Rise of the Lethal Meek
Why Good People Are Not Harmless
The resurrection life is the cure for a “spectating Christanity”. When Jesus called his disciples, he had forward-thinking, active witnesses in mind, not passive spectators. He was not out to develop people who would merely applaud his past exploits while meandering along in pew-warming mediocrity.
In this sense, Christians are not to be transcendent the way a neutral country ignores the world’s affairs, or remains safely “above” them. This is impossible to sustain in reality— the butterfly has to land sometime. A healthy Christian life is to be lived in heavenly transcendence, in the sense of being spiritually other, yes, but at the same time interested, deeply, and increasingly invested in the earth. For the apostle John to say “the Word tabernacled among us” is to say that Jesus planted his feet firmly on the ground of our experience. The same ground on which we live and die.
For God so loved the cosmos...
Some of the most freeing teaching on the value of our past earthly experience comes from evangelist Tommy Green:
Jesus Christ has a history. There’s plenty within Jesus’ family history that he could be ashamed of, but He’s able to own his history completely. There’s adultery, there’s murder, there’s liars, there’s righteous and unrighteous, there’s fornicators, there’s people blowing it on every level, there’s death and exile, and all sorts of rebellion and craziness in Jesus’ family line, and yet, he is completely and totally himself.
Every one of us has a story, a family story. We have a history and we have a past. But if we let our history dictate where we are going, and our gifting and calling from the Lord, then we are in trouble… It’s because of Jesus that we can move through our mess and into our future. His mercy is brand new every single day.
I love the humanity of Jesus. It’s the thing that fascinates me the most. Because he revealed his humanity to me, I was able to place my faith and trust with weight in his divinity, and it saved my life. He revealed his humanity to me. And in revealing his humanity, that’s when I began to see his divinity.
I think we can do the same thing in our story. When we reveal our humanity to people, they begin to see the divinity within us, and say, Can I have that?”
At the very beginning of the New Testament, Jesus confessed, for everyone to read, all the failure and sin of his family tree in what would become the most public and widely read volume of all time. At the same time, Jesus possessed an enviable clarity regarding His own identity (and that of everyone around him). Despite all that conspired against Him (including the dubious circumstances of his birth), Jesus held in tension both future and past and walked just as he believed himself to be. A new and visionary patriarch. The Caleb prototype for a new generation of different spirits entering the promised land. The firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
“If you don’t let your past die, it won’t let you live.”
Yet dying doesn’t mean denying. It doesn’t mean ignoring, nor escaping. It means coming to terms with your past, making peace with it, and ultimately forgiving the wounds made by yourself and others.
In this way, we refuse to shy away from anything we have done, or anything that has happened to us. We completely confess where we came from, what we came out of, our personal demons, our fears and our failures. Like Jesus, we take ownership of our family, our community, our nation, and even the world at large. It is facing our shadow — our id — not to unreasonably resurrect the past, but to bring it, with an intentional finality, into redemptive contact with God. It is Brené Brown’s audacious transparency, the disarmament of shame, and embracing the power of vulnerability.
To do otherwise, psychologists agree, is a sign of a troubling pathological condition. Only the minds of the mentally ill are able to compartmentalize their behaviour, and deny or excuse the personal and corporate impact of their actions. Unfortunately, because of an inaccurate presentation of grace, I have seen too many of us, myself included, succumb to the kind of emotional stupefaction that divorces perception from reality, or worse, completely absolves everything we do because of our radical beliefs in the justification of God.
I believe this is what John was thinking when he wrote,
If we say we have no sin we lead ourselves astray and the truth is not in us.
This is emphatically not in the sense of affirming man’s continued depravity after being regenerated in Christ (how that oxymoronic notion persists among theologians I cannot fathom), but in the sense of simply being truthful when we have fracked up our life, or someone else’s.
A.W. Tozer concurs:
The meek man is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority. Rather, he may be, in his moral life as bold as a lion and as strong as Samson; but he has stopped being fooled about himself.
This kind of attitude makes a person, paradoxically, dangerous yet the safest to be around. It is what we really mean when we say that Christ sets us free to be powerful people. There is no longer room for naïveté. Carl Jung, a father in the field of psychology, called it “shadow work.” Clinical psychologist and Jungian professor Jordan Peterson describes the transformation he has seen in those who no longer reject or repress unknown or feared aspects of their personality. In those who actively integrate and take responsibility for their shadow:
Their presence radiates the implicit potential for havoc. This is necessary, for it gives self-respect, the same respect one would have for a wild animal… They no longer look like wide-eyed children. They are no longer people to whom things happen. They are people who make things happen. A good person is not harmless. In fact, they are capable of anything, yet they are willing to hold it in abeyance.
Christ famously declared, “the meek shall inherit the earth.” The word used here means more than what is typically understood in English as “meek.” The dictionary has it as “easily imposed upon, submissive, spineless.” But biblical meekness is not weakness; not in the least. It is in fact rooted in a Greek military term, praótēs which applied, historically, to the training of horses. Sam Whatley explains:
Wild stallions were brought down from the mountains and broken for riding. Some were used to pull wagons, some were raced, and the best were trained for warfare. They retained their fierce spirit, courage, and power, but were disciplined to respond to the slightest nudge or pressure of the rider’s leg. They could gallop into battle at 35 miles an hour and come to a sliding stop at a word. They were not frightened by arrows, spears, or torches. At this point they were said to be meeked.
As centuries went by the secret of training such animals was passed from the Greeks to the Roman legions, then to the Moors, the Spanish conquistadors, and finally the Austrian Empire. We see a few war horse descendants today in the Lippizanner horses of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna.
To be meeked was to be taken from a state of wild rebellion and made completely loyal to, and dependent upon, one’s master. It is also to be taken from an atmosphere of fearfulness and made unflinching in the presence of danger. Some war horses dove from ravines into rivers in pursuit of their quarry. Some charged into the face of exploding cannons as Lord Tennyson expressed in his poem, “The Charge of the Light Brigade.”
Meekness describes the exercise of God’s power under His control. It is a person possessing a lethal weapon, yet choosing to keep it sheathed until such time as to do so would lead to greater danger. To be meek is to be temperate, in the sense of displaying the right blend of force and reserve. It avoids unnecessary harshness, yet without compromising necessary force. It is, in fact, the inspirited self-control of Galatians’ fifth chapter.
Before Christ, man may have had the potential of an axe murderer and as such had to keep having his axe taken away. But this is the morality of the weak — enforcing a limitation on the grounds of fear. Real morality occurs when men are powerful, yet peaceable, and hold in their hands the keys to the entire armory. As Christ did.
In Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton describes this apparent contradiction with as much brilliance as a pen could perhaps possibly allow:
[Christianity] loses both the poetry of being proud and the poetry of being humble… and seeks by this same strange expedient to save both of them. It separated the two ideas and then exaggerated them both. In one way Man was to be haughtier than he had ever been before; in another way he was to be humbler than he had ever been before. Insofar as I am Man I am the chief of creatures. Insofar as I am a man I am the chief of sinners.
All humility that had meant pessimism, that had meant man taking a vague or mean view of his whole destiny — all that was to go. The Greek had spoken of men creeping on the earth, as if clinging to it. Now Man was to tread on the earth as if to subdue it. We were to hear no more the wail of Ecclesiastes that humanity had no preeminence over the brute, or the awful cry of Homer that man was only the saddest of all the beasts of the field. Man was a statue of God walking about the garden. Man had preeminence over all the brutes; man was only sad because he was not a beast, but a broken god.
There the realistic gentleman could let himself go — as long as he let himself go at himself… Let him say anything against himself short of blaspheming the original aim of his being; let him call himself a fool and even a damned fool (though that is Calvinistic); but he must not say that fools are not worth saving. Here, again in short, Christianity got over the difficulty of combining furious opposites, by keeping them both, and keeping them both furious. The Church was positive on both points. One can hardly think too little of one’s self. One can hardly think too much of one’s soul.
The more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild. Sometimes this pure gentleness and this pure fierceness met and justified their juncture; the paradox of all the prophets was fulfilled, and… the lion lay down with the lamb. But remember that this text is too lightly interpreted. It is constantly assured that when the lion lies down with the lamb the lion becomes lamb-like. But that is brutal annexation and imperialism on the part of the lamb. That is simply the lamb [eating] the lion instead of the lion eating the lamb.
The real problem is — Can the lion lie down with the lamb and still retain his royal ferocity? That is the problem the Church attempted; that is the miracle she achieved.
It is the meek, Jesus said, who would inherit the earth. It is the sort of life that does not timidly endure, but wreaks havoc on the kingdom of darkness. That intervenes against those who prey on the weak. That counteracts all attitudes of cannot and never with unshakeable belief and a willingness to be responsible for the change they want to see in the world. The best swords are plowshares, and true apex predators make fear, hate and evil their prey. You finish the job, such that
from among you they shall rebuild the ancient ruins, foundations laid in times past you shall raise. And you shall be called repairer of the breach, restorer of paths for dwellers. (Isaiah 58:12)
Thanks for reading!
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