Thursday, August 18, 2011

Now Play Nice

FROM THE ARCHIVE: Every Thought Captive, Vol 6, Issue 4

Now Play Nice

It is bad enough that we are such suckers for the bait and switch. The devil has been playing this gag on us for millennia. We should have learned by now. When the angel comes along and says, “You know, God is love. And what He wants you to do is to love one another,” the devil doesn’t show up on the other shoulder and say, “Love, ah, that’s for fools. What you really need to do is some good hating.” He’s not that dumb. Instead he shows up on our shoulder and says, “Of course, I want nothing more than for you to love everyone. Love is my favorite thing as well. Why, just the other day I was composing a haiku about love. Let’s see here, how did that go? Love one another; If your lover is not there, love the one you’re with.” He fills God’s words with his meanings, and, because we miss the switch, we end up tied in knots.

What is worse, however, is that he sometimes comes along and actually gets us to substitute a whole different word for the good one. He switches not just the meaning, but the word itself. Nice, though Franklin Sanders rightly calls it the cardinal evangelical virtue, is not, I’m afraid, a command from the Bible. God never said, “Whatever else you do, be nice.” Instead it is a command from the culture. (It was Kurt Vonnegut who put into God’s mouth these words, “But da#$^it, you’ve got to be kind.” And like love, it is a command we have allowed the devil to define.

There is only one thing required to be nice, and only one sin against niceness in the culture. You certainly never have to go out of your way and be a neighbor to anyone. You never have to make personal sacrifices of any sort. All you have to do is repeat the mantra of the age, “If that’s the way you see it, that’s fine.” See how non-threatening that is? It allows both of us to keep our pride, to keep our convictions, to keep our sins. And it costs so little. In short, to be nice is always and only to embrace relativism. Once you’ve swallowed this one, nothing else will ever get caught in your throat.

Actually though, you’re only half the way home. You have to study the other half of the nice rulebook, the side they only talk about when they have to. You see, there is one thing that still must stick in your craw. That, of course, is when some blamed fool refuses to play nice, to abide by the rules. When someone says, “It doesn’t matter how I see it, or how you see it, or how a billion Chinese see it. What matters is how God sees it, because He is the one who determines reality. Our job is to get our own perceptions in line with His, which are of necessity true. And all perceptions which do not match His are of necessity false”, you are not nice if you respond with a polite, “If that’s the way you see it, that’s fine.” Here, according to the devil, and he ought to know, the correct, and only nice response is, “Crucify him.”

If you can call all those who don’t abide by the nice rules of relativism mullahs, and terrorists and Nazis and threats to our way of life and fanatics who must be hunted down like rabid dogs, then you earn that most coveted of sobriquets, “Nice.” It’s not enough to be relatively relativist. You must be absolutely relativist. It’s not enough to have some humility about your or my convictions. You must arrogantly assume that all convictions, by their very nature, must be false. As a nice relativist you must be absolutely certain that any and all absolutists must be stopped, no matter what the cost. Otherwise you may as well be a fellow-traveler with those who just aren’t nice.

It’s important for us to remember this the next time we feel the sting of the accusation that we somehow aren’t nice. The answer isn’t to protest, to get out our relativist credentials, and show how up to date they are. Our response the next time some syndicated columnist tries to connect the dots between us and Osama is to say, “If the objection is that both of us affirm objective truth, objective right and wrong, we’re flat guilty.” If the reason Islam is hated is not because it is false, but because it simply claims to be true, we ought to be in a panic that we as Christians aren’t the most hated group on the planet. If the powers that be insist on hanging all those who reject relativism, then our calling is to charge the gallows, not to tear them down, but to place our own necks in the noose of the not nice.

We can’t play nice with those who define niceness this way. We cannot keep both their rules, and the rules of Him whom we say we serve. When Jesus said, “If you confess me before men…” He didn’t mean standing up at some flag pole and saying, “This is what Jesus means to me…” When Jesus said, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake”, He didn’t mean that we should do everything we can do to change their word, nice, into one that we can affirm, and act upon. He didn’t mean that we should tone down His exclusive claims so that we can wear our nice pins to the nice meetings. He meant we will be blessed when they throw us out.

If we will serve Him our goal ought never to be that when we are gone they say of us, “You know, that so and so sure was nice.” The epitaph we should seek for our grave marker should be Faithful. Instead what needs to be buried is the virtue they call nice, that the name of Christ might live on in the west.

By R.C. Sproul Jr.

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