Want to know my spiritual Achilles heel?
I can’t stand willful ignorance. Can’t stand it. The type of person who believes that “thoughtful argument” means “repeating the same misinformed thing, but louder each time to intimidate people into silence” sparks off a deeply uncharitable response in me.
I grow quickly irritated with people who have the opportunity to learn and to grow easily, but refuse to take it. Who repeat lies and act like they are truth. Who never question themselves but always want to question others. I have – and this is sinful, and I have had to ask forgiveness for it on many an occasion – contempt more often than I would like for those who seem to take pride in their own foolishness. And when all of that involves the willful misuse of Christianity or Christian Scripture? I struggle to contain myself.
I like a good intellectual debate, of course. And reasonable conversations. I believe there is room for nuance and even disagreement in our interpretation of Scripture, and I don’t mind grappling with others’ ideas if they are presented in good faith. But when confronted with ideas and slogans and general foolishness that betrays willful ignorance of Scripture and/or willful perversion of it – usually in order to advance a particular agenda – I don’t respond the way I know I should. I’m just not good at handling those interactions. I default to what my mother calls my teacher voice – my analytical, sometimes world-weary, professor tone – and I grow irritated to the degree that I know I’m not exhibiting a Christlike attitude.
That’s why I stay off Facebook.
I know very well that uninformed all-caps rants await me there. That people I am acquainted with will twist Scripture in ways that make me cringe to justify their behaviors. I would think of those people differently, I know. I would approach them from a stance of self-righteousness, pride, and disdain if I read some of what they wrote. So I just don’t read it – because I want to be able to love them without my own sinfulness getting in the way. The failing is mine. But I do my best to account for it so that I can approach people in as godly a way as possible.
Sometimes, it’s okay to step back.
I don’t mean step back from people. But it is okay to step back from the things that make it difficult for you to love people, or that tempt you into sin. If your friend’s insistence on talking politics leads you into that gray place where your insistence to prove him wrong becomes greater than your desire to serve him, don’t talk politics with that friend. If hearing about a particular topic on the news sends you into a spiral of disgust and irritation and hatred, then don’t watch the news on that topic. If Susan eats crackers and it unaccountably upsets you, then stop meeting with Susan over snacks and find a way to see her elsewhere.
You don’t have to engage.
In Matthew 5:30 Jesus instructs believers to cut off their right hand if it causes them to stumble. The hyperbolic nature of the statement gets at an uncomfortable truth that is no less radical: sin is repugnant to God, and sometimes radical sacrifices on our part are necessary to avoid it. Where we can, let us step back from the circumstances and the trigger points that might tempt us into becoming less than godly. They are a trap. And they can be avoided.
The funny thing is that Christians tend to apply this attitude primarily to sexual sin. In our desperation to avoid being tempted we avoid low-cut shirts and high-cut shorts and being alone for too long with a significant other. We recruit accountability partners and have group dates and test out concepts like godly courtship.
But when it comes to pride, contempt, wrath – well, we rarely think in those terms. I suspect this is because we see these as “lesser” sins, bloodless crimes that occur in the privacy of our own mental towers. But to God they aren’t. They are soul-rotting and relationship-destroying. People will not be blind to the attitude you have about them. It is impossible to hide. And if you try to cover contempt and disdain and self-righteousness with a veneer of Christian love and civility, you’ll have done a profound disservice to God.
So step away. Avoid the things that lead you into sin – not just short shorts and low-cut shirts, but the news programs or social media sites that trigger your rage and irritation, the conversation topics that provoke you to say things you regret, anything that gives sin the opportunity to root and expand in your life.
Make the necessary sacrifices to be who God wants you to be. What does that look like for you?