I have been mulling over these words from Marguerite Shuster:
‘those who Jesus confronted most directly were as likely to want to kill him as to follow him. He seemed to not have the slightest inclination to make hearing and following him pleasant and easy…Truthfulness, in other words, is not determined by customer satisfaction surveys’
(‘The truth and truthfulness’, 2008)
For Christians, Shuster’s words express the very essence of what it means to be a ‘good [faithful/trustworthy] Christian’ instead of a ‘nice Christian’ (Paul Coughlin, 2005).As a consequence, the misappropriation of these words becomes one of the causes of the double mindedness, which drives our anxiety fuelled obsession with people pleasing.
My developing thesis is that in todays post-modern society we seem accustomed to using the words ‘nice’ and ‘good [faithful/trustworthy]’ interchangeably. For example: western society tends to value appearance and reputation, over truth and substance of character. In other words, those who appear to be nice are also good. Therefore the assumption is that appearance surrounding a persons reputation negates the need for a reasoned assessment of their character .
The following story illustrates the point that ‘good nature may be a great misfortune if we do not mix prudence with it’ (Charles Spurgeon):
”An old man and his young son were driving a donkey before them to the next market to sell. ‘Why have you no more wit’, says one to the man upon the way, ‘than you and your son trudge it on foot, and let the donkey go light?’
So the old man set his son upon the donkey and continued himself on foot. ‘Why, sir’, says another after this, to the boy, ‘you lazy rogue, must you ride, and let you old father go on foot?’
The old man upon this took down his son, and got up himself. ‘Do you see,’ says a third, ‘how lazy old knave rides himself, and the poor young fellow has much ado to creep after him?’
The father, upon hearing this, took up his son behind him. The next person they met asked the old man whether the donkey was his own or not. He said, ‘yes’. ‘There’s a little sign on it’, says another, ‘by loading him thus.’
‘Well,’ says the old man himself, ‘and what am I to do now? For I am laughed at, if either the donkey be empty, or if one of us rides, or both;’ and so he came to the conclusion to bind the donkey’s legs together with a cord, and they tried to carry him to market with a pole upon each of their shoulders.
This was sport to everybody that saw it, inasmuch that the old man in great wrath threw down the donkey into a river, and so went his way home again. The good man, in fine , was willing to please anybody, and lost his donkey in the process” (Spurgeon, ‘The complete John Ploughman’)
‘The way of pleasing man is hard, but blessed are they who please God.Put your hand quickly to your hat, for that is courtesy; but don’t bow your head at every man or woman’s bidding, for that is slavery…A person is not free if they are afraid to think for themselves, for if our thoughts are in bonds we are not free…‘.
We are left with this reminder: ‘if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach…but let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind…a double-minded person is unstable in all their ways’ (James 1:8)
In some respects the father’s blind acquiescence (neo-tolerance) and his son’s inability to challenge the father’s lack of restraint in pleasing people, led both of them away from questioning the wisdom behind what they were accepting. As a result they entertained the opinions of others and negated the very purpose of their journey.
Appearing to be nice or good does not equate to the actuality of being faithful and trustworthy. Accommodation (blind tolerance), lack of restraint and making decisions just to keep people happy informs part of Jean Bethke Elshstain’s politically charged statement:
‘I read the palpable despair and violence as dark signs of the times, warnings that democracy may not be up to the task of satisfying the yearnings it unleashes for freedom and fairness, and equality’.
What Elshtain and Spurgeon are alluding to is the absence of the dialectical qualifier. One which says to the current state of Western democracy: that equality, fairness and freedom cannot exist in a truly democratic society when the people give unquestioning loyalty to the state, or the fashionable ideology provoked by academia, which promises much and delivers little.
Hedonism cannot be the deciding factor in political policy. A people pleasing plebiscite that caves in to the demands for unrestrained freedom, does not understand either slavery nor freedom. By it democracy falls and quickly becomes ‘mob rule’. Like the donkey in a ditch it will lay dormant, denied, despairing and desperate for rescue. Those who choose to people please, pledge allegiance to an empty ideology advanced by a lost and wandering activism. An activism which clings to historically destructive theories which say that humanity will be free when it can liberate itself from the life-giving source of our freedom.
As gulag survivor Alexander Solzhenitsyn in 1978 said:
‘When we don’t apply a moral criteria to politics, we mix good and evil, right and wrong. Therefore we make space for the triumph of absolute evil in the world’ (Harvard address)
The result is a persecution of those who respond in a thinking and faithful way to the free God. They are limited and are placed into bondage to a regime that is far from a reasoned, mature democratically elected representative of the people . This consequence is threefold. Firstly, in seeking equality, the lost and wandering activism creates inequality. Secondly, in seeking fairness they subject people to their disorientated view of tolerance. Lastly, by arguing that true freedom means to allow, and act on such a view, is to forget that any freedom absent of self-restraint takes for granted the source of human freedom and ignores it’s ‘commanded orientation’ (Karl Barth).
Elshtain, J.B Democracy on Re-trial
Elshtain, J.B 2000 Who are we? critical reflections and hopeful possibilities (particularly chapter three) Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing Grand Rapids Michigan U.S.A
Shuster, M. 2008 Truth and truthfulness in Performance in preaching Childers & Schmidt, Baker Academic
Solzhenitsyn, A. 1978 A world split apart Harvard sourced from Columbia.edu
Spurgeon, C.H. 2007 The complete John Ploughman Christian Focus publications