A Theology of Kindness

A Theology of Kindness

Being right has never once resulted in a romantic encounter. April has not yet been so impressed with my reciting of the truth that a spark of passion was lit. Being right does not increase the warmth, safety or attraction of a relationship. I have had plenty of arguments with my wife, and every one of them was ignited by this thought: “I am right.” In my head I arrange my evidence, and it is clear to me that any jury would agree with me that I have the facts correct and she is wrong. I have often assumed her lack of understanding must be an auditory issue, so I increase my volume, always to no avail. Never once in the heat of an argument has she (or have I, for that matter) stopped and exclaimed, “You are right, I am wrong, have your way with me.” Not once in 31 years of marriage. Here is a little secret I have learned: the nicer I am, the more romance I get, and the better my relationship with my wife gets. I am not saying be nice so you can get some, I am saying it is the more natural response. I think a similar principle applies to theology. Not long ago, I began to re-evaluate my theological perspective. I come from a fundamentalist background, so I tended to think of the Bible as primarily a tool to win arguments. “You believe in evolution? Here is what the bible says. You are gay? Here is what the bible says. You believe in Jesus, love God, want peace in the world, but believe that Mary is without sin? Here is what the bible says.” Of course, it was what the bible says from my perspective, but I honestly used to wonder how a thinking person could see it differently. So I argued. I presented evidence. I tried to make others see how wrong and even stupid they were. And I did not make one convert, much less one friend. What changed my life and my theology was this single shift in my thinking: You are right when you are kind. Because of this shift, I no longer agonized about the Greek translation of obscure verbs. I ask “Will believing this make me kinder?” If, as the scriptures say, faith is validated by our actions, is not kindness the easiest and best test of rightness? I am annoyed by the current fried chicken debate, especially the apparent need of a few of my evangelical Christian family to prove that they are a powerful majority not to be trifled with. “Look, we can mobilize and create 3-hour waits for fast food chicken–you better watch out” seems to be their message. We have power, we are right, join our team seems as ineffective in evangelism as it does in romance. Has one person been persuaded that Jesus is the way because we proved our point? When did we begin to believe that our message would be heard if we could show our power? Why would a person who loves Jesus be motivated to make life harder for a gay person? Unless you feel that your own heterosexuality is in danger, why would you want a gay person to have fewer rights than you? Don’t my LGBT friends deserve to be treated kindly? Theology that does not result in kindness is heresy. The best apologetic is kindness. Imagine Jesus saying this: “When you give a drink of water to those who agree with you, that is good. When you clothe those who believe what you believe, that is what I want.” I think theology–what we believe about God and the world–is important. The difficult thing is to relinquish the power that comes from needing to believe I am right. Being right without being kind has made me feel powerful, but being kind without needing to be right has made me friends. Was the appeal of Jesus that He made a good point, or that He was kind to sinners?

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24 Responses to A Theology of Kindness

  1. Aaahhhhhhhmennnnnn.
    Ellen Haroutunian just shared a sermon their vicar preached yesterday. Similar theology. Seems to me, honestly, that people get hung up on Paul’s epistles. But it’s pretty hard to get hung up on Jesus’ words. He’s pretty darn clear. “Stop getting hung up on tradition and start loving. Look at me. See what I’m doing? You do it too.”
    Man, I love to be right. But my family never says, “Erin, we love you because you’re right.” Nope they say, “You’re a know-it-all, but we love you anyway.”

  2. Vicki says:

    I always have loved the verse in Romans that says it’s God’s kindness that leads us to repentance. This also seems to fit your kindness thread. Not a one of us has changed solely because of truth. It is kindness that draws us to Jesus and a longing for change…

  3. Yes Karl. These are the right questions to ask. The events of the last weeks have made me very sad for the Church.

  4. Jim Fisher says:

    The problem isn’t our convictions. It’s the barricade of certainty that we erect around them that kills empathy, terminates the stories of others, and belittles the people who those stories belong to. But what do I know? I am certain I’m just making this stuff up.

    • karlw says:

      boy, you said that well! i think that is perfect imagery- barricade and killing. who responds well to be conquered?. if you contrast the current war metaphors with turning cheeks, walking extra miles, giving shirts and coats if feels so messed up.

  5. Laura says:

    I like Fisher’s reply. –Too, God calls himself, “the One who shows loving kindnesses generation after generation to those who follow me.” I do think there is a politically correct kind of kindness that creates a society of cowards, catastrophic chaos, and yes’ms in hopes of world peace. See, Exodus 20:5 “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, V6 but showing love to a thousand [generations] of those who love me and keep my commandments.” I also agree that the point of being right is not to win as if domination is the game, but to give somebody something of value, something you know yourself, or something you know to make their life easier, or to show rightness through kindness how it should or could work better than what they may be struggling with.
    Rightness IS KINDNESS because it flows from a sense of responsibility for self and for others and obedience to God.
    There really are repercussions for wrongness, and you can be kind to a drunken driver or an abusive parent as long as the sun shines, but unless you are also trying to help them see the light and change their ways it will not stop them from being fools and hurting themselves and others.
    Romans 11:22 shows us a little different viewpoint on God’s kindness. “Consider, then, the kindness and severity of God: his severity toward those who fell, but God’s kindness toward you—if you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you too will be cut off.” “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” Romans 2:4 Kindness is the capsule for some pretty strong and necessary medicine of conviction. Psalm 85:10 “Lovingkindness and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” I love that verse. I desperately need both kindness and truth. Both righteousness and peace. LOVE YA.

    • karlw says:

      dang, you are a thinker/theologian! i think for me the primary issue is when we see what we believe to be truth as a means to have power. i guess it is meeting power with humility, kindness and truth that would be my preferred method.

      • Laura says:

        Yes! I get it that it’s the motive that wrong or right. Thanks! Sometimes I get paranoid that everyone is talking about peace and kindness and service and mercy to the complete exclusion of other necessary gifts, values, character and truth. For some reason that just makes me panic…so I had to control my panic by doing some research to find the icing in the orea. I learned a lot myself by having this “conversation” with you. Thanks Bud.

    • Mindy says:

      Laura, I agree with you (and Karl!) that needing to be right to dominate is flawed. I also agree with you that this all likely goes deeper than an easy I’m ok, you’re ok.

      But, I beseech you to take GREAT care with your approach of wanting to be right so you can “…give somebody something of value, something you know yourself, or something you know to make their life easier, or to show rightness through kindness how it should or could work better than what they may be struggling with.”

      The reason I ask that you take such great care with that is that it presupposes that your particular perspective and unique experience apply to another person.

      Such thinking can be perceived as arrogant and narrow. And sometimes it is.

      • karlw says:

        yes, i was just thinking of how i assume that my path to healing and God must be what someone else would need.thanks for the insight

  6. sharon hoover says:

    Karl, having a gay daughter has changed my whole perspective on how to behave as a Christian. Many of them (GL..etc..) believe all Christians condemn them personally and hate them. Makes me sad that we can’t love them into the Kingdom rather than banging their heads with our Bibles. Love you and April and hope you are getting some by being nice.

    • karlw says:

      having gay friends has certainly changed my perspective. i can not imagine the horror of being told that i was excluded from the love and grace of Jesus as so many of them have. Never a down side to just loving and letting God worry about the details

  7. I am shocked by the comments I have read from evangelicals regarding this Chick-fil-A fiasco. “Take that you homos”, etc. Then they follow up with, “The Bible says…. and quote from Romans 1 or Leviticus 13. Nothing from the gospels, though. I wonder how many young gay men and women are children of people like this, unable to talk to anyone, especially their parents, because of the rejection they will face. To make matters worse, they have been told that there is no way they can be gay and have a relationship with God, so they can’t even talk to HIm. No wonder the despair and become suicidal. Tragic what propostitional dogma can do.

    • Liz says:

      Elizabeth – I was also shocked and heart broken at the horrible way that so many Christians have responded to the Chick-Fil-A fiasco. And like Karl I have wondered what they hope to achieve because they certainly are not going to change the mind of their opposition and if anything it seems they will only drive people further away from Christianity. As a devoted follower of Christ and the mother of a son who is gay the insensitivity and hatefulness of those who showed up for the CFA appreciation day feels like the last straw for me.

      • karlw says:

        it is so easy to make a judgement when you have no skin in the game. if you take theology out of it, one person saying what another should do or not, why be so bothered by it? i cannot see how someone else’s sexuality can have any impact on someone else.

      • sharon hoover says:

        liz, I know it is hard as a mother to have people treat the people that we love and care about in such a mean and thoughtless way. I believe that we are some of the best “witnesses” that our children and their friends will see and so we just need to stand firm in our beliefs and our love for our children. We have been able to have many conversations with our daughter about Christians that love and don’t hate, just because we are there to show her how much she is loved by us. Don’t give up, just love them and those that will condemn them.

      • Liz, I’m so sorry. I know it must hurt all the more. I hope your son will not lose heart over this recent theatrical nonsense.

    • karlw says:

      i remember years ago speaking at a camp and young man came out to me, the first time he had said the words. it was a very conservative denomination, and i remember that in good conscience i could not advise him to tell his youth pastor or parents, yet. we made a strategy for him to first tell his sister who was sure would not reject him. i remember the fear. so, so, sad.

  8. My pride has kept me from being kind so often. My judging, finding fault, unforgiveness, having to be right, comparing, entitlement, etc. Trying to make myself feel good somehow by thinking I am better than he or she or them. Ugh!
    But God has been teaching & loving me by breaking me. It is the most humblest place. It is teaching me that I have to learn what His love is, His ways are, to listen to Him, to focus on Him, to accept His love, to know why He sent His son, Jesus to die for us, to know He is love and that He loves us all so much. Then from my fragile, God repaired heart, I have been able to be kind to others and myself because His love has overwhelmed me. It’s a strange and beautiful thing to be so cared for by God that He personally breaks and mends to teach and to ultimately bring the love I have so longed for.
    The kindness is growing as I get closer to God, to Jesus. God bless you Karl !! love …irene

    • karlw says:

      it is a dance with humility for sure! i often see humility as the spiritual equivalent to eating my spinach- just good for you but tastes bad. i am learning to like the taste, but oh so slowly

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