I once heard my seminary preaching professor, John Holbert, say, “There’s no such thing as a cynical Christian.” That claim has really stuck with me over the years because I do consider myself a Christian, and yet if I’m honest I know I can be pretty cynical, too. At one level, I believe that Holbert was right, but then I turn on the news….
Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung has a new and very interesting book out called Vainglory: The Forgotten Vice (Eerdmans, 2014). She discusses the role that human community plays in the affirmation of others and human flourishing. “Good human community requires attentiveness to and affirmation of others. That’s true of parenting, friendship, mentoring, and our relationship with larger groups…. In short, when communities offer their members the right sorts of mutual attentiveness and affirmation, people flourish” (22). She then goes on to discuss the negative consequences of the absence of this type of community:
For evidence, we need look no further than the damage done to those people who do not have this good. When they are invisible or ignored, or when their real goodness is denied or devalued by others, they are hurt. Neglected children show us this painful condition, and so do lives marred by sexist or racist treatment, or even abuse. Something good in them has not been seen, not been acknowledged, not been valued and appreciated as good. Missing is glory for the goodness they have–a glory none of us can live well without.
Initially I began to think about these words with regard to the way in which we often regard and treat people with disabilities, both in the church and in the wider culture. But of course these matters extend to any of the ways in which one individual mistreats another, or one group of people mistreats another. As we work through extremely difficult issues related to race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability, and other things that set us apart, Christians should bear in mind our core doctrine that behind all these differences is a common God-given humanity. When we regard and act toward one another in ways that demean one another or relegate others only to particular characteristics (such as race or disability status), we deny God’s very handiwork.