Late last year, I was struggling with hostility, anger, and judgmentalism towards a fellow Christian who was getting on my nerves, and walked at night listening to 1 John and James again and again on my iPod, until my grumpy heart was converted, and I could look at the person who was annoying me, and say, “Oh, please, help me see her as you see her, Jesus.”
This passage particularly spoke to me “Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them,” (2 John 10-11).
Living in the darkness, walking around in the darkness, blinded by the darkness…
A charity worker working in the third world visited us last year. He was depressed, and consistently focussed on the dark side of people, nations, and international politics. Everything was stark and negative. His hatred of the US in particular, and of what the rich world was doing to the three-quarters world led him to have darkness within him. And that is truly scary.
Jesus says of stingy, greedy, money-focussed people (the word he uses for unhealthy, poneros, implies stingy) “But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”
“Oh Lord, let me focus on you. Let me have light within me,” I found myself praying.
But for those who walk in kindness-there is nothing in them to make them stumble.
A Christian walk without stumbling–the impulsive angry email one later wishes one had worded more kindly; the harsh criticism which stuns everyone, and which is slightly off base; covert relational strife because someone has thwarted your pride, or your ambition!… Oh, wouldn’t want an assured Bolt towards Jesus rather than this stumbling.
When we do not walk in love, we walk in the darkness, groping, stumbling, bumping into things and people, going off course, in tangents, losing our way…
Because when we do not make an effort to see with the eyes of kindness, we cannot see clearly. We cannot see whole. We see the speck of sawdust in our brother’s eye, and how it annoys us. It’s all we can focus on! But that annoying dust mote is not the whole person; it is just an aspect of the person which grates on our sensitive nerves.
And so we speak hastily and act hastily and wound hastily—because we are not walking in the light of kindness with the high beams of love turned on, which help us see the good in people, as well as the darkness. Instead, we are stumble in the darkness, the darkness of our cross feelings. Blinded in the darkness of our lovelessness, our judgements then are not to be trusted. Why should they be? They are small, shrivelled, loveless; we are focusing on the dust in the statue, instead of its entire goldeness. The evil we see is only a partial truth, a disortion.
* * *
What is walking in love, practically?
Perhaps kindness is the better word, more contemporary than agape love.
Trying to see people as God sees them? As children of God, made in his image, sometimes bratty , throwing their toys in a tantrum, but still children of God.
Have you ever been in a situation, perhaps a financial dispute within an extended family situation, or a business situation where you feel you are walking in a fog and darkness. You grope; you know people have a self-seeking agenda, and are lying, but it’s hard to shift truth from lies. Whoa. What stress! I have experienced this in a toxic situation in a previous church, groping in the darkness, not knowing to what extent anyone was telling the truth, knowing we were being lied to, worked and manipulated, but why certain questions were being asked, and what use the information would be put to—all this was fog and thick darkness. Have you ever been on scary situations like that, where you don’t know who you can trust, where everyone is out for themselves and private advantage, where everything you say can be twisted out of context and distorted?
* * *
How can you walk through the darkness without stumbling? Act in kindness and love. Balance the two important imperatives Jesus suggested, “Be wise as a serpent, but innocent as a dove.”
I am using this passage from James as an anchor when my feelings are volatile, and I don’t necessarily trust my own judgement. Am I walking in kindness? Then there is nothing in me to make me stumble.
But if I let hatred, animosity and irritation possess me, I can no longer entirely trust my own judgement in that situation. I cannot trust myself to see my way clearly, because the fog, the darkness of my own loveless heart and emotions is blinding me, and I am groping, stumbling over obstacles I cannot see, unaware of what is making me stumble, in danger of losing my way.