Sunday, April 3, 2011

Is Your Christ a Cruel Tyrant?

Sometime around 1769, the Quaker John Woolman fell ill and nearly died. He related later in his journal that for several hours he was so near death that he no longer even knew who he was. He was only aware that he was a part of the gray mass that is the misery of humankind. But then he heard what he thought must be "an holy angel" saying to him, "John Woolman is dead." Then, remembering that he was John Woolman, and recognizing that he was still alive, he was...
"...carried in spirit to the mines where poor oppressed people were digging rich treasures for those called Christians, and heard them blaspheme the name of Christ, at which I was grieved, for his name to me was precious. I was then informed that these heathens were told that those who oppressed them were the followers of Christ, and they said among themselves, 'If Christ directed them to use us in this sort, then Christ is a cruel tyrant.'" 
As Woolman began to recover and as he lay still weak, these words came to his mind: "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. And the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." And he realized the "death of John Woolman" the voice spoke of during his illness was referring to the death of his self-will.  He lived his life thereafter ever more careful not to partake of luxuries or behaviors that caused, depended upon, or perpetuated the suffering of others - to live so as never to portray Christ as a tyrant. 

Fellow Christian, is your Christ a cruel oppressor? Does He advance His kingdom by force or maintain it by dread? Is His heart hardened to the weakness, sin, and sufferings of others? Or is Christ compassionate and seeking to bear their burdens? Is He forgiving, even of His enemies, even to the point of death? How we live our lives - our words, our deeds, our demeanor, our attitudes, our priorities, even our possessions - reflects what we really believe about Christ. How we treat the weakest, most vulnerable, most dependent among us - the alien, the woman, the widow, the impoverished, the child - reflects to them and every watching eye what we really believe about Christ. The painful truth is that sometimes Christ really is blasphemed because of us.

May God grant us repentance.