Sunday, October 25, 2009

Punch me in the face: it's only what I deserve.

I was perusing some blogs tonight, and came across describing a situation. The blogger had ventured to a Christian blog that had some rude Christians. The Christian commentator called them on it and said that they were supposed to represent Christ to the world, and since Christ treated the rude Christians in a way they did not deserve (kindness, mercy, and compassion and so forth), then the least the rude Christians could do is treat others in a kind fashion.

I've always looked at the idea of representing Christ as following the Golden Rule, loving one's neighbor, not responding in the "eye for an eye" fashion, and basically being a really good person. But when a Christian is called to represent Christ, does that mean that a Christian is called to treat a non-Christian in a fashion that s/he doesn't deserve?

I'm not talking about the clear-cut cases of not retaliating if someone hits you, or steals from you, or is just an overall dirtbag towards you. I'm talking about a situation where you see a stranger in the street struggling to load packages into a car, and the Christian comes over to help. That is a method of representing Christ, and yet the loving behavior is in fact something the stranger doesn't deserve.

Or if a Christian is polite to a stranger in the street -- just a smile or a pleasant greeting -- and acting as a representative of Christ. Yet if Christ treats us as we don't deserve, then don't the strangers on the street deserve nothing less than to be punched in the face?

Or if representatives of Christ comfort parents grieving for a child. Or offer food to a starving person, or shelter to the homeless. If you are representing someone who in fact treated people in a fashion they did not deserve, then isn't there an implication that the Christians are saying that the grieving parents, the strangers, the homeless don't deserve the kind or polite treatment?

The thing is, I don't think a majority of Christians -- regardless of where they fall on the conservative or liberal scale -- would say that most strangers deserve to be punched in the face. Or that the homeless deserve to have no shelter or that those who have no food deserve to starve. They do in fact deserve kind treatment.

Yet their very theology, the very person they claim to represent, says something different.

Edit: I've received a few comments indicating that my post wasn't precisely clear -- which I'm grateful for, because I was still working through why this whole thing bothered me when I wrote this.

It was mentioned that Christians would say they are called to express the love of Jesus to people, and be his hands and feet. Or that the Bible didn't really call out the behavior I listed in the post.

And I think my discomfort can be summed up like so: rude Christian was chastised by moderator Christian for his rude behavior. This chastisement wasn't in the form of you are supposed to love your enemies, or to be the hands and feet of Jesus. The chastisement was in form of telling the rude Christian that you were treated by Christ as you don't deserve. Why was that connected with an admonishment to be polite? Why was that tied to the idea of representing Christ to the world? The implication I was seeing is that being polite to non-Christians was something they didn't deserve. Or just being polite to anyone. And since the representative of Christ is tied to all areas, like helping the unfortunate, does that mean that the unfortunate don't deserve help at all?

15 comments:

Kay said...

The whole "we are all sinners and depraved and don't deserve love or kindness" argument boggles my mind a bit.

On the one hand I don't think humans are fallen (from some previous perfection). I think we are human - which includes lots of messy things.

On the other hand I don't think any of us 'deserve' anything from anyone else. The attitude that we do deserve something (even to be treated with loving kindness) is a self centered me first position. Me me me.

Even if I walked around doing good to everyone I meet, spreading love joy and flowers to all I encounter, I still don't 'deserve' anything. If someone wants to reciprocate - great! But I think the attitude of "I deserve" is at the root of so much that is wrong with human society.

It would be 'nice' if the Christians on any given blog or board would treat visitors with respect. Heck - I think that if they did so they might even be surpassing Jesus' actions towards non-believers.

It would be nice if they treated others with compassion and love, but the visitors don't 'deserve' anything, one way or another.

I try to treat others well for many reasons. It makes me feel better when I do (chemical changes in my brain). It hopefully makes them feel better when I do. And hopefully they'll "pass it on" and chain reaction will start.

LOL. I'm not sure if I'm agreeing with what you've said above, or disagreeing. I do know that I've rambled on long enough.

MOI said...

OSS,

I'm having a problem following your argument. I don't think Jesus ever said that we don't deserve respect or love or he wouldn't have enjoined us all to "love your neighbor as yourself." I think we get this idea of not deserving good treatment from Paul and subsequent church tradition (Augustine perhaps)that says we all deserve death for our sins and therefore hell due to the inherent sin of Adam. Paul said that those who practice sin deserve to die (Romans 1:32), but I don't believe that was Jesus' endorsement.

In fact Jesus went out of his way to say that we should treat everyone with respect, including women who were very low on the respect pole in Jesus' day (except for perhaps the Gentile woman he likened to a dog. God knows what that was about). Unfortunately, we will never know what he fully intended by some of these statements.

Be that as it may, I don't see how we are ever told in the bible to treat others disrespectfully because we deserve it. That's not something that promotes the idea of every human being made in the Divine image.

societyvs said...

For me, I see the answer pretty easy on this topic.

Many Christians hold to the view Jesus paid for their sins (past and present and future) and even gave them his righteous standing with God...vicarious righteousness I would call that. Nothing is required of them.

Go on a blog and find Christians that treat people with very questionable wording and behavior should be expected...they are not responsible for their own actions in their theological system. Jesus paid that price too. I think morals (or works) takes an extreme back seat to these theological assumptions and are rather a last thought - even umimportant (since nothing they can do is worth anything - filthy rags and all that jazz).

What you really have is a theological system of excuses.

OneSmallStep said...

Kay,

**On the other hand I don't think any of us 'deserve' anything from anyone else. The attitude that we do deserve something (even to be treated with loving kindness) is a self centered me first position. Me me me.**

I don't agree with this across the board, though. There are certainly instances where it's applicable. We don't all deserve to be millionares, or a promotion, or to have everyone bow to us as though we are kings.

But I wouldn't say that rape victims don't deserve to be raped. Or that children don't deserve to starve to death, and I wouldn't say that's a self-centered position. Or someone who has had a really hard life and says that s/he didn't deserve that -- I wouldn't say that's a self-centered position, either.

There is a difference between saying "I deserve to have everyone get out of my way" and "I deserve the right to vote" or "I deserve the right to be able to walk down the street without someone randomly punching me."

Plus, a lot of social movements were started because people were claiming the rights they deserved -- child labor laws, the right for minorities and women to vote, the right for equal wages ... It really depends on the situation that "deserve" is applied to.

OneSmallStep said...

MOI,

Thanks for commenting -- I was thinking through this post as I was typing it, because I had stumbled across the other post five minutes prior, and so was wondering if there'd be confusion.

What I'm focusing on here is not anything that Jesus said or did, but how many conservative Christians apply their understanding of Jesus. In this case, the other blogger said that Christ had treated a certain Christian as s/he did not deserve, and that other Christian was called to be a representative of Christ. So, basically, in the theology this Christian is following says that when Jesus is merciful or kind or compassionate, he treats us in a way that we don't deserve. So when these Christians are kind or merciful to others as a representative of Christ, do they truly think that the others don't deserve that kindness at all?

It's not a matter of what the Bible says, or what Jesus says. It's a matter of what this particular Christian theology is saying.

OneSmallStep said...

Society,

Yes. And I wonder if they feel that they're representing Christ ... if that's the case, why would anyone have wanted to be around a Jesus who behaved like that?

Kay said...

"Or someone who has had a really hard life and says that s/he didn't deserve that..."

If I was lying on my deathbed and looked back on my life and said "I didn't deserve to have such a hard life" I'd have to ask - in relation to what? If I didn't 'deserve' to have such a hard life, did I 'deserve' to have a good one?

Says who?

I don't know if that makes sense and it seems to be off topic any way.

"There is a difference between saying "I deserve to have everyone get out of my way" and 'I deserve the right to vote.'"

Yeah, you're right. I agree of course. Everyone should have equal rights. I might not use the word deserve, but that's probably tomato / tomahto. :)

Reg said...

If Christian theology is so preoccupied with "deserving", whatever happened to unconditional love? Isn't the whole point that we are loved unconditionally? And that's what can urge us to mirror Divine love by attempting to love others, even those we do not like as ourselves. This has nothing to do with who deserves what. We will fail of course. All of christ's targets are more aspirational than achievable, but none the worse for that. I deserve nothing. I am not theologically a Christian, but the conviction that I am loved is a source of wonder to me. If I manage any good actions, it's not some creepy tactic to earn points. It should be the spontaneous expression of the best of the human spirit.

OneSmallStep said...

Kay,

Well, where's the fun in staying on topic? :)

**If I didn't 'deserve' to have such a hard life, did I 'deserve' to have a good one?**

I use it in relation to the lives of others. For instance, I'd think Bill Gates was full of it if he said that on his deathbed. Someone the opposite of Bill Gates? Not so much. It would also depend on how one defines "good." I do think people deserve to have a home, food, family, friends. That is good. To others, a "good" life is a house in Beverly Hills, the expensive car ... and I would say, no, those are entitlements.

But I look at this in reverse. Someone whose last moments were being brutally murdered, or someone gunned down ... my reaction is "They didn't deserve that."

**I might not use the word deserve, but that's probably tomato / tomahto**

What word would you use? There's the word "entitled" but that has a lot more negative connotations than the word "deserve" does. I just do think the word "deserve" can be used in a non self-centered fashion, such as people working to reduce poverty, feeling that people don't deserve to be poor.

OneSmallStep said...

Reg,

**Isn't the whole point that we are loved unconditionally?**

It is, but I see this too often attached to the idea that "You've loved unconditionally, but you really don't deserve it." I just think it's really hard to focus on the idea of unconditional love when there's a concept of hell looming around the corner.

I mean, just look at what sparked my whole post -- a Christian chastising another Christian about being a good representative, even when Christ treats them as they don't deserve. If people are constantly reminded that they aren't treated the way that they deserve, I would think that would taint the concept of unconditional love.

Kay said...

I'm defining 'deserve' as "to merit a reward or punishment."

So if I say "I didn't deserve that good life," I'd be saying that I didn't feel my thoughts or actions merited my life being as good as it was.

Of course this begs the question: Who am I claiming gave me that good life (or that bad life)?

Back on topic (maybe):

Christians say we don't deserve God's love. I'd ask if they think that God's love is something they can earn or merit? And if they do think God's love is something they can earn, I'd ask just how good do they have to be before they are sure that they've gotten it? Perhaps they've missed "deserving" God's love by 'just this much.'

"If people are constantly reminded that they aren't treated the way that they deserve, I would think that would taint the concept of unconditional love."

Abso-frickin-lutely!

If God's love was something that we could earn I'd say that, on average, we (the human race) do not deserve it. We haven't done anything to earn it and everything to merit God's disgust.

However I'm not God. I think God's love is unconditional. God is infinite. How could God's love not be infinite too? For God's love to be conditional means that God is limited. That is humanity's attempt to make God small. (Something that some Bible writers did also, thought some seem to have gotten it right.)

Lorena said...

OK, I've perused the comments, and now I see that I'm not the only one who thinks the topic is a can of worms.

You are saying that Christians think it is a good thing to do stuff for the undeserving.

I am not sure that's what they say. What they say is that they need to show Jesus' love to others: be his hands, his feet, etc.

But whether they say what you think or what I think, I still have a problem with the "Jesus representation."

First, Jesus only told others to do that. He never seems to have done it himself. In the gospels, aside from washing the disciple's feet, he shows up as a prima donna, ordering others around and being nasty to others including his own mom.

So when Christian go around doing good deeds, they're not representing Jesus. They're obeying Jesus, which is different.

They think that non-believers will see Jesus thorough them. But that isn't true. To truly represent Jesus they would have be nasty and manner-less.

OneSmallStep said...

Kay,

**I'm defining 'deserve' as "to merit a reward or punishment."**

Gotcha. Whereas for me, if I look at someone who's homeless or starving, I don't use "deserve" in the sense of reward/punishment. Because those situations have nothing to do with a reward or punishment -- it's more of deserve in the sense of they're qualified to have shelter or food by the simple fact of being human. It's not a reward for being human.

**I'd ask if they think that God's love is something they can earn or merit?**
Perhaps this is where so many trip over the idea of God's love verse God's wrath. It turns the aspect of love into a sense of reward. Yet if you tie God to the idea of someone desperately in love with the human race, or God who is a father yearning for His children to come home ... well, when do we ever tie human parental love into a reward? The child simply has that love, simply because the child is the child of the parent.
Can love even be unconditional if it gets turned into a reward?

OneSmallStep said...

Lorena,


You are saying that Christians think it is a good thing to do stuff for the undeserving.

**I am not sure that's what they say. What they say is that they need to show Jesus' love to others: be his hands, his feet, etc**

It was more of the connection between the two ideas. In reminding the rude Christian to be less rude, the moderator said that Christ had treated the rude Christian in a way he did not deserve -- shown mercy. And that the rude Christian should be more of a representative to Christ. The thing that triggered this post was the reminder -- to tell a Christian to be polite by saying that Christ treated the Christian in an undeserving sort of way, is the moderator saying that the other posters don't deserve polite and respectful behavior?

OneSmallStep said...

Lorena,

**I am not sure that's what they say. What they say is that they need to show Jesus' love to others: be his hands, his feet, etc.**

I was thinking about your comment more, and perhaps I can explain it this way: in reminding the rude Christian to be more polite, the moderator did not tell him that he was to show the love of Jesus to others, or to be his hands and feet. Rather, she reminded him that Christ treated him as he didn't deserve, and he must represent Christ to others. My reaction was, "Does that mean there's an implication there of saying that by being polite to non-Christians, you feel as though you're treating them in a manner that they don't deserve? That when you represent Christ to the homeless, or the widow or the orphan, you feel that compassion and help is something they don't deserve?"

I just wondered why a note on being polite was tied to something that wasn't deserved.