Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Gentleness and Austerity

 Lion and Lamb continued... 

Romans 11:22 Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God

The same God who made the lion also made the lamb. This fact filled William Blake with wonder, and it does me too. Gerald Kennedy said it well:

A man’s life needs both the tiger and the lamb in it. A man ought to be capable of fierce indignation, and when an easygoing tolerance has dulled his power to hate the right things, he is a sick man. But he needs gentleness too. He needs to be sympathetic and able to enter into the suffering of his brethren. Christianity has this paradoxical effect on men. At one time they are intolerant of sins which the world regards with only mild interest. Yet at other times Christians become reconcilers of the world through the sweetness of their tempers. The important thing for us to note is that the same hand fashioned the tiger which fashion the lamb and it is necessary to find a way for them to dwell together without devouring or being devoured.

Some criticize Christianity for being too warlike, pointing to the wars of the middle ages. Others complain that Christian virtues are too soft and pacifistic. So which is it? 

The Gospel brings gentleness with it. Outside of its influence those with power use it to their own advantage. In God’s Kingdom, the one with the most authority and power becomes the servant of all. Where the Gospel is received the lowest of the low are cared for with kindness and enemies are loved as neighbors.

Yet, there is an austerity – a rigorous strictness – to the Gospel. Love for God and neighbor necessitates a holy hatred toward sin, no matter where it is found. Christians often must exchange what is easy for what is right. And we must hold our brothers and sisters to this same high standard of righteous living.

So, we must maintain the tension. Christianity is both soft and hard, both gentle and firm. “To everything there is a season…”

Gentleness and firmness need each other.

God has been showing me that I have failed to maintain this tension. I have been too gentle, letting up on the austerity of the Gospel. I have failed people by sometimes not telling them the truth that they needed to hear. I justified it because I predicted that the truth would not be received, so I kept my pearls of wisdom (Mat 7:6). But sometimes the truth should be proclaimed even when it will not be received. God has certainly sent people with messages that He knew would be rejected (Isa 6:8-10; Ezek 3:6-11; John 3:19). Whether the truth hardens or softens the hearts of those who hear it is not for me to decide. That is between them and God. My duty is to “speak the truth in love.”