An excellent article on marriage I'm reading just sparked an idea. (Here's the article.) The husband writes that we've all told ourselves, all our lives, that we must be true to ourselves, discover our own spiritual heights, be authentic to ourselves. As he says, "An authentic life means being true to ourselves, and there's nothing more inauthentic than doing something counter to our current emotional state. Basically, if I'm not feeling it, then I shouldn't have to do it."
That's a little crassly put, but we do all practice this principle. We teach it to our children and defend it in our culture: personal justice! Do not tolerate anyone treating you badly! Fight back and defend what's right! Push for personal justice and rights! Every group in the country (and the individuals within those groups) are encouraged to fight for personal justice. We tell ourselves that in fighting for me we are also fighting for others. Yeah.
And what's wrong with that?
If you're a Christian, I'll tell you what's wrong with that -- Jesus taught the opposite. He taught us not to seek our own good, our own way. He taught to present your second cheek to be slapped after your first is stinging. He taught us to absorb the wrong, and then forgive it. If you are His follower (in Scripture, the correct term is "bond-servant," i.e., slave) then you have given up your claim to personal justice for yourself. If you're not ready to at least make a half-hearted attempt at that, then reconsider your connections to the Man.
Seriously, people. Let everybody else hammer out how badly they've been treated. You should be busy with other things. The only justice Jesus ever told us to concern themselves with is justice for the truly oppressed -- the poor, the homeless, the abandoned, the orphans, the people whom organizations and institutions love to extort and use. We are to forget about rights and justice for ourselves, and seek it for them.
In Jesus's mind, the two are mutually exclusive.
I see this every day at the afterschool program where I work. Here's how it goes -- I call the 31 children to make a line so we can go inside to the restroom. Instantly I hear, "She broke in front of me!" "I carried that basketball outside and I'm supposed to carry it in!" "She stuck her tongue out at me!" And on and on. The 'breaking in line' complaint is my personal favorite. I ask the child, "Are you the line leader? Do you have a particular place in the line anyway? Does it really matter if she's in front of you? Will you get to the bathroom any later?" Of course there's absolutely no practical implication, no tangible wrong done, if someone steps in line in front of you when you're seven years old. Or when your 47, or 70 either. But, oh my, does it make us mad! We have been wronged! We have been ill-used and treated rudely. It's the principle of the thing! We must never tolerate injustice in any form!
I agree that rudeness and meanness and ill-treatment are offensive in our culture. But I wish that we would all adopt this attitude: Never try to address any injustice against self; always address injustice done to others.
If we all did that (an impossibility, I'm sure) what a different world we would live in.
If we ceased seeking our own rights and justice in our marriages, and instead began seeking it only for our partners.
If we stopped seeking our own rights and justice at our jobs, and instead began seeking it only for our co-workers.
If we stopped teaching our kids to look out for their own rights and justice and began teaching them to look out for others.
If we stopped, as a church, looking out for our church's rights and justice at the hands of our government or culture, and began seeking the rights and justice of the oppressed instead.
And, last but not least, if we stopped expecting those who don't profess any relationship with Jesus to behave in ways that we who do profess this relationship, won't behave. Fighting for one's own rights and personal justice is perfectly normal in the world. Let the world do its thing. Be different -- that's all Jesus asked us to do, just be different. He knew it would be nearly impossible to deny ourselves, to sacrifice that way. So He did it first to show us that it could be done.
Shakespeare addressed these thoughts in Hamlet. Polonius advises his son, Laertes, "This above all - to thy own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man." The father dies at the hand of Hamlet, a man who struggled with this concept more deeply: "To be or not to be -- that is the question. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them." Laertes, in the end, murders Hamlet and then dies himself. What sad ends for men who found self-sacrifice so impossible!
Do we suffer wrongs? Do we rouse ourselves and fight against them? Are we true to self above all others? Look to Jesus. Be different.