It is a beautiful fall day here in Tennessee. I love how you can see the season fall down the mountain. The tip is discernibly deeper into autumn than the base. It’s lovely.
You know what’s not lovely? The small-mindedness of sensitivity training. Let me explain. Am I all for people being cognizant of other people’s feelings? Am I in favor of kindness and respect for others? Of course. In fact, I came across an excellent summation of my views just this week. Marilyn Robinson said, “I concluded long ago that reverence for ourselves and reverence for God are mutually dependent, inextricable.” The Christian worldview requires that each person be treated with dignity and respect because each person is made in the image of God. The more you revere God, the more you treat each person with reverence. Starting with the view that we are mere animals, evolved from a glob of cells, will never logically lead you to revere any person, much less every person. How could it?
And yet the lack of worldview is only part of what makes sensitivity training small-minded. There are two other aspects that are vital yet missing. First, before we do any airing of grievances, we need to have some idea of why. What’s the end goal? If there’s not a specific goal in mind, the airing of grievances will likely be about as therapeutic as the Festivus ritual — meaning, not at all. Secondly, effective “training” would involve two but related prongs of biblical wisdom: (a) it is to your glory to overlook an offense; and (b) forgiveness isn’t optional.
Maybe take a minute to think about where in your life people air their grievances. Think specifically about the motivations of people who post such things on social media, who rant on cable news, who bombard institutions, or who complain profusely over lunch or coffee. Is there an understanding when those hurts are shared that every single person involved is made in the image of God? That every single person in that narrative is worthy of dignity and respect? Is there an aim for healing? To move beyond the offense, or even by the grace of God, to overlook it? Is there an explicit aim to forgive, as is required of all Christians?
If those considerations are entirely absent, and sadly, we all know they often are, then I’m not sure it’s a useful exercise. Brennan Manning said, “Only reckless confidence in a Source greater than ourselves can empower us to forgive the wounds inflicted by others.” Do you have reckless confidence in the Lover of your soul, that He will empower you to forgive the wounds others have inflicted upon you? I hope so.
Should we be careful about how we treat others? Yes! Each person is of infinite worth, made in the image of our Creator. Should we be careful about the words we use? Absolutely! These verses from James are always sobering:
Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.James 3:5b-10
Be kind. Love everyone. Guard your tongue. But let’s also acknowledge that we all benefit from learning to overlook offenses, instead of looking for them. And we are freed by the act of forgiving, even when the wrongdoer fails to repent.
I found this little paragraph from Scott Sauls thought-provoking on so many levels:
The pious Pharisee’s bravado and righteous indignation is merely a mask for self-justification. Forming a mob around a common enemy — around the “sinners” — was groupthink of insecure and small-minded men. They were looking for a way to medicate their fragile egos at the expense of a scapegoat — a scapegoat who was no more shame-worthy than they.befriend: create belonging in an age of judgment, isolation and fear
Where do you see mobs forming around common enemies today? Do you see the role of fragile egos and groupthink? Do you see a tendency to scapegoat others who are no more shame-worthy? I do, and I pray for these situations that while nothing new under the sun, seem so very pervasive. I pray for self-awareness, for a rejection of scapegoating. I pray that we’d all repent of our pharisaical ways. I pray that we will understand it is to our glory to overlook offenses, and that forgiveness is for our own good and always required.
Have a fabulous weekend letting the love of Christ rule in your hearts and not letting any bitter root take hold.