The above quote is one by Mahatma Gandhi that I have recently run across. It somehow resonated with me, so much so that I bought the bumper sticker! Now, I am not suggesting that we as Christians are expected to try to be just like Jesus. No one can live under such a weight of pressure and guilt. Neither am I defending Gandhi for his religious beliefs. But at the same time, we cannot simply dismiss someone with such an enormous impact for good . If we have integrity, we have to be willing to think hard about what he said about Christians. Phillip Yancey helped me see this in his book The Soul Survivor.
Listen to a story he retells in that book:
Gandhi and Reverend Andrews, a Presbyterian missionary, were walking together in South Africa. “The two suddenly find their way blocked by young thugs. Reverend Andrews takes one look at the menacing gangsters and decides to run for it. Gandhi stops him. ‘Doesn’t the New Testament say if an enemy strikes you on the right cheek you should offer him the left?’ Andrews mumbles that he thought the phrase was used metaphorically. ‘I’m not so sure,’ Gandhi replies. ‘I suspect he meant you must show courage – be willing to take a blow, several blows, to show you will not strike back nor will you be turned aside. And when you do that it calls on something in human nature, something that makes his hatred decrease and his respect increase. I think Christ grasped that and I have seen it work.’”
This active nonviolence that Gandhi preached and practiced brought freedom to the millions of Indians previoiusly called Untouchables. He began by giving them a new name. Rather than Untouchables, he called them Harijans, or Children of God. He called them brothers and stayed in their homes as much as possible. This was radical because others would not be seen with them and would not dare touch them much less talk to them and fellowship with them. One hundred million people in India now call themselves by a blessing rather than a curse because of the courage of this man. He believed in the dignity of each person, women, lepers, lower caste members, children. The Scriptures make clear that the poor and needy are close to the heart of God, and they were close to Gandhi’s heart as well. Whatever you think about his religious beliefs, and no matter how much you or I may disagree with his beloved religion of hinduism, he shows us a beautiful picture in a human life lived in humility, peace, and courageous love.
Okay, so why am I writing about Gandhi and asking us to contemplate what he said about “our Christ and our Christians?”
Because I am grieved that we are not showing forth the heart of Christ. I am grieved that someone like Gandhi could like Christ but not see his likeness in those called by his name. I am grieved that when Jesus walked this earth, sinners flocked to him as a safe place, and while they still do so today, often the church is not that place at all. I am grieved that this quote from Gandhi too often reflects the true sentiments of multitudes of people today.
I know there are no perfect churches. My dad often jokes that if you find a perfect church, don’t let him join it because it won’t be perfect anymore! (I’m right there with you, dad.) So I’m not talking about trying harder to be and act and “just do” what Jesus did.
But I am talking about humbling ourselves before him and asking him to search our hearts, and to show us ourselves and the real Jesus with spiritual eyes. I am also talking about asking him to make us attractive to “sinners”, for us to be people who “join the rest of the human race.” To become one follower of Christ that gives someone somewhere a taste of the heart of God.
Rather than try harder to be like Christ, we need the real Christ to show himself in our lives, and that begins with brokenness. Letting others see the real us. Letting him shine through the broken places. Stopping the show of perfection, because it repells those outside the church. (and a lot of those within the church as well!) Where did we get the idea that we have to “set a good example” anyway? That usually ends in superficiality at best and hypocrisy at worst. Let us admit that we fall short, that yes, the church has failed, that we often don’t show his love. This type of honesty may be just what it takes to begin to draw others to the perfection of Christ, through our admission of our own imperfection.
In Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller tells a story of a few Christian friends building a “confessional booth” on their college campus on the biggest party night of the year. As people would stroll by, they would begin to talk to them, and instead of encouraging the “sinners” and “party-ers” to confess their sins, the Christians would confess their own failings and apologize to them for the actions of the church over history and even in current events. It was an interesting and powerful twist, and they made a few friends that night.
So, if anyone is still reading who likes the idea of Christ but can’t stand the Christians you have met or the ones you’ve heard about, please hear my heartfelt apology. Many claim the name of Christ but do not really follow him. And those of us who really know him, we screw up all the time in showing his love and acceptance and forgiveness.
But he is “gentle and humble in heart.” And if you are weary, like I am, hear his invitation, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and you will find rest for your souls.”
This is the only hope I have. Life has beat me up too much to still believe that I can get my act together and that everyone else should too. If Christ doesn’t offer hope for real people in the real world with real problems, we should all chuck him and just try to have a good time.
But he does.
He has done so for me. Again and again. And I still need him as much as the first day I met him. And though I forget him, run from him, rage at him at times, question his plans, and fail to love like he does, he is ALWAYS a safe haven of rest to my weary soul. And even if you don’t like the Christians you know or know of, I think you would really like this Christ!
I would love to hear your comments, agree or not.