Be Kind to Everyone
Repentance is one of those words that gets associated with “off-center” people holding signs while walking downtown: “Repent for the end is near.” It is a word that gets thrown at people who are doing things that other people don’t like: “You need to repent of ______.”
However, repent is one of the most beautiful words in the world. From its usage in the Biblical text, the Greek word is metanoia which basically means “to change the mind.” It’s a beautiful word because it means that someone, by God’s common grace on the world, always has the opportunity to change their mind – to see things differently – to take God’s perspective on a matter. I love it because it means that redemption and change are always possible. If we open ourselves to God’s grace and presence in our lives, repentance is a beautiful reality every day. And certainly, we are in need of changing our minds about something every day … we are all in process. None of our stories have been written to the last chapter. (Note: I realize that metanioa has further implications as well … implications which get beautifully messy. For this discussion, I desire to focus on the simplicity of our perspective being redirected and refined which is the foundational idea of repentance).
As we look at the world around us, we very quickly notice that there are a variety of perspectives on almost every situation imaginable. There is very little consensus. How we engage with the differences is vital. Certainly, there are differences which are inconsequential: who is the greatest basketball ever? Or, what is the best ethnic food? There are other differences which have much more, and often ultimate, consequence: is there a God? Is a certain lifestyle appropriate? Does everyone go to heaven? Is there a life after this one?
When there are true difference which have to do with ultimate reality, the nature of the universe or our identity as human beings or the existence of God, the need for repentance is a very real possibility. A change of mind can be a beautiful thing. If I am on the “wrong” side of a situation, the opportunity to change my perspective is a true gift.
The way that we often engage with one another when there are differences do not allow for repentance. We attack and critique and judge which frequently keeps us entrenched in our understanding and leads others to a place of defensiveness which means putting up walls and protecting their understanding. Clearly, much of what we are doing on this planet isn’t working which leads me to ask: how does God deal with us? How does He deal with the fact that there are lots of things for which we need to repent (“change our mind”)?
In Romans 2:4, we are told that God’s kindness is what leads us to repentance. What is kindness? The other descriptions in the verse help us. It is also His forbearance, and patience which come into play when we talk about repentance. Forbearance and patience speak of waiting and being slow. All three of these words connote the idea of being lovingly present in someone’s life. The bottom line is that it isn’t attacks or judgmental words that God uses to bring us to repentance but loving presence, drawing us away from ourselves to a bigger, grander sense of what life is all about. We always get small and petty when we get stuck behind our walls of protection, but He draws us out with the glory and beauty of who He is … knowing that our perspectives will change over time as He becomes the defining reality in our lives. This is, however, a process and a journey. We might even give lip-service to things before there is true repentance (e.g., think about things which you publicly profess but privately do not practice). He is patient and slow. This discussion in Romans 2 is in the context of Paul challenging people who were being judgmental. His point? Being judgmental isn’t God’s way, kindness is.
So, I’d like to suggest that we learn to be kind to one another rather than positing our perspectives so quickly and rashly when we find ourselves at odds with another person or viewpoint. We aren’t sure who first uttered the words but I love the sentiment behind:
“Be kind, for everyone you know is fighting a hard battle.”
The implication is that we are all in process and all of us are struggling through life. If you don’t think you are, maybe pride or blindness is your struggle! None of us have it all figured out. Thankfully God shows us kindness that enables a relationship with Him … a relationship of kindness where we can change and grow over time. God is slow and patient (2 Peter 3:8) toward us.
There are certainly times when repentance is needed, and it will only happen when we lead with loving kindness. The idea of “loving-kindness” relates to a concept in the Hebrew Bible, hesed. God showed hesed to His people by showing loyal love that resulting in personally pursuing them. When they were “at odds with” and in need of repentance, He pursued them. The prophet Hosea became a living illustration of God’s hesed by “buying back” (redeeming) His wife from a life of utter unfaithfulness. He patiently and persistently pursued the one in need of repentance.
As we live in a world where we experience significant and consequential differences, differences that we believe are ultimate and life altering, kindness is everything! It means that we open ourselves up to others personally and not making them a punching bag for our own views and perspectives, however “correct” those views may be. It also means that we humbly pursue their perspective, opening ourselves up to their world and understanding their experience. Jesus is the most amazing example of this as He took on human flesh and experienced all that we’ve experienced.
Ponder these few examples of what interacting with kindness might mean:
- Lead with questions, acknowledging that we don’t know someone’s story. Perhaps, our questions will help unearth something not previously considering by the other person. Perhaps, our questions will cause us to rethink our understanding of things. Asking questions is always better than making statements.
- Go slow, knowing that there are a lot of things we do not know. The Bible does not answer every question. The Bible leads us to “fear God” (fear is respect, honor, love) which is the beginning of knowledge. Note: the beginning, the path, not the end of the destination. We always live with a degree of mystery this side of eternity.
- Give space for God to be the ultimate source of kindness and therefore repentance. How? Through listening. A Mennonite pastor, David Augsberger said, “Being listened to is so close to being loved that most people cannot tell the difference.”
- Pay attention to your own heart and emotional reactions to a difference in another person. How is your reaction getting the way of kindness? Acknowledge it and through the Holy Spirit, let go of that reaction.
Father, may we show others the same kindness that You show us. Give us strength, wisdom, and patience in the name of Jesus and through the Holy Spirit. Amen.