Jesus Christ is not a cosmic Mr. Rogers. He didn’t come to Earth to preach shallow platitudes about “being nice” and “getting along.” Modern society has tried to make Him soft, boring, one dimensional, moderate. Any time I write something about Christianity, I always hear from the Cliffs Notes theologians who try their best to boil Scripture down to something easy and agreeable. Here’s part of a message someone sent me a while ago that perfectly encapsulates this New Age interpretation of the Bible:
“…People make Christianity more complicated than it needs to be. We just have to be nice to people, that’s it. Be nice to your neighbor and everything will be fine. That was Jesus’ whole point.”
No. Wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong. God didn’t send His only Son to suffer and die, all so that He could spread a flimsy message that an episode of Barney could effectively get across in 22 minutes. Sure, it’s nice to be nice to people. But is that the entire point of the universe? The Ultimate Truth is “niceness”, that’s it?
Synonyms: Affable, peachy, swell. That’s why Christ came? To tell us to be affable?
Being nice is fine. Serial killers can be nice to people. In fact, they generally are very nice, except when they’re murdering. But that means they’re nice to, like, 97 or 98 percent of everyone they meet. I guess that means they’re following Christ almost all of the time, right? We hear this in interviews with classmates and neighbors after a mass killer goes on a killing spree. They stand there, looking shell shocked, speaking in quivering voices about how the monster was such a “nice” guy. He’d wave to you and say good morning. He stayed out of your way. He was friendly. Friendliness is next to Godliness, isn’t that how the old saying goes? Notice, they never say he was wise, loving, just, righteous, moral, or courageous — they just say he was “nice.” Apparently, it would seem, you can be nice and evil at the exact same time.
Now, you can’t be evil and loving. You can’t be evil and moral. You can’t be evil and righteous. But you can be evil and nice. If you ask me where is the best place to buy some heroin, I could smile and point you down the dark alley across the street. I could even tell you to have a great afternoon as you walk away. That would be very pleasant; very nice. And when you overdose and die alone behind a dumpster, you can take solace in the fact that I nicely sent you to your own demise.
Here’s something that might scandalize anyone who adheres to this droopy, pliable, nice Christianity: Jesus wasn’t always the nicest guy. He certainly didn’t try to stay out of anyone’s way. I’ve read the Gospels many times and, as far as I can recall, never once did He come across sin and corruption, smile, shrug and say, “Well, you gotta do your own thing, man. Be yourself. YOLO.” That would have been the nicest way to handle it.
Jesus said He came with a sword to drive a wedge between families and friends. That’s not very nice. He drew the line between good and evil, and never once did He teach that we can battle the forces of Hell with kisses and cuddles. Famously, he assaulted the money changers in the temple and vandalized their property. Can you imagine what people would say if a Christian did that nowadays? “That’s just not appropriate! That’s no way to have a dialogue! We must be NICE!”
Some churches are so hung up on being inoffensive and nice that they forget to be right and true. I hear the same justification over and over again: “Well, we have to tone it down a little so we can attract more people.” Fine, but attract them for what, exactly? Why should people be Christian? Because Christianity is the Truth, right? So your brilliant strategy to bring people to the Truth is to stop being True? That’s like trying to get your scared 5 year old into the pool by draining it of all the water. Great, he’s in the pool, but now “the pool” is just a concrete hole in the ground.
Niceness, it turns out, is not the entire point of existence. If you had to sum up Christ’s message in one word, it wouldn’t be “nice”, and it wouldn’t be “friendly”, and it wouldn’t be “polite.” It would be “love.” Love. That’s the point. Jesus didn’t just preach love, He showed it. He demonstrated it. He died in agony, bleeding on a cross. There was nothing nice about it. But it was the greatest act of love in the history of the universe. Love isn’t always nice, but it is always sacrificial. It doesn’t possess or take or steal; it only gives. Love is not love if it isn’t true, moral, right, just and courageous. Love isn’t love if it doesn’t come from God. Nowadays we think we “love” someone if they make us feel good about ourselves. We think we love them if we just let them do whatever they want to do. We’ve perverted love into some sort of selfish amiability.
So, yes, love your neighbor. But that doesn’t always mean you’re going to be “nice” to him.