Christians, Hypocrisy, and the Kingdom of God
In conversations that I have had over the years with those who are not Christian or who might call themselves disengaged or disillusioned Christians, the subject of hypocrisy often arises.
How can Christians say they believe what Jesus taught if they fail to live it? To be more specific, how can you read the Sermon on the Mount but still support war and violence? How can you claim to believe in forgiveness but hold onto grudges and resentments forever? How can you love your neighbor but judge those who are different? How can you care for the poor but never do anything to help them? How can you say the church is important but then never show up or support it?
These are all fair and valid questions. These are questions that people of faith must take on and discuss. Christian hypocrisy does exist, and it’s not new. However, what matters is not if we fall short, but whether or not we are always trying to do better.
Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom of God, a way of living that is not easy or convenient. In this Kingdom, the last will be first, the peacemakers are blessed, and the other cheek is turned. In this kingdom, we are called to forgive over and over, love enemies, not worship money, pray regularly, stop worrying, and treat others the way we want to be treated. That’s a high bar. The kingdom of God is an ideal that Christians should strive to bring to earth. It’s anything but easy.
In his book on the Sermon on the Mount, Franciscan priest Richard Rohr says, “The temptation of all Churches is to think they are a gathering of the saved, the born-again elite ones, on the right side of the eternal border.”
Churches should be places where everybody is welcome because nobody is perfect. Does that mean that standards don’t exist? Of course not. But the ideals are so high that we all fall short in our own way. To some degree, we are all hypocrites but we keep trying again and again.
Rohr says that if you meet a Kingdom person, you’ll know it. “They are surrendered people. You sense that life is OK at their core. They have given control to Another and are at peace. A Kingdom person lives for what matters, for life in its deepest sense. There is a kind of gentle absolutism about their lifestyle, a kind of calm freedom.”
Kingdom people recognize their spiritual shortcomings, are humble, hunger for righteousness, show mercy, and are pure in heart. When it comes to the Kingdom of God, motive always matters and so does telling the truth. Kingdom people are always striving to do better. Perhaps most importantly, Kingdom people have come to terms with issues of power and control. Control freaks will always struggle in seeking the kingdom of God.
Must we simply become complacent, passive, and victims to life’s circumstances? Not necessarily. But as long as we are trying to control everything, inner peace will be a serious challenge. Jesus offers a healthy prescription for a world based on money and power, greed and selfishness, fear and control, materialism and superficiality. Some will decide to seek it, others will not. We all fall short in the search but the journey is worth it.
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