When I was in grad school, my roommates (all from church) nicknamed me, “Mr. Soft Love,” because I was always sympathetic, looking for the best in people, etc., particularly compared to the others. I think it was the Texan in me compared to the Yankee in them.
Here’s the funny thing—they probably wouldn’t call me that anymore. Some of it has probably rubbed onto me from them, but I think most of it comes from being an educator, especially for folks near the end of their schooling. They often need a swift kick, given in love.
Two things that definitely contributed to being closer to Mr. Tough Love than I used to be—two books: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, and No More Christian Nice Guy. Lewis was the first to clue me in to the dynamic range of the concept of “good:”
"Aslan, a man?" said Mr.Beaver sternly. "Certainly not. I tell you, He is the King of the wood and the son of the Great Emperor Beyond the Sea. Don't you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion - The lion. The Great Lion."
"Ooh," said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he...quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion!"
"That you will deary and no mistake," said Mrs.Beaver. "If there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly."
"Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy.
"Safe?" said Mr.Beaver. "Don't you hear what Mrs.Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? Course he isn't safe.....but he's good. He's the King I tell you."
This passage jumps out at me because of a friend who pointed it out to me with joy and wonder. She was right. Our vision of goodness, holiness, and righteousness is far too tame, too banal, for the infinite God who created the universe with supernovae and, yes, lions.
The second book, by Paul Coughlin, kicked me forward in a big way. He contrasted goodness also, but this time with the idea of “nice.” He points out that Jesus was not always a “nice” person. How many nice people do you know who braid whips to use on corrupt people preying on folks in a bind? I know that calling my elder board a “brood of vipers” would put me at the top of Santa’s “nice” list.
Those of us raised in the South (and in this case, Texas would fall into that category) are brought up to be nice to one another and that being nice was a cardinal virtue in all situations, regardless of how we actually felt or even what was appropriate.
Just one problem. Ok, two. 1) It isn’t healthy. 2) It isn’t Christlike.
There are simply times where the good thing is to tell someone, “it is NOT alright!” “This is not acceptable.” “I expect a change in your behaviour.” “That was rude.” “I will not bail you out of the crisis of your own making.” And so on.
This is especially important in education. Our job is to train people in certain subjects and the very nature of grading is telling the student how they measure up. Does protecting their self-esteem from any/all bruising really help them master the material? My job is, in a respectful way, to help them master physical chemistry, not make sure they are fully self-actualized. True self esteem comes from knowing that you are 1) a fallen human saved by the grace of God’s wild but incredibly good love, and 2) competent to excellent in your vocation through which you glorify God and in your daily life. When we protect a student’s self-esteem at the cost of their mastery of the subject, we cheat them of their potential and their ‘self-esteem’ is based on a lie.
Have I mastered this area in my life? Not hardly. In fact, I sometimes hit both extremes—too harsh and/or too nice. Fortunately, God is the best educator. He’ll get me there, and it will be with the appropriate self-esteem not only preserved but enhanced.
God’s goodness—it isn’t safe in the common understanding of the term, and it isn’t necessarily nice. Perhaps, if we understood this better, as He reveals about Himself in His Word, then the “problem of evil” would be less of a problem. Maybe it really is a “problem of good,” or, at least our understanding of it.