A few weeks back I posted about living in a toxic world, because of unattractive and nasty things I was seeing:
- Lack of compassion and loss of community
- Polarisation and tribalism
- The dumbing down of politics
- The rich control the media
A number of political ploys seem to have led us to this point:
- Fake news – politicians, the media, well anyone really, telling quite clear and deliberate lies and expecting friends and supporters to simple accept them.
- Slogans – make people feel they want change and will accept whatever it takes.
- Demonising – don’t show where your opponents are wrong, simply paint them as the enemy.
- Identity – build a tribal identity that means followers will accept anything you do.
- Fear – if you can make people feel afraid, they will accept anything.
- Authority – if people feel fearful and you project a sense of authority, you can do anything you want.
- Control – do all this and you can exert increasing control.
So how should christians live in these toxic times?
Living in the opposite spirit
Years ago I heard teaching by Dean Sherman on spiritual warfare, where he introduced this principle. If the people around us are choosing to behave in ways that are strongly contrary to the way of Jesus, we can consciously and strongly choose differently.
If our culture is becoming mean and materialistic, we can choose to be generous. If people around us are gossiping, we can choose to speak well of others.
If people are becoming angry, we can choose to be peaceful.
We can apply this principle to our present toxic world.
1. Recognise what’s happening
We need to be discerning. (We need to pray for discernment.) Do the two lists above reflect your experience and observations of what’s going on in our western democracies?
We will see the importance of living in the opposite spirit if we recognise the problem.
2. Value truth
This one is crucial. It is easy to value truths that support our own viewpoint, but not so easy to recognise hard truths that point out our weaknesses.
It is all too possible to see ourselves as being on the side of right in a battle between good and evil, and so turn a blind eye to uncomfortable truths – things we may have said that weren’t true, weaknesses in those we look up to and follow.
Trying to win a battle in ways that don’t honour God.
But Jesus said the truth would set us free (John 8:31-36).
We are fallible human beings, and we can easily be wrong. We can easily be fooled into believing something that isn’t true.
We must value truth above and beyond our “side” and our own self esteem.
We must be willing to face uncomfortable truths at times.
3. Avoid making enemies
One of the main ways to promote division is to represent those who think differently to us as enemies. But we christians have been entrusted with a mission of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:16-20).
And even if someone chooses to be an enemy to us, Jesus commands us to love them (Luke 6:27) and pray for them (Matthew 5:44).
This is especially important online. As we post in the semi-anonymity of Facebook, it is all too easy to speak harshly and make enemies. We can think that a strong statement of what we believe is truth will persuade the other person, but too often it polarises instead.
I have seen christians try to justify harsh and unloving words by saying their motivation is love for the person, but I suspect that too often it just feels good to let fly.
Let’s avoid insult and try to make our words gentle and respectful (1 Peter 3:9-15). Let’s try to be reconciled to others, not alienated.
Let’s try to speak our truths in genuine love (Ephesians 4:15).
If we have wronged someone or been wronged, we have clear teachings to sort it out peacefully (Matthew 18:15–20) and to forgive (Matthew 6:14-15).
And let’s not enjoy seeing anyone losing, for we must always rejoice in the good, not in evil (1 Corinthians 13:6).
4. The end doesn’t justify the means
People’s wellbeing is strengthened when they live their lives committed to a cause greater than themselves. And people find many causes to live for – perhaps caring for others, caring for the earth, patriotism, justice, a hobby, or education.
A cause can motivate us to great sacrifice and effort. Unfortunately, it can also lead us into compromise and evil as we fight for our cause.
In the end, a christian’s cause is the kingdom of God, following Jesus. All other causes must be subsumed in this one, or we are not following in the way Jesus calls us (Luke 9:23-24).
Jesus said we will know a tree by its fruit (Matthew 12:33). If we use dodgy or untruthful methods to achieve our goals, we aren’t really advancing God’s kingdom.
5. Freedom, not control
In times of stress or challenge, leaders can fall back on controlling behaviour. After all, if I know best, shouldn’t I ensure those I am leading follow that path?
But God’s way isn’t controlling. Jesus said we mustn’t be leaders who lord it over those we lead (Mark 10:42-43). He came to set us free, so if we want to be like him, we must set others free too, and not try to control them.
Even if we think our motives are good.
We have a lot of ground to make up
Too many people have experienced the church, and christians, as unloving. Sometimes even hateful and hurtful.
It is no wonder so many people have given up on the church or given up on their faith.
We have to learn to live in the opposite spirit to this toxic world.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”1 Corinthians 13:4-7
He says ruefully ….
I know I have been guilty of some of the above. I have contributed to toxicity rather than to peace. I am truly sorry I have done that. But in Jesus there is always a new start.
There must always be a new start, for me and for you.