Yesterday I wrote about how it’s hard to be human. It’s hard, because it’s so easy to screw it up. It’s easy to screw it up, because we’re so complex and so amazing. And we’re complex and amazing because we’re made in the image and likeness of God, and so we are very much like him.
Our persons inherit a lot of our human qualities from God. We have free, and powerful minds. We have free, and powerful wills. We have a diversity of emotions. We have likes and dislikes and ambition. We can love. We can create. We can create out of love, and love what is created. The list goes on.
These characteristics are so normal to our experience as human beings that we tend to reduce them to the insignificant. But they are not insignificant. These traits make us very unique, amazing, and very complex. So, with all of these gifts in our persons, it’s easy to screw up putting them to use. The capacity for pleasure that causes us to be moved by a good song is the same capacity that can result greed and selfishness or addiction. The sexual faculty that is designed by God and meant to be enjoyed between a man and his wife is the same faculty that can result in lust. Our emotions can compel us to do good things, but when our emotions are not controlled they can also compel us to do terrible things. Get the idea?
How do we not “screw up” being a human being? How do we live lives that are rich, joyful, good, and in the fullness of God’s will for us, and his design of our persons?
Be like Jesus!
Jesus lived life on earth as a human, just like we do. So modeling ourselves after his example is an effective way to master our persons, and master our being. Let’s go through some examples based on some ethics we live out in our lives today.
Tolerance vs. Patience
This may shock some people, but Jesus was not tolerant. He was patient, and that isn’t the same thing. Jesus would meet people where they were in their lives, but he didn’t leave them there. He called them to something greater. He called them to goodness, to virtue, and to God. Let’s look at his encounter with the woman caught in adultery.
John 8:4 “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery.5 The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”…7 They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” …9 When the accusers heard this, they departed one by one…10 Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” 11 “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”
Jesus was not saying “It’s ok that you sin. I don’t like it, but I understand”. No! Jesus told her to “go [therefor] and sin no more”. It’s good to be patient with the shortcomings of others, whether it’s their sinfulness, their rudeness, or whatever else their shortcoming may be. Patience is good. But, like Jesus, we should gently nudge people in the direction of goodness and rightness and correctness. That’s true about ourselves, too! We can be patient with our own shortcomings. But we when we become aware of our own shortcomings, we have to push ourselves toward a better standard. Jesus would not leave you where you are. He’d meet you there, and then lead you to something better. Be like Jesus. Be patient, but don’t be morally indifferent.
Mercy and Justice.
God is merciful, but he is also just. Had the woman caught in adultery told Jesus “Sin no more? But I can’t help it. This is how I am. Don’t tell me what to do” his response might have been something like this:
Matthew 13:49 ‘at the end of the world the angels shall go out, and shall separate the wicked from among the just.50 And shall cast [the wicked] into the furnace of fire where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
God (Jesus) is merciful, but he is also just. I find that mercy flows liberally from God. I see it all over the Old Testament, and of course in the New Testament. God is very eager to give mercy, to make His mercy accessible, and to give it in abundance, if only we would ask for it, and repent of our wrongdoing. But his eagerness to give mercy doesn’t mean he doesn’t take his laws seriously.
So how can you be like Jesus where this is concerned? Be merciful to others. Be eager to be merciful to others. Sometimes we tend to favor the “justice” more than the “mercy”. We’re reluctant to forgive. We’re reluctant to alleviate the suffering of others (physical or mental or emotional). We’re reluctant to let go of old gripes. We stand on the justice, rather than on the mercy. But Jesus doesn’t do that. He’s very eager to be merciful, while also taking the truth seriously. Being forgiving and merciful to others doesn’t mean we have to be pushovers, or that we have to ignore what we know to be true and right. But we should be more eager to give mercy than to render justice. It’s a tough balance to strike. Read the Gospels to see how Jesus does it. Then be more like him.
Anger and Patience
Forget what you may have heard about Jesus. The guy wasn’t a Teddy Bear, full of fluff and stuff. He can be offended. And, like all humans, he can get angry. More correctly, he can have and express righteous anger.
John 2:14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!”
Seriously, how angry do you have to be to spend time fashioning a whip out of cords? He didn’t just pull a whip from behind a table somewhere, he took the time to fashion one!
Anger isn’t necessarily a bad emotion. It depends on what you do with it. Righteous anger often moves us to positive action. It’s okay to get angry sometimes, as long as your anger is righteous, and controlled and results in something positive rather than negative. Another way to think of anger is in terms of passion or zeal. As the scripture says, when Jesus’ disciples witnessed this cleansing of the temple they recalled that it was written “zeal for your house will consume me”. Don’t be a dead fish. Jesus wasn’t. Don’t you be either. Be alive and have passion. Have zeal. Anger is an extension of passion and zeal, if it’s righteous and ordered correctly.
We all know the other side of that coin. Unrighteous anger, or anger that consumes the person, or those around him is not a good thing at all. So exercise the virtue of temperance. As I said, anger moves us to positive action. When anger moves us to negative reaction, it’s not a good thing. When anger is based on our zeal or passion, it becomes something that moves us to right a great wrong, rather than about making people suffer under the fire of our rage in order for us to feel better about what we’re angry about.
So don’t stifle that fire in your heart when it arrises. Be like Jesus. Be passionate or zealous about truth and justice and goodness, and don’t be shy about getting a little righteously angry when those things are greatly assaulted. And then do something positive about it. Let that fire drive you as furnace, not burn you up, or those around you, like an inferno.
I have some other examples of how Jesus shows us how to be human, but I’ll save them for later posts. The important thing to take from this is Jesus is a true human, and he shows us that it’s possible to live in the full truth and integrity of God’s design of who we are as human beings, and as individuals. If you want to be a good man, or a good woman, model yourself after Jesus. Be like Jesus.
Ave Maria, virgo fidelis!