Monday, August 1, 2011

Mercy and the Wise and and Foolish Person

On Sunday I led a panel discussion on the biblical topic of justice which got us into talking about God's mercy. I made the point that God's mercy and grace are extended even to people we might deem undeserving by virtue of their own self-indulgence and or laziness. In response the following questions were emailed to me to which I am responding in this post.
Here is what was asked:
I want to ask you about the part where we are supposed to give to "everybody" regardless of whether they got themselves into their mess or not.
Many people out there do not want to work, make lousy decisions, and have
their hand out for any and all handouts. I know, that sounds very harsh;
but I don't feel that I, a responsible person, should have to feel
responsible for a irresponsible person who has no intention of working and
is happy with the life they have chosen. Is this what God calls us to do?
What ever happened to personal responsibility? Aren't we enabling this
behavior by rewarding it? What am I missing here?
Here's my response:
These are very good questions and thanks for asking them.
The problem with public speaking and limited amounts of time to do it in is you can't stop and cover something to the extent you might like to sometimes.
Here is an attempt to fill in a bit more on the point I made about the standard of judgment we use and God's grace and mercy.
The Bible says that All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God-Rom. 3:23.
All means All so in that sense we are all in the same boat, no one is exempt.
Also, all of us have been and are-self-indulgent-that's why Jesus (John 12:24) and Paul (Gal. 2:20) both call us to die to self.
And at times all of us are lazy. In fact my favorite theologian, Karl Barth says that the root of human sin is sloth. All of us are spiritually lazy creatures.
Self and sloth are in the picture for each of us and all the time.
And, all of us are where we are in part because of who we are and the choices we have made. Each person is responsible before God for their present situation no matter what background circumstances may also be involved. In this sense we are all both victims and victimizers. That's why the Bible talks about judgment for sinners and accountability to Christ for Christians. However on this point I will add that the grace of God is always in play and we can also say we are where we are at his point in life because of it too. When we receive God's grace it makes the great exception to our situation like I was sharing about Sunday...I was blind, but now I see, was lost but now I am found. This only comes by grace and to the extent that we respond to it our situations improve from what they would be if only sin reigned over them.
All of the above is why we can assert that the playing field for humanity is level.
All have sinned and all need God's gift of grace through Jesus Christ and the eternal life it brings which saves us from the eternal death we have clung to (Rom. 3:24).
Now, all that being said, the Bible also says there are three kinds of people-Wise, Foolish and Evil.
Wise people can be told the truth about something they did or about a negative trait they have, and even if it is hard to hear and they don't like it, even if it wounds them, they can receive it, thank you for it and act on it to better themselves. That, the Bible says, makes them wise and they grow in wisdom because of it. The book of Proverbs is filled with examples of wise and foolish living.
Foolish people are those who reject or deflect the truth said to them. They make excuses and blame others or other circumstances for their actions. They don't learn from the truth, can't use it to grow and so remain unwise. Over time they even can move further into darkened thinking and acting because of their ongoing resistance to truth and light.
Evil people move beyond foolishness and actually mean to bring harm toward others. These people are dangerous and rather than try to give them truth, we may have to protect ourselves from them.
To me this is where the crimminal and the addict with all that can go with these conditions comes into play.
These are people who are so given over to the needs of self that they invade our boundaries and ruin our lives in pursuit of their own needs. This goes far beyond the normal side of this type of selfish strategy which all of us sinners sometimes use with each other. Let's face it, we all have an agenda at times and want what we want right?
Jesus said we are to be as wise as serpents, but as gentle as doves-Matt. 10:16. And discernment is certainly a Christian discipline we ought to utilize.
We don't help people with addictive behaviors by being naive toward them or simplistic in our response to them. Sometimes the best thing we can do to help someone is confront their behavior and establish firm boundaries with them. And in some cases we must cut off contact with them for safety's sake. Two books well worth reading on these topics are Boundaries
and Necessary Endings both are by Dr. Henry Cloud.
Hope this rounds out for you the comments made from Sunday.