The video feed was anything but pleasant; scores of teenagers mercilessly pummeling each other. It happened recently as fights broke out among a thousand young people who had flooded a mall near Pittsburgh. Employees had to bar and lock storefronts in order to protect themselves and their customers. If you haven’t seen any of the video, I can assure you that some of those involved were indeed very mean.
There are mean people, it seems, everywhere. On the highway, on the playing field, and in the bleachers mean individuals always manage to make their presence known. If you doubt my claim, read the comments section of just about any controversial online article.
Thinking back on my school days, I quickly realize that mean people aren’t new to our society—or any society for that matter. A quick survey of human history will reveal an overabundance of cruelty directed by humans against each other.
As a whole, however, it seems that our world is becoming increasingly mean. There have always been unkind people, but for a season we thought that civilization was progressing. For a brief while, meanness came to be viewed as outlying behavior—something that runs against the norm of our civilized selves. No longer is this the case. Sadly, mean is the new normal—even in religious environments.
With all of the cruelty being inflicted by religious radicals in various parts of the globe, there is a tendency for some people to think that religion should never be taken too seriously, that we’d all get along better if we maintained a vague conception of truth.
As nice as such an approach may sound, it will never work—at least not on a large scale. Mean begets mean. In other words, injustice, cruelty, and oppression tend to harden human hearts. Road rage, police brutality, criminal brutality, and terrorism are all poisonous fruits of a vicious cycle that continues to drag our world downward. If we want a revolution that results in a nicer world, it must be permeated with grace.
Jesus was a revolutionary like no other because He was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). We could never characterize Jesus as being mean; the Son of Man was exceedingly gracious to people of all sorts. But the kindness and gentleness of Christ weren’t due to a spineless demeanor. This is the same guy who turned over the tables of the money changers and lambasted the Pharisees. Clearly, Jesus hated hypocrisy and injustice.
Graciousness and truth are to be constant companions—not isolated virtues. When graciousness is lacking, our proclamation of truth will become harsh. But when truth is lacking, our graciousness will accommodate oppression.
I can accept the fact that the world will always be a mean place—at least to a certain degree. What I can’t accept is the measure of mean that I often see in Christian circles. If kindness and gentleness—both of which are fruits of the Holy Spirit—are lacking in our lives, our proclamation of truth will miss its mark. We’ll sit on our high perches judging what’s wrong with those who fail to meet our expectations, but we’ll be powerless to advance the cause of Christ in this broken world.
Is mean the new normal for the followers of Christ? I hope not! If we want to bring real change to this world, we must be righteous to the core as we treat others as graciously as God has treated us. True grace makes people truly gracious, while true graciousness requires strength and self-control.
May we learn to embrace both grace and truth as being central to our existence. When we are gracious to our enemies while holding firmly to the truth of the gospel, there is no limit to what God can do in and through us.