How can something that looks so vile feel so good? I’m talking about disapproval, the joy of heaping contempt on others. In its most extreme form, it morphs into the kind of violent scorn that leaves dozens of young people dead on a nightclub floor in Orlando. It’s reported the assassin laughed at he slaughtered nearly fifty strangers on Saturday night.
Granted, radical Islamists seem to specialize in contempt that goes beyond the pale. Most of us cannot even fathom how religious communities could celebrate the bloody massacre of unsuspecting civilians, young or old, gay or straight, who are a threat to no one. But the fact is that the rest of us universally practice a more domesticated variety of disapproval. It’s the gift no one wants to receive, but virtually all of us enjoy dishing out!
For years, we in the church have preached “hate the sin, love the sinner,” while sometimes appearing to take that first verb more seriously than the second. We fail to take our cue from God who causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. He sends sunshine into the lives of the righteous and the unrighteous. By contrast, most of us have occasionally looked down our noses at sinners in a manner worthy of that old cliche, if looks could kill.
Of course, scorn is not the exclusive territory of Christianity. It’s actually a part of the baggage we all bring with us when we begin to repent but stop too soon. The unbelieving world is filled with all those dark colors of disapproval, contempt, rejection, reproach and disfavor. Among our secular friends and popular TV personalities, there’s nothing wrong with passing judgment as long as it’s not religious, and can shut down a difficult discussion. Think about it:
- “Bigot” is the gibe that keeps on giving, even if the only evidence is use of the word “niggardly” by a judge who has battled against racism for thirty years.
- It’s always Open Season on fascists (people who disagree on politics;) fanatics (people more religious than you;) ignoramuses (people who don’t accept your opinions;) and hypocrites (people with higher moral standards than you.)
No doubt, it’s unfair when we in the church take so much heat for a vice that is practiced widely and prominently on nearly every TV show and in 90% of the world’s conversations. But we should allow the injustice of it all to remind us that we are held to a higher standard. We really should strive to be the people who don’t seem to get a rush out of opprobrium. We are priests, not the morality police. We are the vanguard of grace, not God’s grim executioners. Sin should always make us uncomfortable, but let’s be sure that discomfort doesn’t look so much like arrogance.
- We are saddened when others in the church fall into sin, but when we offer correction we do it with a spirit of gentleness. Galatians 6:1
- We are concerned when unbelievers pursue deadly lifestyles of reckless abandon, but we must reach out to them with gentleness and respect, in the example of our own high priest who sympathizes with us in our weaknesses, knowing that he himself was tempted. Hebrews 4:1
We all have an easy target for disapproval this week: radical Islamists or maybe even bloodthirsty terrorists everywhere. But perhaps the world would be better served if we left waging war to the government, and devoted some time to praying for the souls of our enemies and those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44.) It would also be Christ-like this week to mourn with those who mourn. There are a lot of people like that in Orlando today.
Lift up the Cross!