the back for feeding the poor in another continent, but we never grow the maturity and wisdom to help the lost in our own backyards. If a local church has the fire of the Holy Spirit alive and well in its congregation, then the whole community, Christian or not, feels and cherishes its presence.
5. Practice Radical Thankfulness
Always be joyful; pray constantly; and for all things give thanks; this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. - 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NJB)
This one may seem cliche or overly simply, but to say it has saved my life is not an overstatement. There is nothing to help with the stress of modern life than a little healthy perspective. Self-pity, jealousy, and envy are so seductive and easy to sink into our minds in a materialistic and status-based world. To be thankful, no matter the circumstances, is one of the greatest tools to see clearly and hear the soft voice of the Holy Spirit.
There are times in this life where we may be victims of truly harmful and evil actions, experience genuine trauma, and suffer true injustice. However, those times should be forced upon us, not welcomed with open arms and created from a desire for self-pity which seeks out drama like a metal detector. Delusions of persecution are a true spiritual poison. Being thankful means that most of life’s daily cares can pass through us like water, and that we are more prepared when real trials come our way.