Monday, January 25, 2021

The Challenge of Shining the Light of Kindness in an Unkind World

For nearly a year now, we’ve heard more than we ever wanted to hear about the pandemic – the coronavirus, COVID-19, whatever you want to call it. We all wish it would just go away, never to return. But there’s another “pandemic” that's besieging our society, one that in some ways is even more virulent and destructive than the virus that has changed our lives in so many ways.


What I’m referring to is the pandemic of unkindness.


We see it virtually everywhere. Social media, which began as a useful tool for communicating with friends and rekindling old relationships, now often serves as a weapon of verbal abuse. TV talk and news shows, instead of being forums for information, turn into platforms for arguing, bickering and demeaning, people hurling words both rude and crude at each another in shameless animosity.


Throughout the political campaigning season which has mercifully ended – for now – messages consisted of vicious attacks on opponents, turning upside-down the adage, “If you can’t find something nice to say about someone, don’t say anything at all.” A President has just left office who, despite underestimated accomplishments during his term, will forever be remembered for disparaging and insulting any and all who dared disagree with him.

Cities across our land have suffered from destructive rioting. People have hurled abusive language and sometimes assaulted persons they perceived as defying guidelines for stemming the spread of the virus. This lamentable list could go on and on, but I suspect we all in one way or another have experienced the brunt of the unkindness pandemic.


What can we do? One approach that won’t work – I know, because I’ve tried – is to reason with unreasonable people, whether on social media, the phone, or in person. There is another approach, however, that could do wonders to stem this tide of negativity. Many of us probably haven’t even thought of it, much less try it. Here it is: Counter unkindness with kindness.


During His “sermon on the mount,” Jesus Christ addressed this in a revolutionary way. He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?” (Matthew 5:43-48).


We want to argue, “But I don’t like those people! Why should I be kind to them?” Jesus would respond, “That’s exactly the point!” Anyone can express love and show kindness toward the folks we care for; to be kind to those we feel don’t deserve our kindnesses demonstrates Christlikeness, indeed the life and power of Christ within us.


Kindness, however, shouldn’t be limited to any particular grouping of people, whether it’s those we like or those we don’t. It should simply be part of our lifestyle, how we conduct our lives on a day-to-day, minute-by-minute basis. As we see in Galatians 5:22-23, kindness is one manifestation of “the fruit of the Spirit…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”


Given the state of our society, the sooner we make this shift, committing to communicate and display kindness in an unkind world, the better. Philosopher and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, who never heard of COVID-19 or experienced social media bullying, wisely observed, “You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.”


Scriptures repeatedly affirm that kindness is one of God’s attributes, and as followers of Christ, it should be part of our makeup as well. In describing the hardships and many forms of adversity he and his companions endured, the apostle Paul wrote, “we commend ourselves in every way…in purity, understanding, patience and kindness…” (2 Corinthians 6:6). 


Another apostle, Peter, spoke about this when he wrote, “make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge…to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.” Then he explained why: “For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:5-8).


One other passage stands out as the Lord admonishes us through His Word to demonstrate kindness, especially since it has become so counter-cultural. Writing to believers of the church in Ephesus, Paul said, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).


Imagine going into a large room without any form of illumination. You, however, have a flashlight. In bright sunlight, your flashlight might have little effect, but in that darkened room, its light could have an incredible impact. If we have any goals or resolutions yet to make this year, may one of them be to shine the beacon of kindness in an increasingly dark world. 

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