This past Thanksgiving morning, some families in my church gathered to run a 5k on one of our country roads. We meant to get a little bit of energizing fellowship in before a day of feasting and lying around, and this goal was absolutely met.
But this morning illustrated a growing tendency in my heart that has dismayed and confused me for some months now. On the way to the race, my husband and I were chatting and laughing, happy in the anticipation of Thanksgiving festivities and invigorated by the thought of hitting the road with our stroller baby in tow.
“I’m planning to walk most of it,” I said. “I only hope some of the others will be walking. I don’t want to be left behind.”
My exact next thought was startling:
“But,” I laughed, “if anybody’s walking too slow I’m certainly not going to wait around for them.”
“Wow,” said my husband.
“I think I’m a Darwinist,” I said.
And that’s exactly what it sounded like. Survival of the fittest. No crying over spilt chromosomes.
During the hours of driving that followed over the holiday week, I couldn’t get this thought out of my mind. The analogy was too clear. This conversation reminded me too strongly of its spiritual counterpart: my attitude towards specific people in my life. Am I a Christian Darwinist?
No, this blog post is not about age of earth issues. Sorry.
Here are some of the hallmarks of a Christian Darwinist:
1. A Christian Darwinist is preoccupied with “calling sin like it is,” but his mercy-muscles are weak.
Christians are rightly troubled by the trend in our culture to eschew scripture in favor of “freedom.” We are heart-broken to see sin treated so casually, even by other people who bear the name of Christ. Many of us have made it our business, as Christians, to speak uncomfortable truth about what is black and what is white. Some of us have grown accustomed to using social media as our platform to speak out, and some of us are just sitting around our own dinner tables, reminding each other not to feel embarrassed that we believe age-old orthodoxy. We spend a lot of energy learning how to defend our positions in the culture at large.
Then, in a separate battle, we experience the surprise and hurt that is inevitable when family and friends fall into life-altering sin. We try to make sense of what we see in their lives. How could they… …be so confused? …do that? …forget what they knew? …hurt themselves? …hide? …flaunt? …justify?
And so we beef up our “calling sin like it is” muscles again. Here’s the verse. Here it is. And here. And here.
The problem is that the Christian Darwinist simply stops there. This is his felt responsibility—he upholds the front lines. That’s it. He has no practice in feeling pain with the sinner. He has no experience in meeting the sinner in the dark places. All of his energy is spent in ‘tough love’, and he forgets about empathy, mercy, and the bright hopefulness of the gospel itself.
The C.D. has taken his stand with the older brother in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. Instead of training his eyes to look at the prodigal with the eyes of the Father, he has trained them to look at the prodigal only long enough to describe his sin with precision.
Can we describe the repentance and grace available to the prodigal with the same precision? Are we strong enough to go that far with him, or have our mercy muscles atrophied from lack of use?
2. The Christian Darwinist does not know how to hope all things.
The problem is people. We’ve seen them do such awful things. They have failed us so many times. When we expect the worst from them, we are so often proven right. We forget one of the basic things Paul tells us about love:
“Love… does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” –1 Cor 13:6-7
A C.D. has become so ready for wrongdoing to strike, and so ready to strike back with words of (valid) condemnation, that she ends up in dangerous territory. Have we actually begun to rejoice at the wrongdoing? Is it giving us something to say, something that makes us just a little bit glad?
Or are we speaking in pain, remembering how often we are still in the wretched position of the sinner? Are we remembering the Christ who set us free, and the Father who continually, with each of us, “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”?
3. The Christian Darwinist is not interested in covering a multitude of sins.
1 Peter 4:8: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
The Christian Darwinist is ready to move on with his own sanctification, and has no time for the person who isn’t getting with the program. After all, he’s strong! Maybe the weak sinner deserves to be left behind. The C.D.’s operative position is that he received grace back in the day, he learned from their mistakes, and he moved on. And sin doesn’t need to be covered over—it needs to be called out and repented of, in public if at all possible.
This is a caricature—even I in my C.D. habits would always have told you that only public or unrepentant sin need be addressed publicly. I can painstakingly take you through the passages on church discipline, the passages on sanctification. I know how to qualify every position. But I am still willing to talk about someone else’s sin—just in semi-private conversation in someone’s living room. I’m willing to talk about it as a prayer request. I’m willing to talk about it in hushed tones of sorrow.
Is there a time for confrontation? Is there a time for making your policies known and condemning sin that is masquerading as righteousness? Yes.
But the trigger finger of the Christian needs to be resting firmly on discretion. We need to remember that our tongues are always going to be hungry to say more (James 3:1-10), but that we need to “let no corrupting talk come out of [our] mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear (Eph. 4:29).”
And we should be prepared to condemn the unspoken attitude that is behind our loose talk: talking freely about somebody’s sexual sin can’t possibly be as bad as what they’re doing.
And we should remember, with every disclosure and every wasted comment, the command of our Lord: “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them (Luke 6:31).” How do we want our sin treated? Don’t we all want a kind, direct, private word—giving us the chance to repent? Don’t we want gentle hands dressing down our open wounds?
4. The Christian Darwinist doesn’t recognize the difference between enabling and helping.
An enabler looks at sin and attempts to solve the problem by pretending it doesn’t exist. Far from being willing to speak hard truth, she prefers to embrace subjectivism. The enabler essentially says, “there is no difference between a lame deer and a deer who can run like the wind.”
The Christian Darwinist, rightly disgusted with this attitude, says, “Nope. That deer is lame. Can’t you see this deer is lame? Don’t try to tell me this deer isn’t lame; I know a lame deer when I see one.”
And no one could help a lame deer without first acknowledging that it is lame, that it would be much better for the deer to be able to run like the wind. But this would only constitute the first step in the process of helping the deer.
To the ears of the C.D., the kindness of the helper sounds a little too similar in tone to the lies of the enabler. Instead, the C.D. decides to let the deer know she is lame, and then leave the deer there until she is motivated enough to stop being lame. If the deer doesn’t get better, the C.D. decides, then it was just a natural selection process. The deer will die, regrettably, but no one can say she wasn’t warned.
She forgets that helping a lame deer requires a good deal more than calling it like it is.