Saturday, September 17, 2011

Proving I Believe I Am Not Better than Others By Choosing to Interact with Them

In continuing to consider the idea that I am not better than others in the eyes of God, no matter my abilities in things unrelated to that eternal message, I have been drawn back to I Corinthians 13 - one of my favorite chapters in all of our canonized scriptures.  I have been drawn back to the fundamental principle of charity - and, more specifically, what it means in relation to not thinking of one's self as better than others in the eyes of God.

Tonight, I want to address how we can shake off the shackles that often bind us in regard to learning to understand, appreciate, value and, finally, love those we are not inclined naturally to see as equal in God's eyes. 

The most extreme example of this would be what Jesus addressed in the Sermon on the Mount.  Matthew 5:43-47 says:

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?

This passage talks about loving, blessing and praying for enemies - and those aspects are quoted and discussed often in the Church. However, the part that is not quoted or discussed nearly as much is the part that tells us to "do good to them that hate you".

Loving, blessing and praying for are things that can be done alone, away from those in question - those who are enemies, those who curse you, those who hate you and those who misuse and persecute you. At least, this is true when these words are defined as feelings or emotions, as is the case often in our modern world.  Doing good to someone is different; it cannot be done alone. The command is not to do good FOR others; it is to do good TO others.  This involves action, and it must be done WITH those whom you would avoid naturally. In other words, you must interact with others to do good TO them.

This flies in the face of two other common statements:

Be in the world, but not of the world.

Abstain from all appearance of evil.

The first quote (which, by the way, is not scriptural as quoted) generally is used as a justification to avoid sinners. My only point is that all of us are sinners, so this usage, in practical terms, is to avoid sinners who are different than we are. Obviously, this has particular application to those who curse, hate, spitefully use and persecute.

The second quote is perhaps one of the most misunderstood scriptures in the entire Bible. In its original usage, it does not mean to avoid anything that even looks like evil - that appears to be evil. Rather, it means something like the following:

Abstain from evil no matter its appearance - no matter how it looks.

I bring this up specifically because I have heard it used to justify all kinds of things that keep us from doing good to our enemies - and even to those who are nowhere near our enemies. The focus is not on avoiding anything that someone else might perceive to be bad, but rather to avoid that which truly is evil.

If I am a Home Teacher, and if one of the people I am supposed to visit and serve is only "available" when he is in a bar, should I go into that bar to visit him? If a woman is walking home in the pouring rain and I have the ability to help her, should I refuse to do so simply because someone might see me and jump to an incorrect conclusion? If someone has misused me in some way, should I refuse to interact further with him? (There are certain cases where my answer to this question is an uncompromising, "YES!!" - but people use it to often in cases where the "misuse" does not rise to the level of abuse that justifies avoidance or shunning.) Can I really be in the world and not at least "appear" sometimes to be "of" the world - doing good to my enemies if I never interact physically with them?

I believe that one of the primary reasons we refuse to interact with specific others is that (specifically, with those who have not harmed us is a manner that justifies avoidance), at the most fundamental level, is a lack of valuing them as equal to us - that we define others in such a way that we can justify not serving and loving them in a way that shows we truly believe they don't "deserve" to have good done unto them.  In some way, we place ourselves above them and see them as "worse" than we are.  (The other primary reason is a devaluation of ourselves to the point where we don't believe we have anything to offer - but that is a discussion for a different post.) 

In conclusion, I believe that if we are to internalize charity fully, at some point we must be willing to step out of our comfort zones and interact directly, in some way, with those who fight us, curse us, spitefully use us and persecute us. We can't become truly charitable in isolation, and we can't become truly charitable through only an intellectual understanding of it. At some point, we simply must LIVE it - despite the very real risks associated with doing so. 


jen said...

I have two opposing thoughts on this.
1. THANK YOU for pointing out what the scripture actually says. Avoid what is evil, no matter the appearance... Even though the opposite is usually quoted.

2. I have gotten so caught up in the idea that I have to spend time with people in order to do good to them, that I have forced myself to spend time with some very mean people. (I married a man that was abusive, and I KNEW he was that way before we got married. I actually thought about how I didn't want to be with someone who acted like he did, but I would do him the service of marrying him, because SOMEONE had to do it.)

I would say that with my thinking, I thought I was better than him which is WHY I spent time with him. It would have been better for both of us if I had said, "I prefer to spend my time elsewhere. You deserve someone who likes YOU."

Actually, as I'm writing this, I'm getting my own epiphanies. :) Thanks!!

Papa D said...

jen, I agree TOTALLY that spending time with some people (especially the abusive ones) is a bad, bad idea - and I mentioned abuse being an exception explictly in one of the paragraphs.

I'm glad you gained a personal epiphony. That's is exactly what I hope to accomplish with posts like this - no matter how much someone agrees with what I write.