There’s a quote from the poet Richard Siken that talks about “the gentleness that comes,
not from the absence of violence, but despite the abundance of it.”
Today, we live among abundant violence. Turn on the news for five minutes and you’ll see it. There’s the physical violence: terrorism, mass shootings, concerns about police brutality, war. And then there’s the emotional violence: racism, harsh political rhetoric, smear attacks, cyberbullying, the list goes on.
It’s enough to make anyone afraid. If there was ever a time that our world needed gentleness, it’s now. And yet so much of what I see happening today, on social media, in education and activism, in our everyday lives, and especially right now in our current political season, is harshness and fear-mongering.
“It’s this person’s fault. It’s that group’s fault. It’s the media’s fault. They’re out to get us. They’re trying to persecute us. How can we get them back?”
There seems to be a frequent narrative today that the Western church is doomed. We’re like a frightened wild animal backed into a corner, and the only choice left is to lash out.
It’s worrying, because when we Christians allow fear to be the Lord of our lives instead of Jesus, we don’t just lose our ability to be gentle. We make ourselves open to attack and manipulation of all kinds. We become vulnerable to any rhetoric, any cause, any trick of the Enemy that promises to take away whatever we’re afraid of.
And so many people seem to have something–or rather someone–they’ve quietly pitted themselves against. Men, women, Muslims, atheists, New Agers, Democrats, Republicans, young people, old people, abortionists, creationists, evolutionists, homosexual and transgender people, addicts, homeless people, immigrants, Latinos, Asians, blacks, whites, “haters”, “bigots”, people who don’t speak English, people of different socioeconomic status. And that’s a tiny sample. You can add so many other groups to that list. Some of those demographics are based on lifestyle choices; some of them are traits people are born with. To an angry, fearful mindset, I don’t think that distinction matters, just that it’s “us against them”.
Are we called to be discerning and to speak out against wrong when we find it? Absolutely. But Ephesians 6:12 says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Our fight is against evil and its ideas that are poisoning our society. Not people.
Furthermore, we are called to be bold. But Christian boldness does not demean or stereotype others. Being a courageous Truth-speaker is incompatible with trampling people that God loves under our feet.
If we are enjoying God’s abundant forgiveness and then denying it to someone else, we are not reflecting Jesus. If we demand justice while being unjust, we are not reflecting Jesus. If we are crying persecution while shutting our minds and hearts to the humanity of others, we are not reflecting Jesus.
In a world where people are increasingly divided against each other, the most important message Christians could possibly bring is that the ground is level at the foot of the Cross. It’s absolutely crucial that rather than joining our hateful, pick-a-side culture, we communicate instead that all human beings are God’s creation first, in equal need of His grace.
How do we do this? Perhaps, we start with an old, out-of-fashion Biblical word: meekness.
Today, the world “meek” doesn’t exactly have a good rep. To be “meek as a mouse” is not a compliment. It means you’re defeated, overly submissive, that person cringing in the corner with no backbone.
But when I did a quick google search of where “meek” is found in the Bible, over 40 results popped up. And a lot of those verses? They refer to Jesus. Over and over in the New Testament, the words “meek”, “humble”, gentle” are used to describe a Man who was a rebel in His time, who went toe-to-toe with the political and religious powers of His day without blinking an eye, who singlehandedly cleared the temple with a whip and His righteous anger , and who fought death and defeated it forever.
That doesn’t sound much like weakness.
From a brutal Japanese prison camp in China, the famous Olympian and missionary Eric Liddell wrote, “Weak is kind and gentle and full of fear. Meek is kind and gentle and fearless.”
Why fearless? Because meek people possess an unshakable belief in both their identity, and their destiny. Psalm 37:9 defines the meek as “those who wait for the Lord.” John Piper says, “Meek people begin by trusting God. They believe that He will work for them and vindicate them when others oppose them. Biblical meekness is rooted in the deep confidence that God is for you and not against you.”
So then, meekness is the ability to avoid the defensive response because we know God Himself is our defense. It’s the gift of gentleness in spite of threats, because Jesus Christ is victorious and nothing the world does can truly harm us.
And just take a look at Matthew 5:5. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” If we are meek, if we hold onto gentleness no matter what, then the whole earth is ours! With a promise like that, who needs to be afraid?
Jesus critiqued and challenged the false religious teachers of His day, taking them on in fiery debates again and again. He also had dinner with Simon the Pharisee, patiently taught Nicodemus, and died for every one of those lost, legalistic souls on the cross. He attacked the ideas and loved the people.
He was meek. Kind and gentle and fearless.
What an amazing opportunity we as the church have, today in our abundance of violence, to do the same.