I guess you could consider this something of a 3rd installment in a series on divisiveness. In the first post, I tried to share some basic intellectual arguments that Creationists may use with Evolutionists. This led to an umpteen day debate back and forth between two obviously well-educated scientists in the comment thread of my post, which, to my good fortune, illustrated the point of my subsequent post – that many debates for/against Christianity are not as intellectual as we tend to think, but, instead, are primarily driven by personal beliefs.
So, week three, then, is the issue of how you might move someone to see things from your side of the argument or even buy it as truth. I don’t pretend to be an expert on this or have a silver bullet. But I would suggest that the Bible has a basic formula that, to some degree, still exists as a parenting truism – “kill them with kindness.”
The Basic Narrative
To illustrate that the “killing them with kindness” point is, in fact, a biblical truth, we turn to 2 Kings 6.
Elisha, the successor to Elijah, is the prophet. He is working in the Northern Kingdom of God’s people, Israel. The enemy is the Arameans. Although the names of the kings involved are not explicitly mentioned in the text itself, we can fairly assume they are King Joram of Israel and King Ben-Hadad II of Aram.
Because the Israelites seem to know the army of Aram’s every move, Ben Hadad II figures there must be a traitor amongst his people. His officers, however, explain that it is the prophet Elisha, who receives messages from God concerning “the very words you speak in your bedroom” (2 Kings 6:12), who is assisting the Israelites. Ben Hadad II naturally reacts by ordering that they take this prophet down. So he sends soldiers to Dothan, where Elisha was staying. When Elisha’s servant sees the enemy troops, he panics. Elisha prays that God would open his servant’s eyes to put him at ease and he sees that there are countless angel warriors surrounding the Aramean contingent.
As the foreign soldiers began to attack, Elisha prayed, “Strike these people with blindness.” (2 Kings 6:18). God did. Elisha then led them to the king of Israel, located in Samaria. King Joram asked Elisha if he should kill the Aramean soldiers. After all, that was what they were planning to do to him. Elisha said, “No.” Instead, they fed the Aramean soldiers a “great feast” (2 Kings 6:23). With their eyes now opened and their stomachs filled, the Aramean soldiers were sent home. What was the end result? Our text tells us, “So the bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory.” (2 Kings 6:23). They were “killed” with kindness.
Whenever we’re curious to see whether an account of the Bible is providing us with a general principle we should follow or simply giving another detail of a story, the easiest thing to do is to ask, “Does Jesus say anything about this?” After all, if he’s really true God and the One the Bible is about, his word is the final biblical authority on the matter.
In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addresses Jewish people who were inclined, both by law and by their natural instincts, to operate on the principle of “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.” In other words, if someone wrongs you, there must be justice enacted upon them that you rightly carry out. But much to the shock of the Jews, Jesus instead said, “I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well,” (Matt. 5:39-40) i.e. kill them with kindness.
The New Testament writers are consistent with this message as well. The Apostle Paul says, “Do not take revenge,my dear friends…On the contrary: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom. 12:19-21) The basic idea is that even if someone has indeed wronged you unjustifiably and they deserve retribution, you are incapable of exacting retribution on your own without falling into the same trap of evil. So let your holy, divine Lord bring any justice that is necessary.
Not only am I suggesting that killing with kindness is a biblical mandate, but I’m also suggesting that it’s actually a logically more effective move. Twentieth century leaders who remain revered today understood this – Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela. Other leaders, who led by manipulation or force, and were notorious for human rights abuses, guys like Hitler, Stalin, and Mao Zedong, are remembered as the bad guys.
Today, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that neither Democrats nor Republicans (including Tea Party conservatives) understand this. Our country has endured bipolar politics for a long time, but hardly with the vehemence and vitriol that we see today. No matter what your preferred news outlet implies, it’s reasonable to suggest that there are intelligent people in both parties. There are individuals who I believe sincerely care about the welfare of the people in our country in both parties. But there is, for now, no hope for closing any gap. And this is because, while the elected leaders are concerned about citizens, they have (or at least demonstrate) very little concern for their political “enemies.”
This was illustrated for me very clearly after the last presidential election. I flipped through the channels watching the analysts give their thoughts on why the dominoes fell as they did, leading to President Obama’s re-election. Even today, it does seem to be a bit of a head-scratcher that a guy who seemingly railroaded through a personal healthcare agenda, continuously raised the already enormous debt ceiling, hadn’t really turned an economy around in truly measurable ways, and who is the final voice of an organization revealed to have secret involvement in American private lives, something most Americans seem to be uncomfortable with, would be re-elected. By the way, I’m not saying how I personally feel about any of this, only that it sounds like a majority of America IS fairly uncomfortable with it and this would all add up to a seemingly un(re)electable candidate or one that you’d expect might have a low approval rating. But here we are. Why?
President Obama comes off as kind and likeable. Immediately following the election, on FOX News, I saw several older white gentlemen pontificating about “How are we going to get the Hispanic vote?” They reasoned that, ideologically, the Hispanic community would seem to fall more in line with Republican thought. Not being able to see into the hearts of humans, I obviously can’t say who sincerely cares about people and who does not. But I can say how that exchange came off – we want/need to use this segment of individuals in our country to win the next election. THAT is part of the problem. You can call it “unkindness” if you want, but if you lack genuine concern for fellow human beings, you will fail to win them over.
If you believe you hold the truth, to argue against someone with a condescending, bullying approach, it simply will not make them believe you more. It will actually make them want to believe you less. If your debate devolves to personal attack you’re only reaffirming in the other person’s mind that you are wrong. This is because there is a God-given print on our hearts that suggests to us real truth loves (1 John 2:9-11; 1 Cor. 13:1-3). Therefore if you demonstrate no humility, grace, or love, the subconscious assumption is that you cannot really hold the truth.
This principle of killing with kindness certainly isn’t new. Dale Carnegie wrote the textbook of social appropriateness and its benefits in the 1930s, How to Win Friends & Influence People. Nonetheless, Carnegie’s work is unabashedly and inherently manipulative. For his principles to work, it doesn’t matter if you genuinely care about people or not. So long as you mechanically apply his principles, you can produce results – primarily benefits for yourself. However, if you truly don’t care about people, your hypocrisy will eventually be exposed.
The Bible gives you something much more organically rooted then that, a self-replenishing fuel for showing kindness. It’s called grace – undeserved love. According to the Bible, Christians are the only ones who can fully embody this notion of grace. This is because humans are only capable of showing love to the degree that they are shown love (interestingly, this ability to show affection based on the affection you’ve been shown comes up also in research on Reactive Attachment Disorder as well as psychologist Harry Harlow’s work with isolated monkeys). In short, if your worldview is based on your performance – which every non-Christian religion suggests – then you will be consumed with yourself and either condescending or fearful of others – none of which is a recipe for kindness.
So how is Christianity different? It says your life is not about you. It’s about Jesus. The Bible teaches that Jesus died to pay for all of your willful and accidental mistakes. The times when you tried your best and failed as well as the times you failed to try, you fell short of the glory God designed for you. To some degree, we all know this. That’s why we try so hard to prove our value throughout our lives. But the Bible also teaches that God has given us infinite value through our redemption by Jesus. We, who should be enemies of God, have been shown kindness as were adopted into God’s family. Having been shown kindness, we are now moved to show kindness.
I challenge you. Find me a more powerful force for changing the world.
Are there ever occasions where the “killing with kindness” principle wouldn’t apply? Well, it depends, to some extent, on what your definition of kindness is. Does kindness always imply gentleness? Jesus certainly doesn’t demonstrate gentleness as he overturns the money changers’ tables at the Temple (John 2:14-15).
Rather, kindness is better defined by always putting the goodwill of another ahead of your own. That could take many forms.
Jesus lived every moment for our sake and finally died for our sake to bring us eternal paradise. You don’t have to worry about yourself anymore. This frees you to show concern for others. And just think: if you consistently show kindness, even to your enemies, what good might God bring through you?
In disagreement, the goal is not to win an argument. Your odds of bullying someone into seeing things your way are not good. The real goal for a Christian is to glorify God by pressing toward the truth in love (i.e. kindness). It just so happened that God also designed that method to be effective too.