The Foolishness of Kindness

I really, really, REALLY dislike politics. I dislike the election season even more. Although I appreciate the need for elections and politicians, I do not appreciate the incivility they arouse in Americans. So much of it is disappointing, and I often find myself tempted to become cynical.

Which is why, as the election season gears up, I want to offer a brief reflection on the importance of kindness. Although kindness is a fruit of the spirit (Gal. 5:22) it doesn’t get much attention. It’s one of those vanilla fruits that we all assume we’re supposed to reflect but we don’t give much thought to. Of course we’re supposed to be kind. Now let’s get to the more interesting stuff like Calvinism!

To me, kindness seems like a rather bland topic, but lately God has been teaching me how truly important yet difficult it is. It requires  a kind of inner fortitude that we Christians rarely praise because I don’t think we recognize it.

You see for me, the reason that kindness is difficult is not because other people are mean and I don’t like being nice to mean people. My desire to be liked can easily overcome that obstacle. Instead, kindness is difficult because I don’t like it when people think I’m stupid.

Merriam-Webster defines “kind” as “loving, gentle, sympathetic, and helpful.” And while those adjectives all sound great in theory, they often require us to look foolish when our pride urges reprisal. Rather than launch a verbal assault on the person who insulted me or spoke condescendingly to me, I am called to respond gently, sincerely, and kindly–a response that, to many people, indicates an inability to respond with equal competence and strength.

Sometimes I think the world looks at Christians with our persistent smiles and insistence on hope and joy, and they assume we don’t know any better. We have brainwashed ourselves, or we are too sheltered from the world, or we simply don’t know how to engage in the rhetorical sparring of higher minds. In short, kindness is interpreted as stupidity. We are simpletons. And that is what challenges me most about kindness.

Of course, being kind does not mean being silent. We can engage in public discourse and articulate our thoughts in both eloquent and kind ways. But following the gospel also means “turning the other cheek” upon being slapped, and “if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.” (Matt. 5:39-40) It is a radical kindness that looks like weakness but is actually strength.

Kindness requires perseverance in the face of no appreciation. Kindness is, for that reason, not for the faint of heart. It emanates from a type of strength that the world does not always recognize, and often interprets as foolishness.

We see this truth no more clearly than on the cross. Jesus could have leaped from that cross and silenced his executioners in a moment, using both verbal prowess and supernatural strength. He could have behaved like the worldly king they challenged him to be. Instead, he chose to look foolish for the redemption of the world.

Whether you find yourself engaged in political discussions, dealing with an inconsiderate co-worker, doing life with your family, or faced with a less-than-attentive waiter, remember the strength and power of kindness. To the world it may seem that we just don’t know any better, or that we are too dumb to know we are being insulted. But those opinions appeal solely to personal ego. The only opinion that matters is God’s, and the fruit of His Holy Spirit is kindness.