Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Barrier to Compassion

"God helps those who help themselves."

This verse is one of Americans' favorite verses because it lines up so well with our rugged individualism, our "pull myself up by my own bootsraps" mentality, our ideals surrounding our own ability to go forth and conquer.  This idea is so central to our culture in certain parts of America that it could become a rallying cry or fodder for a campaign bumper sticker.

The only problem is, this isn't actually a Bible verse.  I would love to know what percentage of self-proclaimed Christians would be thrown off if asked whether or not this was actually in the Bible.

Here's the punchline - it's not.

If anything, the picture of true human flourishing laid out in the Bible flies in the face of our cultural ideal of radical individualism.  How many times does the Bible have to tell us that true joy is found in how we treat others, not in how many toys and possessions we can collect.  Generously sharing what God has entrusted to us is how life is supposed to work, not collecting another material trophy that satisfies for a moment but ultimately betrays us because it only causes us to want more.

"I work for everything I have.  No one has given me a thing.  If everyone else would make the sacrifices I have made, they'd have what I have."

What a dangerous and foolish stance of the heart.  To recognize ourselves as the source of our blessings, and not the sovereign Lord of the universe, is the first step to a splintered and downfallen society.

The more we take personal ownership and credit for all that is going well in our lives, instead of recognizing those things as the blessing and the work of the compassionate Holy Spirit on our lives, is that we have less and less ability to show compassion and empathy to those for whom it is not going well.   We think the reason things are going well is because of what we have done and continue to do (i.e., our own pride), instead of the blessing and mercy of the Holy Spirit.  When we don’t recognize the grace and mercy upon us, we are unable to show it to others.