Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Illustration #1

The following illustrations are to help clarify the idea that love can be manifest in both “kindness” and “severity”, as expressed in article #1 of this series.

The previous church of which I was pastor met in the gymnasium of a local Christian school. Each Sunday we would arrive early and prepare the empty room for the upcoming church service. Imagine if I were to arrive early, enter the gymnasium and find a five-year-old boy standing in the middle of the room. Realizing I had never seen him before, I concluded that he and his parents were visiting. I, consequently, approached him in a slow, very mild and gentle fashion, cautiously extending my hand to greet him and introduce myself. “Good morning, I’m Pastor Mick. It’s nice to have you here”, I say in a welcoming manner. According to my experience, I find that most people view such behavior as a demonstration of kindness. If, on the other hand, upon seeing this young boy, I were to get as far away from him as the room allows, run toward him as fast as I can and, when six or seven feet away, dive through the air, crashing into him, sending both of us sliding across the floor and into the block wall on the other side of the gym, would you consider this an act of kindness? The answer I generally receive upon asking this question is that this would not fit under the category of kindness. Would you, on the other hand, consider this to be severe? This scenario helps us see that the use of the word “kindness” generally refers to loving, gentle and reasonable behavior while “severity” is thought of as mean, erratic, unreasonable behavior. There is, therefore, a tendency to associate kindness with love while viewing severity with a sense of disdain. This is an error that needs to be avoided. Let me demonstrate by simply changing the scenario. Imagine that it is Monday morning and I am walking down the sidewalk on my way to buy a morning newspaper. As I walk along, I look to my left, across a field that borders the edge of town. Thereupon I see the same young boy standing on a railroad track with his back to an oncoming train. Upon seeing him I turn and begin across the field, slowly approaching him in a very mild and gentle fashion, cautiously extending my hand to greet him. As I get six or seven feet away, the collision between the speeding train and the young boy brings the scene to an end. Would you consider this approach to be and act of kindness? The very behavior previously viewed as an act of love is now seen to be foolish and unloving. On the other hand, given the same situation, what if I were to see this young boy, begin to run toward him as fast as I can and, when six or seven feet away from him, dive through the air, crashing into him, sending both of us sliding across stones, beaten and bruised, to safety. Would you consider this severe behavior to be an act of kindness? Would you consider this an act of love? The obvious point that we need to be sensitive to is that one’s situation or condition impacts whether appropriate, loving treatment can be gentle (in the gymnasium) or whether appropriate, loving treatment needs to be severe (on the train tracks). Too often, naïve Christians (and people in general) assume that severe treatment is outside the bounds of love. This can be a deadly mistake. We often force a definition upon the word “love” that is shackled with our extremely limited sense of appropriateness, subjecting Scripture to our magnificent human wisdom as opposed to growing in wisdom through the enlightenment gained through Scripture. The goal of love is the highest good identifiable. To arrive at an understanding of the best end (highest good) and to choose the most appropriate means to promote that end requires wisdom. In a sense, that’s the very definition of wisdom. To live a life of love requires wisdom regarding the choice of that which is truly in the best interest of a person or of people. To simply assume that gentle treatment is always and automatically love is simply wrong. Love will always attempt to be as gentle as possible but will move along the scale toward “severe kindness” as the situation demands. We might say that “kindness” is the rule and “severity” the exception but we also might find that “severity”, though the exception, is more often needed with certain people in certain situations. Though love will not treat others more severely than is necessary, neither will it treat them more gently than is needed. Love, consequently, will discipline from the very same motive it forgives. Charles Finney has said, “It is one of the most shallow of dreams, that the Divine character is all softness and sweetness, in all its manifestations and in all circumstances.”

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