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The NICE Christian
The nice Christian is an odd creature. They are not the final aim of the Christian life; they are squishy and unreliable for starters, and care more about cultural sensitivity than they do about the truth. First, the adjective ‘nice’ is not a flattering term. “He’s a nice boy” or “she’s a nice girl” has a childish aspect to it. Second, in my 25+ years of being a Christian, I don’t recall a pastor ever referring to Saint Paul as “a nice guy.” In fact, most of the time it was quite the opposite. I also don’t remember anyone referring to Jesus as “nice” — “Jesus is a nice man” is another odd descriptor, especially for a man who flipped tables in the synagogue, conquered death, and whose return will be with a tattoo on his thigh and eyes of fire. It’s not that one ought not call a Christian “nice”, it just seems a bit childish for our religious adherents to be characterized by a such a weak term when our Savior and saints before us don’t fit the description. Maybe this is why C. S. Lewis’ evil corporation in That Hideous Strength donned the acronym N.I.C.E.--because of its allure to squishy Christians who find their faith affirmed by the affirmation of the world, rather than their exile from it.
There is a passage I read some time ago in the Psalms. It struck me the moment I read it: “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints.” (Ps. 116:15). This does not mean that God is excited about the death of his saints, but that their death and suffering are not meaningless to him; there is value in suffering as one of his own.
But are these saints “nice”? I’m not sure, but certainly we can ascribe “kindness” to a Christian. Kindness is one of the fruits of the Spirit, and it is not a word that conveys weakness or childishness. It is an intentional act of love, not romantic, that wills itself to care for a person, whether they are in need or not. Where there is strength of character in a person we use the term “kind.” When there is an innocence coupled with weakness, we have a child. The child has yet to become a man or woman whose commanding presence is marked by strength or beauty respectively – e.g., we call soldiers and leaders kind, but children we call nice.
I have not heard many pastors preach on Ps. 116:15. Growing up in mostly topical or exegetical sermon culture caused the Psalms to take a back seat to the 5-year sermon series in the book of Jude. But this Psalm found its way back into to my devotions right before our first Solomon’s Corner Seminar: Ye Shall Be as Gods. I contemplated this verse for several days as I prepared to speak on the bleak transhumanist future predicted by Harari that has been affirmed by my own experience as a software developer. How do we “nice” Christians prepare for the coming anti-Christian storm? As the horizon darkens, the cultural pressure will increase on Christian organizations and institutions. Will the “nice” Christian be able to survive this pressure? No. He will have to become something different. He will have to become a light in his community, someone unmovable, willing to offend and even be wounded for the Christ he follows and the moral values he promotes. In doing so, his “nice” will die. The pressure will forge a Christian, not loved, but respected; A Christian not “nice”, but kind.
Russians are notorious for being anything but nice. When you read Dostoyevsky or Solzhenitsyn, you don’t get a lot of “nice” from their pages. Yet, moments of kindness shine through, and this kindness contrasted between the dark souls in their country is potent. In The First Circle, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, contains such an encounter. It is chapter 25 “The Church of Nikita the Martyr”. A beautiful Christian girl named Agnia is mourning the coming destruction of her churches by the Soviets, while her lover, a communist aiming for a military career, downplays her fears and foreshadowing. She continues to spend the afternoon with this man. They talk and discuss their love, but she keeps bringing it back to the churches. This provokes an argument. She endures his criticisms and gaslighting with a somber and kind grace. She is not nice, and he is definitely not kind. In this instance, beauty trumps strength. She was a woman, and he was man acting like a boy. Her beauty, which he rejects as the debate prolongs, is intensified, not because she was nice, but because she was kind; she was out of his league, but she entertained his debate anyway; in the end, her death sealed her predictions and he became the monster he denied he would become.
How do we become kind? We must meditate on the simple truth that “Christ’s burden is light.” It is light, but a burden nonetheless. Jordan Peterson characterizes the human experience as mostly suffering; I’m beginning to see his point. He seems to be echoing a theme found throughout the Bible. Israel is a constant pendulum swinging between blessings and curses. Often, the curses affect the children who will never taste the national blessings of their parents. But Peterson is only half right. Yes, suffering is part of the human experience, and it is necessary to the Christian life (Phil. 3:10; Jm. 1:12; 2 Tim. 3:12; Jn. 16:33; Rm. 5:3), but it is in suffering that kindness can blossom:
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. (1 Pet. 4:8-10)
Life is suffering, but suffering also produces life. Have you ever had a “light burden”? What is it anyway? Burdens are inherently heavy; whoever stops to take a “free burden”, let alone offer them to people like kids at a lemonade stand? What is a “light burden”?
It’s a burden that is worth carrying. It’s a burden that makes your footing sure because the weight gives you more traction with which to reach your destination. It is here that Peterson gives us the first part of the paradox; life is suffering, but suffering gives life. This is true because Suffering has a different name, Jesus Christ. At the center of this paradox, we find the life of a Christian completed; we find ourselves in the heart of Christ. But we can’t get there without a little suffering and a little kindness. Viktor Frankl said that suffering is a gift; not something to be pursued, but something to be received; not something you do to yourself, but something you’re ordained to endure. It is in this light we are talking of suffering, not in the soteriological or salvific sense. Suffering does not produce salvation, but it certainly seems to confirm your adoption.
In the coming days we may find ourselves, in the words of Saint Paul, “…perplexed, but not driven to despair…” (2 Cor. 4:8). Yet, this suffering will give us the life God intended, and in that suffering, should the certainty of death manifest itself, we must remember that our lives and our death, are precious to Him.