You’ve probably had that moment–the one I’ll call The Freeze.
Someone’s talking about something incredibly difficult in his or her life. Your heart is caught up in compassion. And you can see that knowing Christ–walking with him, being gradually healed by him–would make the difference not only in their now, but indefinitely.
But then you start wondering.
What if I commit the unforgiveable cultural sin by presenting what I’m sure is the answer? What if I offend them–to the point of losing our relationship? I’ve seen people share their faith poorly. Really poorly. What if I’m trying to love this person, and all they’re getting is arrogance?
Wait a minute. Am I arrogant?
The past nomenclature of the “white man’s burden” and evangelizing “savages” should no doubt make all of us step more cautiously.
But does that mean evangelism goes hand in hand with arrogance?
Are you saying I’m…lost?
You’ve heard it on Twitter or on talk shows or in the lunchroom–or maybe as recently as the articles on the late John Chau. “Aren’t you saying your religion is better? Aren’t you saying they’re lost without what you have to say?”
That’s a challenging sentiment to communicate in Western cultures. None of us wants to hear from someone that they think we are sick or lost or broken or weak or wrong.
But say we find ourselves ducking from telling the truth. Unfortunately, that means all the sick or lost or broken or weak or wrong among us could have to identify, not to mention admit, their own inability to help themselves:
…And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? …As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:14-15, emphasis added)
It’s called the good news for a reason: It sets us free. Remember Jesus’ words?
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
We have a chance to remind people that God is for them. And–in the Christmas spirit–it’s good news of great joy that shall be for all people.
But there’s also what we know as the “stumbling block” of the Cross (see 1 Corinthians 1:23). The stumbling block should never be our superiority, or our lack of ability to love those in our culture well. (That can sometimes be known as, um, being a jerk?) The Cross requires we admit our need for God; that we submit to him as Master and Healer and the only one able to save.
…Both as the speaker and the receiver.
Hiding the Cure
Penn Jillette, of the famous magic duo Penn and Teller, famously stated in the video below,
I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me alone and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?
I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.
So let’s take this from a new angle. You’re trained, licensed and experienced as a doctor. You’re around the dinner table with friends one night, and someone mentions symptoms that start setting off your mental alarms. This person is so close to a heart attack you’re thankful they haven’t dropped over on the table in the mashed potatoes (which come to think of it, you probably should have mixed in less butter, and maybe reduced-fat sour cream?). You don’t want to hijack the dinner conversation–but isn’t this worth it?
Isn’t that what love is? Caring about someone enough to protect them, and give them what they need most?
As one person has quoted, “If you found a cure for cancer, wouldn’t it be inconceivable to hide it from the rest of mankind? How much more inconceivable to keep silent the cure from the eternal wages of death.”
We Are Not the Healers
North Americans in general get all jittery when someone suggests they have the answer for someone else. (Well. Religious answer only.) We don’t want anyone claiming they’ve been to med school, so to speak. Everyone should find his own cure.
But we present a cure not as someone who can’t get sick, but one who has. As those brought back from the dead.
It’s possible at times that rather than conviction, people will sense condemnation from us. Personally, it took me awhile to realize what I thought was calling nonbelievers to morality was asking the darkness to act like the light. I expected the fruit of repentance from people who hadn’t gotten the core of the Gospel first: that God loved us while we were still sinners, and because of Jesus, accepts us to come as we are.
Sometimes, someone’s angry response could be the recipient’s own arrogance rising up like the hair on the back of a cat. Sometimes, there’s an unseen enemy skewing perception. Paul Little reminds us that even when someone’s mind can be won over to faith, their heart may still remain unconvinced.
But can be, of course, the chance there’s something else.
You may have heard of the 1% theory: Even if someone’s criticism is illegitimate, we can burrow to find the 1% that’s true–and take 100% responsibility for our 1% contribution. Because let’s be honest: Most of us don’t realize when we’re arrogant–or even just coming across that way.
If people are getting the message of arrogance, is it possible our passion is not proceeding from our adoration for Jesus and our compassion for those struggling without him? From the sheer, jaw-dropping miracle that is our own salvation?
Wondering if you’re struggling with pride? Here are a few heart-level questions (and you might find this infographic helpful on tips for practical humility.)
- When I present my views, do people around me respond to me in anger?
- Do others ask for my opinions?
- Do I learn from everyone–of any age, gender, creed, race, socioeconomic position, rank, etc.?
- When I am with someone who disagrees with me, do I tend more to ask questions to better understand, or make statements to convince?
- Do children seek to engage with me? (This can be an interesting way to determine your approachability.)
I love the words of Elisabeth Elliot:
Instead of saying, “Oh, you are as good as I–let me help you,” I now said, “I am as poor as you. God help us all.”
We are not the rescuers. We are the rescued.
To present the Gospel most accurately and purely, arrogance is not the prerequisite. Humility is.