Find Compassion in an Age of Suspicion

shopping-helpAs a student of human behavior, I have observed that some of us tend to hunt for the negative in certain situations.  I believe that some in American society are programmed to look for what is wrong or evil, rather than what is right, good or holy.

Someone gives a gift and we ask:  “Why do I deserve this?” Someone pays us a compliment and we wonder:  “This person doesn’t know me, what are they up to and what do they want from me?”  “When is the other shoe going to drop?”  “What is the catch?”

Quite a pessimistic opinion, I admit.  Pessimism, however, seems to be programmed into our society’s DNA.  It makes me wonder:  How does this societal opinion live together with the Christian belief in a God of grace, mercy and resurrection?

If many in the populace feel this way, how does it affect Christian operation in our world?  How might it affect the church and believers in Christ?

One afternoon I was leaving a grocery store.  I approached my car and noticed my “parking lot neighbor” loading a few heavy bags of groceries.  It was hot, so I offered to help him.  No agenda.  No catch.  I wasn’t selling anything.  I just reacted with a “let me give you a hand with that.”

The look on his face betrayed his thoughts:  “What is he getting out of this?  What is his motivation?  Is he going to ask me to help him with something?”  You get the picture.  After the groceries were loaded, I said goodbye and we parted ways.  He drove away with suspicion and confusion dripping off the mud-flaps of his SUV.

I suppose the narrative of our society has taught many of us to distrust kindness, to see through generosity, and to seek a negative agenda behind compassion.  What makes human beings think the worst and seek evidence that proves the worst?

In making the analytical shift of this question into the world of Christianity, I believe this attitude negatively affects our Christian witness and hurts our relationships in and out of our churches.  How can one believe in God’s grace, freely given for the sake of the entire world, and also carry the burden of distrust of anything given for free?

Christians must operate in our world as Christ taught his disciples about this very thing.

In Mark 9: 38 – 40, Jesus’ disciples told him they tried to stop someone from casting out demons.  Jesus quickly let them know that anyone doing work in his name should continue to do so.  If anyone is not against us, they are for us.  That is a positive, inclusive, ecumenical stance.

I have observed similar behavior with church members who are distrustful of the intentions of “outsiders.”

An “outsider” can be defined as anyone not belonging to a certain church or denomination.  An “outsider” can be a new believer or visitor who is new to the area.  An “outsider” can be anyone who makes one wonder about his or her intentions, and then the suspicion of our society creeps into the halls of our churches.

We look so hard–with a skunk eye–for what stinks in a situation.  When we do that, we are guaranteed to find something suspicious.

While in a waiting room, I once heard a young girl tell her mother:  “Ewwww. This magazine smells bad!”  She then proceeded to press her nose down to the page and take a big whiff.  As she lifted up with a sour face, her mother shook her head and replied, “Then don’t smell it!”

What is a more productive and positive use of our time?  Is it feeding our attitude of distrust by searching for the foul smell and then sticking our nose directly in its path?  Or should we believe the words of Jesus and know that “whoever is not against us is for us.”

By Lee Prophitt

Published by Joe LaGuardia

I am a pastor and author in Vero Beach, Florida, and write on issues related to spirituality, faith, politics, and culture.

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