Thinking Anew – Lighting the lives of others
Good actions, thoughts and words are not the preserve of “us” alone
‘The one who is not against us is for us” sounds a tad naive. Given that about one in every three of us chooses not to vote in referendums and other elections, it is safe to state that not everybody has an opinion on everything.
Apathy is a reality and is not a support for your position. Apathy is a terrible frustration for people who believe in something. We can all hold strong opinions and values and can become frustrated when other people do not care one way or the other about something we value deeply. Unlike the opponent who will debate with us, the disinterested will nod and agree in our presence but yawn when we are gone.
Unlike elections, maybe one in every three is convinced that there is a God or rejects that belief. Both positions work hard to convince the other two-thirds of humanity that they are correct. Little changes. A person’s engagement with or rejection of God is the result of their experience not philosophy. The person with a good experience of people of faith is more likely to value faith in his or her own life. Conversely, a bad experience is likely to drive people away.
Far from naivety, the “us” in Jesus’s remark is a reference to people who choose goodness in their lives. Only those who take an active stance against goodness are actually against us.
Good actions, thoughts and words are not the preserve of “us” alone. Goodness can exist outside of the official channels too. Jesus felt it necessary to inform the apostles that this was true.
Faith and its companions, hope and love, are qualities we learn from experience. Their transmission is fragile and weak. There needs to be lots of examples of goodness in a life to bring a person to faith. It can often take only one example of badness to obliterate all memory of the good things. This is a mechanism that holds true for all relationships; individual, societal or ideological. An abscess under one tooth can let you forget your other 31 good teeth with no effort on your part at all. Goodness has to work hard to make a lasting impression.
In order for goodness to make a lasting mark it cannot be limited in any way.
Church communities are supposed to be the incarnation of goodness but they have no monopoly on it. Faith is not an essential part of being a good person. Most people apathetic to the existence or non-existence of God still treat others as they would have the others treat them. Non-believers can also be selfless ministers of charity and reach out to less fortunate neighbours. They light the lives of others by living the kind of lives that Jesus recommended for his disciples.
There are also some who are for but are actually against us. Jesus often highlighted hypocrisy as a concern. The one who claims faith yet acts deplorably is the most efficient person for smothering the light in the lives of those he or she encounters. To retain a sense of belonging in the community, the individual’s experience of goodness must outweigh the hurt of hypocrisy and these are not equally weighted. It takes a lot of goodness to heal a single harm. Far from being an uphill task, doing good is an enriching experience. With enough practice it can address the challenges of apathy, rejection and even hypocrisy too. Anybody who tries to live a good life is with us, and we are with them too. That covers nearly everybody – let 31 teeth smile on.