Stewarding Your Attitude in an Age of Contempt
The coronavirus is doing more than killing Americans. It is exposing us. Our reaction to the pandemic is laying bare the deep dysfunction of our culture. We entered the crisis a nation fractured along jagged ideological, political and moral lines. Malice, slander, deceit, accusation and contempt were the wedges splitting us further and further apart. While we have seen past national crises galvanize the nation, if even momentarily, it is not so in this environment. Instead the Covid-19 pandemic has been used by all sides to hammer these wedges deeper. Brad Littlejohn in Mere Orthodoxy lamented, “what Covid-19 has revealed in America is a society that has reached a point of crippling mutual incomprehension and distrust…that runs so deep that it leaves few if any shared handholds for common knowledge informing common action.”
I confess, at times I’ve allowed myself to get sucked in. I’ve struggled with anger, frustration and despair. I’ve been overwhelmed by the sobering reality that our cultural warfare would stoop so low as to seize upon this tragedy to stoke the flames of hatred and contempt. It has been hard not to let that same hatred and contempt seep into my spirit.
In a morning devotion I came across Titus 3:1-7. It hit me between the eyes.
Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
I encourage you to read this over at least three times, and the last time read it out loud. What did you hear? I heard a challenge to stand against the forces of accusation and contempt and cultivate a radically different attitude; one shaped by the Holy Spirit and reflecting the glory of the risen Lord. I heard in these words a call to let the Holy Spirit reclaim my way of thinking in five areas, choosing in each to refuse the siren song of our disintegrating culture.
- Refuse offense. Imagine a world where people chose not to take offense, even when it is intended. Being offended is a choice. In our current milieu, it is the default that triggers an unrighteous indignation; which is the belief that we have a right to be angry and that right justifies all forms of response. We are told that our hatred, slander, and vitriol against our enemies are all warranted, and we seek out and give heed to the voices that continue to tell us so. Not so with followers of the risen Jesus. We have been saved through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. In our sin, in our offensiveness, we have been justified by His grace. How else can we respond to others than to be ready to do what is good? How else can we respond to offense than with grace?
Lord, help us steward our attitudes that we might respond to our culture of blame and anger with a heart of love and grace to everyone.
- Refuse entitlement. Narcissism breeds entitlement, and we are a self-absorbed society. The Declaration of Independence asserts that, “we are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights.” What does a culture do when it rejects the existence of the author of the very rights it demands? It substitutes groundless ideological wishes and pronounces them ‘rights.’ These so-called rights carry massive entitlements and an attitude that ‘the world owes me big time’. And the Devil’s little secret about entitlements is that no matter how much you get, it is never enough. The result is bitterness and a perpetual sense of being cheated. Not so for the follower of Jesus. We are sinners saved by grace. Our entitlement was death and hell. Our Creator’s response was amazing grace, salvation, heaven and hope. How can our response be anything but gratitude and praise?
Lord, change our attitudes that we might be people of gratitude, acknowledging that every good thing comes from you.
- Refuse to hate. Hate is a strong word. So strong we may be tempted to wave it off as not a problem we face. Yet Webster defines it as, “intense aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury, extreme dislike or disgust.” Have your fear or anger caused you to develop an intense aversion to someone? Are you harboring an attitude of extreme dislike or even disgust toward a person, a party, a media outlet, a business or something or someone else? The enemy’s agenda is to use this crisis to foment these feelings in us. It calls to us to give in to our hate, and we must not yield. As followers of the Prince of Peace, we are called to an attitude of kindness and love as we bear the image of our Savior.
Lord, help us steward our attitudes that we might replace hatred with love and animosity with kindness that only comes from you.
- Refuse to play God. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, we are being tempted to be the arbiters of right from wrong and stand in judgment in the midst of this crisis. While we must name what is true and what is false, we must also not allow attitudes of self-righteousness and spiritual pride to overtake us. We can too easily become deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions. As followers of the One true God, we must clothe our attitudes with humility, affirming that now we see through a glass dimly. One way to practice this is to pray for everyone…everyone! This is part of what it means to be subject to rulers and authorities. Even those with whom we disagree. We must refuse to step into God’s place and judge others. Even those we are sure are wrong.
Lord, help us steward our attitudes that we might be quick to pray and slow to judge.
- Refuse to be used. The words in Titus are unequivocal – slander, malice, envy, being hated and hating one another. These are the tools the enemy uses to steal our joy, dull our love and blot out our witness. They start in our attitudes before manifesting in our actions. So be on guard. Watch for ways the voices in this culture entice and cajole you to compromise your values, give in to your fears and justify your anger. When that happens, we are being used. Like puppets on a string, we are being played. The text reminds us that, at one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived. As followers of the One who became sin for us, we must be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.
Lord, help us steward our attitudes that we might be set free to fully live for you and bear witness to your love and grace to our hurting and divided world.
What attitudes will you refuse today that Christ may shine more brightly in you and through you?