In my thinking I was never guilty of prejudice, at least not until after my mother and I went to Superstore. On the way home she said, “There were sure a lot of foreigners in that store.”
I’d not noticed that distinction, but my mom lived on a farm and scarcely ever saw anyone with colored skin. However, rather than adding to my claim that I was not prejudiced, I began thinking about it. Mom did have problems, not huge, but I could remember a few other things she said in years past and realized that I’d grown up with that “these people are foreign” example. In me, noticing skin color didn’t take, but something else in me needs fixing.
It popped out as I was reading James 2 this morning. The chapter begins with: “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”
We went to a fancy dinner this week at a posh hotel. As we drove into the parkade, the man ahead of us displayed a parking pass that looked like the one we were given for this dinner. However, this man was in dirty jeans, a baggy sweatshirt, and had not combed his hair for a while. I said, “I hope he isn’t coming to our dinner.”
Usually when I see someone who is visibly destitute, my first thoughts are negative, such as, They must have made some bad choices, or It is their own fault that they are in that predicament. I’m instantly aware that I’ve no compassion and try to muster it, but it isn’t flowing out of me naturally. I could make excuses, say I’m not gifted with compassion, or at least I’m not putting them down verbally, or I’m not noticing the color of their skin, but excuses do not impress God.
As I read on in James, verses 14-17 rebuke me: “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
This definition of what it means to trust the Lord means I need to dig deeper regarding my attitude and excuses. If faith will act when it sees poverty-stricken people, what is wrong with me? Could it be that I am afraid to do anything, afraid that my help won’t be enough, or appreciated, or that I don’t have what it takes? Or is it just stinky, old pride? Most likely. I have that “I’ve got it together (I hope)” attitude that looks down on those who by comparison make me feel good about myself. Regardless of my excuses, all of them are horrible and sinful.
Wishing someone well is a bit better than sticking my nose up, or looking the other way, but by God’s standards, both are evidence of dead faith. I can argue that my faith is real, that I do good things of a different sort and that proves that I trust Him, but I cannot argue with James’ example of what God looks for as proof. Faith is about all of life, not just the parts where trusting God is easier.
The Lord is my source; I can be generous and not worry that I will have enough. The Lord is merciful to me when I make stupid decisions; I can be merciful to others who do the same. In the Lord’s eyes, my sins are just as bad as the sins that land a person in poverty; I’ve no right to lift myself above anyone else. The Lord is sovereign; He controls who has prosperity and who does not.
All of this is logical, but I need more than logic—I need Him to forgive me, cleanse this foolishness from my heart, and produce in me a new way, His way, of thinking.