The sound of her name made me recoil. I knew the strong testimony of the well-known speaker and had no justifiable reason to avoid her podcasts. My disgust had nothing to do with her or the worthy cause she represented. I’d been hurt by someone who idolized her, so my prejudice came because of her association with that individual.
Early in his career, former Ku Klux Klan (a white supremacist group) leader Johnny Lee Clary met African-American Reverend Wade Watts at a radio station debate. “Hello Mr. Clary,” Reverend Watts said before they went on air. “I just want you to know that I love you and Jesus loves you.”
In early 2015, a fraternity at the University of Oklahoma in the US was caught on video singing a deeply offensive and racist song. Reaction by university officials was swift and stern, and rightly so. But what did Isaac Hill, president of the school’s Black Student Association, have to say? After all, the chillingly racist chant had targeted African-Americans.
A colleague approached me in front of some coworkers and asked, “So what’s your attitude, as a Christian, to euthanasia?” Everyone stopped their conversation and all eyes were on me. I spent 20 minutes not in debate, but trying to share the aroma of Christ with those who didn’t know Him: His love, compassion, unchanging character, and absolute righteousness. As I shared about Jesus and His love, I prayed that my coworkers would get a whiff of the character of God—not the erudite arguments of a theologian.
Last Christmas I read an article from a religious thinker I admire. She attempted to make the case that we should avoid the exuberant celebration of Christmas—particularly gift-giving. Her familiar complaints? The consumerism and hustle and bustle of the holidays. As we take an axe to consumerism or greed, however, we must not unwittingly also take the axe to joy. In the next few days, you’ll likely give someone a Christmas gift that feels at least a little lavish or unnecessary. You may receive one as well. I believe this mirrors the generosity of God. Certainly, joy doesn’t require expensive gifts. But joy does provide for a gregarious and generous posture toward others.
Sadly, all of us—even the best of us—have prejudices. I was shocked to one day realize my own prejudice against a Christian denomination. I’d been deeply hurt by people in it, and any time the denomination’s name came up, words like “Pharisees,” “legalists,” and “unloving” came to mind. I basically thought, Can anything good come from that denomination?
On a recent trip into the city, I noticed people stationed on several street corners. Their clean, coordinated T-shirts announced a common goal—to help end homelessness. One of them approached me offering information. As I paused there on the street, I noticed a homeless man standing just a few feet away. I saw his scruffy outfit and downcast look. Although the advocates for the homeless were doing a good thing, they seemed oblivious to the man. No one spoke to him or offered him food.
In 2014, something called the Multidimensional Poverty helped researchers determine that there are 1.6 billion poor people on earth! When you read through Scripture, it soon becomes clear that God has always had a particular concern for the poor, the forgotten, and the vulnerable (Deuteronomy 10:18, 15:11). And when Jesus spoke His Sermon on the Mount, it’s not surprising that He first blesses the poor (Matthew 5:3). So if we’re to be about God’s business, shouldn’t we bless those who God blesses?
In 1865, President Abraham Lincoln said these words near the end of the US Civil War as part of his second inaugural speech: “Let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
In great cities,” noted Nathaniel Hawthorne, “it is unfortunately the case, that the poor are compelled to be the neighbors and fellow-lodgers of the vicious.” Hawthorne was writing about the slums of early 19th-century London, but his observation is timeless. Those among us who lack money tend to congregate in neighborhoods marred by crime and human exploitation.
They say that justice is blind, but recent research suggests that justice likes to snack as well! In 2010, a team of researchers tracked the rulings of eight judges during 1,100 parole-board hearings over 10 months. Nearly 65 percent of the prisoners were granted parole during hearings held right after the judges had eaten breakfast. Over the next few hours, the chances of getting a favorable parole hearing plummeted. But the prisoners’ chances of parole increased to 65 percent again after the judges’ mid-morning snack or lunch.
Bob Goff traveled to a country where he witnessed extreme human rights violations. In response, he chose to live out the call of Isaiah 58:3 by seeking justice on behalf of the oppressed. Goff founded Restore International to “fight for freedom and human rights, working to improve educational opportunities and to be helpful to those in need of a voice and a friend.” For more than a decade, Restore has helped to free those in bonded labor and sex trafficking, along with other exploited men, women, and children in select troubled countries.
My conversation with the woman had turned from the care of our Maltese poodle to her ex-husband and her estranged mother. “I can’t forgive my mother; she abused me terribly. And my husband abandoned me when I was ill.” Although she longed to be free of the two people who had left her among the walking wounded, she couldn’t forgive them and so bitterness clung to her like a rotting stench—seeping through her pained words and weary eyes.
Which of these two questions causes you to squirm the most: Why do seemingly honorable people suffer? or Why do the people who do bad things prosper? I wrestle with both of them. For instance, it makes we wonder why people who strike unethical deals and cheat on their contracts seem to get away with their schemes and even prosper, while someone who is seeking to live for Jesus struggles to pay his or her bills.
In the midst of the rain and cold of an icy winter in 2014, more than 800 illegal shack-dwelling families were evicted from their homes along the southwest coast of South Africa. Although the eviction followed a high court order to prevent further land invasions and had come after many years of wrangling between land owners and the city council, the timing and the method of the eviction caused a public outcry. There appeared to be a lack of compassion shown by the leaders involved.