“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy penned those words. In case you didn’t know, Leo Tolstoy was born into a wealthy, aristocratic family. He became disillusioned with that lifestyle and eventually gave it up to adopt the lifestyle of a peasant. He did so because the aristocratic way of life didn’t line up with his Christian beliefs. He was also a man who believed Christians should not be guided by social norms or their government, but rather by God. Tolstoy actually lived what he taught. Intriguing.
I realize Tolstoy lived in a culture in which the government had quite strict control over the lives of the people and we don’t live in that type of a society particularly. But I do think we live in a culture in which social norms have quite strict control over the lives of the people. I’m not talking about social norms like not stealing from each other or not harming others. Those are common-sense social norms necessary if we are going to be civilized. I’m talking about other social norms which affect every aspect of our lives and mold and form who we are. For example, we have adapted social norms which make us a very individualistic society. We don’t need each other and we don’t particularly want others to need us. I think that contributes to a heightened level of competition and drive in our society - after all the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” would have no meaning if people were not trying to outdo each other in the race for materialistic gain and prestige. But to what end? What is the end result of allowing these social norms to penetrate so deeply into our fiber?
I adopted those particular philosophies for a very long time. I am a very independent person and for most of my life it was incredibly difficult for me to ask for help or allow others into my very private bubble. Because I solved most of my problems by myself and accomplished most of my goals without support I expected no less from other people I met. I saw people who needed help as being weak and incapable. If you really had your act together you wouldn’t need other people, right? Sound like our society? One time a Christian friend of mine shared a popular post on Facebook which basically was a long criticism of individuals who used food stamps. It was very stereotypical and made a lot of hateful assumptions about those folks. And many of our mutual Christian friends and acquaintances jumped on that bandwagon very quickly and added their own comments and complaints about being forced to pay their “hard-earned money” to support others. At the time I was using food stamps and I felt completely worthless reading those comments and feeling badly about my poor friends having to pay to support me. But those attitudes are far more political than they are Biblical.
And now I think about it and it makes feel sad to realize how deeply Christians have bought into the politicizing of Christianity. Perhaps it assuages guilty feelings over not really doing much to help those in need? I think a big contributor to the problem is the fact Christians long ago abdicated to the government their God-given responsibility to care for the poor . That made the issue political. It’s not our fault that happened, but we need to be careful we don’t jump onto a bandwagon of condescension and judgment over people based more on political ideology and our individualistic society than on what the Bible teaches about compassion and caring for the less-fortunate. I understand there is a group in our society which has become comfortable with and accustomed to depending solely on the government to take care of their needs. And I understand that is not a responsible way to live. But it does not give me a free pass to judge and condemn them for having that mentality.
I think God wants me to try to walk in their shoes and see the world through different eyes. Maybe they are fearful of living differently. Maybe they lack self-confidence to figure out a next step. Maybe they are convinced that is all there is for them. Maybe they don’t have the attributes and characteristics sought out and praised in this society. Maybe they are lazy. I believe there are solutions to all of those issues found in God’s Word and I know they won’t find those answers if nobody bothers to tell them, especially if everybody who could tell them is too busy pointing fingers and feeling superior. I think God wants to raise up a compassionate group of Christians who are so busy loving and serving others - even the least of these - there is no room left for criticizing and complaining about them.
My experiences at that level of society and my knowledge of what God teaches in His Word compel me to strive to become the solution to the problems faced in and sometimes brought about by society. Our lives are supposed to intertwine and weave together as we interact and learn from each other. Our light is supposed to shine so brightly it leaves no doubt as to the Source. Our love is supposed to be unmatched by anything the world has to offer. Our help should be selfless and judgment-free yet intelligent as we seek ways to not cover problems with a bandaid, but rather to really attempt to fix what ails and that requires reaching out and getting to know people. I don’t have the skill set by myself to do all that, nor does the combination of Sarah, myself and Kelly. Good thing The Torch is not about us. It is about all of us joining forces to make the world different. And if first we have to change ourselves, then change ourselves we will.