When non-Christians act more Christian than some Christians

“For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made. So people are without excuse.” Romans 1:20 (NLT)

This verse has always struck me as being one of the more universal parts of the Bible (well, maybe not so much the “People are without excuse” part). I always thought it meant that people could be following the laws of God without realizing it by acting with righteousness, having great concern for justice, and compassion for the weak and the marginalized. In this sense, many atheists perhaps have a better understanding of the Gospel than some self-proclaimed evangelicals who go out of their way to condemn those who don’t see things their way, and favor policies that encourage poor people to pick themselves up by bootstraps they never had to begin with.

RWEWe live in a world that defines “goodness” by measuring the number of one’s deeds rather than the condition of his or her heart. Many of us have probably done the right thing out of obligation, or perhaps to preserve our reputations, with not-so-righteous motivations (I’m thinking of twelve-year-old me who didn’t want to follow through with the extra work of a Bat Mitzvah project, in which I was supposed to raise tzedakah for a charity of my choice, because learning the Hebrew was hard enough). To this day I find myself wanting to buy a sandwich for a homeless person out of guilt more than concern for when he will see his next meal. Which, to further complicate things, just makes me feel even guiltier.

Then there are people like my husband, for whom compassion is truly a way of life. Somehow, it became a tradition every time we eat at Cracker Barrel (I don’t recall why it’s always Cracker Barrel) to ask our server for someone else’s check. When his Sebring finally broke down and we purchased a new Honda, I was reluctant to keep up with this tradition because now we had an additional payment to make every month. How easy it was for me to forget that the only change in our lifestyle with having to make monthly car payments was that we would be able to eat out less often. Such a sacrifice, I know.

I know Joshua’s compassion is real because he never wants to be recognized for what he does. He asks the server not to tell the lucky patron who the buyer is. He’s a rare kind of human who exemplifies Jesus without trying, and it’s surely one of the reasons I married him (that, and his wicked talent for making “That’s What She Said” jokes out of almost any innocuous statement).

I think a healthy sense of self-awareness makes one more likely to follow Jesus’ ways without knowing it, as opposed to someone who measures character by the number of good deeds versus bad ones. A healthy sense of self-awareness is realizing that no matter what we do, we can always do more – but we should always do small things with great passion. It’s recognizing that we can’t do everything, nor should we try – and sometimes the people who are most aware of their flaws accomplish so much more, because there is something about recognizing weakness that makes a heart soft. Those who try to build up their resume of good deeds are more likely to look down on others who haven’t done as much.

I know I’m not a “good person,” but that doesn’t mean that I hate myself. It means that I realize I can never do enough to measure up to a universal standard of goodness, and I’m okay with that. Even if I only manage to do one mitzvah per month, that is, to paraphrase the Talmud, as good as saving the whole world. It’s actually quite refreshing to let go of this idea that my worth as a human depends on what I do to prove it. For all my frustration and confusion with Christianity at times, my wonderful husband is quick to remind me that as long as I recognize that my worth comes from being made in God’s image, I am still living the Gospel even if I don’t realize it.

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About Beth Caplin

Just an author, blogger, and editor working hard so my cats can have a better life.
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5 Responses to When non-Christians act more Christian than some Christians

  1. Michael Snow says:

    One blatant example of our non-Christian behavior is brought to light by this hero of the faith https://spurgeonwarquotes.wordpress.com/

    Like

    • Jo-Shu says:

      Hey, you’re Michael Snow! I know who you are. I read your book “Christian Pacifism: Fruit of the Narrow Way” way not long ago, and it gave me a lot to think about. I’m not sure I can yet call myself a full-fledged pacifist (definitely anti-war, though), but I seem to be on a trajectory towards pacifism. If I ever end up there, it will be thanks to men like you and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Great Spurgeon quotes, by the way!

      Like

  2. Helen R says:

    You have both totally missed the point… “Christianity” is a man-made religion…& the only thing it has to do with The Most High & His Son is solely for the purposes of decieving the world & causing mass confusion… It was born out if the Roman Churches in the early part of the 1st millennium only to fill their greedy fleshly desires… Jesus is a transliterated name & NOT the True Name of the Son of El (God)… His Name is Yahsah… YHWH is the True Hebrew Name of The Father… Neither of Them are concerned with politics… YHWH’s concern is that we worship Him in Spirit & Truth… & follow the obedient example of His Son…loving our neighbour as we love ourselves…but the love described in 1 CORINTHIANS 13… The love Yahsah had for His Disciples…. “There is no greater love than this…that a Man lays down His life for His friends” – JOHN 15:13 They are Spiritual beings not fleshly… Only when we are truly obedient do we gain salvation & everlasting life… This existence us ephemeral…an existence with YHWH & His Son Yahsah is perpetual… I know which one I prefer… 💝

    Like

    • Jo-Shu says:

      Eh, I sort of want to respond, but where to begin? Without meaning to sound butthurt over a simple comment (because I’m not), I don’t think that was kind to either of us — to me or the blogger. First thing you do when you pop into a blog you’ve never been to before is say we’ve missed the point of life, the universe and everything? Well, even if we have, you might want to work on your communication skills, because you’ll never make friends that way. Just a tip. 😉

      What you’re saying — that we ought to love God and neighbor — I agree with, and so does the blogger. We both try to do this in every part of our lives, be it the personal or the political (we do live in the world, after all), and while we may differ on how best to do these things, at least we try. We don’t relegate one part of existence to the proverbial dustbin just because it’s not “spiritual” enough. In fact, that’s not spiritual at all. That’s indifference cloaked in piety. These things matter. That’s why we talk about them.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Jo-Shu says:

    There was a time when I would have refused to even consider what you say here, a time when I would have said things like, “Those liberals, always going on about the poor!” And while I am very much in favor of the free market (my favorite economist is a Jew named Mises), conservative types do themselves a disservice when they speak so flippantly of the poor, the marginalized, the people without bootstraps. Those people do exist, and when reckless ideologues refuse to ask hard questions, or refuse to feel empathy for fear of being like “the liberals,” there is a deep, serious problem.

    Those are reasons, I think, why “conservative” Christianity is increasingly unattractive to people — not only are its religion and politics dangerously intertwined, its followers react vehemently against anything that doesn’t line up a hundred percent with their agenda. An egregious example of this was back when they threatened to defund World Vision over gay marriage, which, even if you disagree with that, was a horrible thing to do. So bad are these things that even the arch-conservative Francis Schaeffer said, “One of the worst injustices we do to our young people is to ask them to be conservative.”

    You said you were writing a book on your attempt to understand evangelical culture, yes? Then you may wish to check out “God’s Own Party” (GOP, get it?) by Daniel Williams, which is a history of the Christian Right in America. I, for one, found it informative, though cringe-worthy (and I mean the history, not the writing; the writing is good).

    Liked by 2 people

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