on impatience and gentleness: 1 Cor. 8

summer 09 226

read 1 Cor. 8.  For some reason, it’s easy to be harsh with other people’s mistakes.  We lose our tempers.  We scold them.  We can be impatient.  Why?

The quick answer is that we forget our own faults.  We have our own personal Alzheimers when it comes to our own mistakes.  But there’s another reason, that causes our personal blindness in the first place.  It’s that we’re deeply impatient not just with other people but with ourselves.  We want perfection, and we want it now.  As we’re not perfect, our stopgap solution is to deny our faults.  We go blank.  We block them out.  We think this will solve the problem, but of course all it does it create a case of mass projection.  We become divided selves, because we have a lie at our core.  It causes us to be harsh, hard, sharp and angry with other people, because deep down we’re feeling harsh, hard, sharp and angry with ourselves.

Tolstoy in his CONFESSIONS describes how when he was a teenager someone announced in school the “discovery” that there was no God.  He and his brothers  embraced this new “progressive” idea.  He said that looking back at that time, he realizes that his god became perfection.  He had a sense of perfect – he didn’t then wonder where that sense came from – and he tried to achieve it in every area of his life.  He studied hard.  He tried all sorts of athletics, trying to get as fit as he could.  He worked at being ethical, although he didn’t stop to wonder where his ethical laws came from.

He’s not alone.  We all have a standard of perfect that we secretly – or overtly – aspire to.  The standard comes from our perfect God.  The disconnect comes when we think WE can achieve perfection.  We have it backwards.  We can find the perfection we seek only in God.  He is holy.  We are not.  Recognizing that, and taking in that the perfect God loves us in the midst of our imperfection; that the cross fills in the gap between who we want to be, and who we are; and that if we accept the truth God Himself will dwell within us; enables us to be real.  We can be honest, finally, about our flaws, because we feel safe.  We know it’s okay we mess up.  We know we’re loved.  We start to experience the loving way God corrects us.  God doesn’t mock, shame or belittle us, the way humans so often do.  He speaks the truth in love.

It is in this spirit that the following letter FATHER FORGETS, by W. Livingston Larned, reprinted in Dale Carnegie’s HOW TO WIN FRIENDS & INFLUENCE PEOPLE, melts our hearts.  If you’ve never read this letter, beware.  You’ll need a box of tissues handy:

“Listen, son: I am saying this as you lie asleep, one little paw crumpled under your cheek and the blond curls stickily wet on your damp forehead. I have stolen into your room alone. Just a few minutes ago, as I sat reading my paper in the library, a stifling wave of remorse swept over me. Guiltily I came to your bedside.

There are things I was thinking, son: I had been cross to you. I scolded you as you were dressing for school because you gave your face merely a dab with a towel. I took you to task for not cleaning your shoes. I called out angrily when you threw some of your things on the floor.

At breakfast I found fault, too. You spilled things. You gulped down your food. You put your elbows on the table. You spread butter too thick on your bread. And as you started off to play and I made for my train, you turned and waved a hand and called, “Goodbye, Daddy!” and I frowned, and said in reply, “Hold your shoulders back!”

Then it began all over again in the late afternoon. As I came up the road, I spied you, down on your knees, playing marbles. There were holes in your stockings. I humiliated you before you boyfriends by marching you ahead of me to the house. Stockings were expensive – and if you had to buy them you would be more careful! Imagine that, son, from a father!

Do you remember, later, when I was reading in the library, how you came in timidly, with a sort of hurt look in your eyes? When I glanced up over my paper, impatient at the interruption, you hesitated at the door. “What is it you want?” I snapped.

You said nothing, but ran across in one tempestuous plunge, and threw your arms around my neck and kissed me, and your small arms tightened with an affection that God had set blooming in your heart and which even neglect could not wither. And then you were gone, pattering up the stairs.

Well, son, it was shortly afterwards that my paper slipped from my hands and a terrible sickening fear came over me. What has habit been doing to me? The habit of finding fault, of reprimanding – this was my reward to you for being a boy. It was not that I did not love you; it was that I expected too much of youth. I was measuring you by the yardstick of my own years.

And there was so much that was good and fine and true in your character. The little heart of you was as big as the dawn itself over the wide hills. This was shown by your spontaneous impulse to rush in and kiss me good night. Nothing else matters tonight, son. I have come to your bedside in the darkness, and I have knelt there, ashamed!

It is a feeble atonement; I know you would not understand these things if I told them to you during your waking hours. But tomorrow I will be a real daddy! I will chum with you, and suffer when you suffer, and laugh when you laugh. I will bite my tongue when impatient words come. I will keep saying as if it were a ritual: “He is nothing but a boy – a little boy!”

I am afraid I have visualized you as a man. Yet as I see you now, son, crumpled and weary in your cot, I see that you are still a baby. Yesterday you were in your mother’s arms, your head on her shoulder. I have asked too much, too much.”

Why does this poem move us so?  First, because we’ve all been guilty of the same impatience with others.  Second, because we are all, in a sense, that little boy.  We measure ourselves by the wrong yardstick.  God doesn’t do that, and neither should we.  As Jesus said, only God is good. God celebrates our victories.  He doesn’t pile on about our mistakes.  We’re the ones who do that.

Pauls sums it up like this:  “mere knowledge causes people to be puffed up (to bear themselves loftily and be proud), but love (affection and goodwill and benevolence) edifies and builds up and encourages one to grow [to his full stature]. If anyone imagines that he has come to know and understand much [of divine things, without love], he does not yet perceive and recognize and understand as strongly and clearly, nor has he become as intimately acquainted with anything as he ought, or as is necessary.  1 Cor. 8:1-2 (Amplified Bible).  We all fall prey to becoming puffed up with knowledge.  But love builds up and encourages.

Paul’s example in this chapter is that even if someone is wrong about something, we shouldn’t do anything that will lead them to betray their own weak conscience.  For instance, since idols aren’t real, a believing Christian can eat food that has been sacrificed to an idol.  But if someone with a “weak conscience” doesn’t understand this, and thinks that food in a temple is somehow tainted, Paul says the person who understands should NOT eat the temple food.  Otherwise, the “weak” believer might be emboldened to violate their own scruples, and perhaps eventually be “ruined”.  1 Cor. 8.

So how DO we grow in having this kind of patience with others?  How do we become gentle with others — even when they’re wrong?  How do we become kind to ourselves, even when we’re wrong?  How do we reach the place where we can be truthful and kind about all faults?

Look again at that letter from the father to the son.  What melted the father’s heart?  He grew remorseful after his son ran across the room to hug him, even when the father was in the middle of scolding the son, and asking WHAT DO YOU WANT?  Why?  It’s the prodigal son story in reverse.  While the prodigal son was still a long way off, the father came running out to meet and embrace him.

It’s love that melts our hearts.  It’s the open arms that greet us in the midst of our imperfection that makes us weep.  It’s the love that we never have to earn that makes our faces shine.  It’s God’s sacrificial incredible love for each of us that fills our hearts to overflowing and makes us start to become gentle with others.

And even when we’re not, even when we mess up and get impatient with the tiniest flaws of others, God still loves us.  He’s like that little boy that comes running across the room and leaps into our arms.

Is it hard to see God like that?   Of course.  But think about it.  God really was a little boy once.  He really did come leaping into our world from heaven —  just so that He can embrace us all even when we’re in the midst of scolding and saying WHAT DO YOU WANT?

He wants us just as we are.  He loves us just as we are.  He sees us the way a parent sees a sleeping child – innocent, sweet, lovable and to be cherished.  Because here’s the secret miracle we forget: Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross means God DOES see us as perfect.  Our sins are covered by the cross.


posted by Caroline Coleman in A Chapter a Day on September 23, 2013

how to win by losing: 1 Corinthians 6


Thank you, President Putin.  We the American people appreciate that you’ve reminded us to follow the rule of law.   We agree that sometimes governments in power can set up their opposition.  We value your reminder to use diplomacy first.  We agree that the shedding of innocent blood must be avoided at all costs.  We look forward to working together to try to help the Syrian people resolve their own internal conflict.  We say Amen to your admonition that God created us all equal.  Finally, we’re so glad that you recognize the positive power of freedom of the press, a freedom that enabled you to write a letter to us in today’s New York Times.   “A Plea for Caution from Russia,” by Vladimir V. Putin

President Putin’s letter to the American people reeks so strongly of hypocrisy that I nearly gagged from the fumes seeping in under my apartment door when I woke up this morning.  And yet the above is how I imagine Dale Carnegie might recommend responding to President Putin.  Why?  Because Carnegie knows that responding with humility accomplishes far more than lashing back in pride.  He knows the value of losing a battle in order win the war.

BBC World News posed the question this morning: do the American people WANT the Russian President telling us what to do?  It’s the wrong question.  Why?  Because in the battle of good against evil, we need to keep our eye on the prize.

In today’s Scripture, Saint Paul makes the stunning claim that it is better to be cheated than for a Christian to sue a fellow believer in a civil matter.  Read 1 Cor. 6.  It’s the kind of claim that sends shivers up our litigious American spines.  Seriously?  You mean if a Christian sister steals your money, you’re not supposed to sue her in a secular court?  Yes, that’s exactly what Saint Paul says.  He’s not against all legal action.  In Acts 22 and 25 he appealed to the Roman courts for his rights.  So why this advice here?  His reasoning is that when Jesus comes back, the Christians will judge even the angels.  So Paul asks: is there not even one Christian person who can fairly judge between Christians?  Why would a Christian assert their rights before someone who doesn’t respect or submit to the laws of God?  Paul says Christians should try to work these matters out amongst themselves, and to find an honest Christian arbiter, and if that’s not possible, it’s better to be cheated. God is the ultimate judge of wrongdoers, and Paul provides a long broad list of behaviors God rejects unless they’re covered by the cross.

If we look at the Sermon on the Mount, we find Jesus making the same kind of stunning claims as Saint Paul.  Turn the other cheek.  If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also.  Give to anyone who asks.  When things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back.  Luke 6:27-30.  These claims come bang up against our pride.  But our pride is based on the lie of our perfection. As Paul says, the reason we should let things drop if we have to, is that we’ve cheated other people, too.  The truth is that we’ve all hurt other people and taken things from them unjustly.  Sometimes we take their boyfriends and girlfriends, or even their spouses.  Sometimes we take their reputations.  Sometimes we take their belongings.  Sometimes we take their self-esteem.  We rob them of their dreams, dash their hopes and yell at them for being too sensitive when they protest.  When we realize we’ve done these things, we fling ourselves on God’s favor, mercy and goodness to release us from guilt.  We rely on the cross alone.  If we’re honest, we can never rely on our perfection.  And so we, in turn, would be fools not to offer that kind of forgiveness to others.  Who wants to live in a world of pure justice?  None of us would survive.  We need a world of grace.

Grace leads us even deeper into the heart of the matter.  The reason we can follow this off-putting advice about allowing ourselves to be cheated in certain circumstances, is that God’s grace proves to us we can trust God.  We grow to trust God more and more, the more we take in how kind He is.   We start to rely on God to rescue us.  And if God says we’re not to sue a fellow believer, and that we’re instead to try to get a Christian to judge between us, we’re to trust Him to bring good out of that situation.

Which brings us back to President Putin.  What’s our goal in Syria?   Is it a zero sum game, where either the Russians or the Americans win?  Or is the goal truly to help minimize evil in the world by using our influence to persuade governments to not kill their own citizens, and especially to never use chemical weapons?  If so, the kind of forgiving nature God calls us to counsels that we get off our high horse in the interest of achieving the greater good.  In this conflict the Russians have to date stymied our ability to work within the UN Security Council.  The fact that President Obama’s red line in the sand means there now seems room to maneuver within the diplomatic channels means that the most powerful thing President Obama can do right now is agree with the Russians.  Of course, everything Putin says is pure hypocrisy, but who cares?  “What a GREAT idea!” our President can say to the Russian President.  “I’m so glad you appealed to God and the law.”  And together, they can try to wipe out chemical weapons from the face of the planet, as difficult as that may be in practical terms.

Why do we Americans want to help the world?  Here is where we get to the worst thing President Putin said.  Putin is right to say that all are equal before God.  But he’s wrong to say that therefore none can claim to be exceptional.  It’s the other way around.  God sees us each as exceptional.  As Paul says, our body is as exceptional as God’s body.  We are all exceptionally loved by God.  How do we know?  Because God loved us so much, that even though we weren’t obeying His laws, God chose to be unjustly tortured and killed to set us free from the consequences of our sins.

That’s why the letter God wants us to worry about isn’t a letter written by any human hands.  We should pay no heed to those letters that point fingers and tell us what we’ve done wrong.  God wants us to tear up those letters of the law.  Instead, God asks us to look at His hands.  His liberating love for each of us is engraved there. His love letter to us is the one our hearts cry out for every day, in every way, in every hurt, injustice, crime and poison.  It’s the only letter worth reading, and if we keep our eyes fixed on the message of love there, we will find ourselves responding with humility instead of pride because our hearts have been melted down into rivers flowing with tears of repentance and gratitude.

posted by Caroline Coleman in A Chapter a Day, my blog on Scripture, literature, life and love… and sometimes war