When did it get to be OK to be mean?

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” (Isaiah 5:20, NIV)

“Values are faithfully applied to the facts before us, while ideology overrides whatever facts call theory into question.” (Anonymous)

Isaiah warns the Israelites against unethical behavior. Persons who twist their situation to their own advantage are those who mistake ideology for values. The other quote above attempts to show the difference between real values and ideologies. I am reminded of the Church that rejected the teachings of Galileo when they threatened the established theories of the Church. Clearly the Church was mistaken, but their ideology won out over the facts presented. Galileo’s fate might have been different if the Church had sought to discern the value of God’s Creation rather than the self-serving ideology the Church had created.

I am deeply troubled by the mean spirit that seems so prevalent in our culture. It doesn’t seem to make much difference if we are talking politics or sports; religion or patriotism; poverty or war; the conversations have taken a turn for the mean-spirited and intolerant. We seem to be far less interested in another’s point of view than we are in being right and winning every argument. We seem much less concerned about what is good for the community or the country than we are concerned about what’s good for me and what makes me happy. We are more about winning at all cost than we are about playing fair and letting the best person win the day. We are, in general, a mean and self-centered bunch of people in today’s world.

Isaiah wrote during a time when the people believed that God was active in their everyday life; God is still active today in our lives. Isaiah wrote to people in the midst of trouble and unrest in the political and social circumstances in which they lived. We continue to face difficult political and social circumstances in our time. Isaiah warned that trouble the people faced was a symptom of the troubled relationship they had with God. I believe we can see the same warning today. The unrest in our political and social environments is a symptom of the trouble in our relationship with God. We have stopped listening to the lessons God is teaching and we pay too much attention to the lessons our culture shoves down our throats. This, I believe, is the real difference between values and ideology. God offers us a set of values that, if applied to our lives, will lead us to a close personal relationship with God and ultimately to our eternal life in God’s presence. Ideology, on the other hand, leads down a path to destruction and eternal separation from God.

Being in a right relationship with God means being in right relationships with other human beings and with ourselves. It means naming good as good and evil as evil. It means leaving the darkness to walk in the light. It means faithfully applying our true moral values to every decision we make and really trying to discern what God wants us to do in every situation we face. It means rejecting extreme ideologies that cause us to ignore the opinions of others and demonize those who disagree with us. It means recognizing that we do not have all the answers and we need the help of our fellow human beings and God. It means admitting that we frequently make mistakes, act with bad judgment, and always need the grace and mercy of God to pick us up when we fail.

Ideologies cause us to forget that the answer to almost every question lies somewhere in the middle, between the two extremes. Finding ways to live with one another in the midst of our sin and need for forgiveness is what binds us together as children of God and helps us to build God’s kingdom. Values lead us to love one another, care for one another, and lift one another up when we fall. Values lead us to follow the path Jesus blazed for us. Values help us to realize that, even though we fall short of the glory of God, God values all of us as His good creation. Amen.

God bless,
Pastor Don

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