Christianity means change is possible. Deep, fundamental change. It is possible to become tenderhearted when once you were callous and insensitive. It is possible to stop being dominated by bitterness and anger. It is possible to become a loving person no matter what your background has been.
The Bible assumes that God is the decisive factor in making us what we should be. With wonderful bluntness the Bible says, “Put away malice and be tenderhearted.” It does not say, “If you can…” Or: “If your parents were tender-hearted to you…” Or: “If you weren’t terribly wronged…” It says, “Be tender-hearted.”
This is wonderfully freeing. It frees us from the terrible fatalism that says change is impossible for me. It frees me from mechanistic views that make my background my destiny.
If I were in prison and Jesus walked into my cell and said, “Leave this place tonight,” I might be stunned, but if I trusted his goodness and power, I would feel a rush of hope that freedom is possible.
If it is night and the storm is raging and the waves are breaking high over the pier, and the Lord comes to me and says, “Set sail tomorrow morning,” there is a burst of hope in the dark. He is God. He knows what he is doing. His commands are not throw-away words.
His commands always come with freeing, life-changing truth to believe. For example,
And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.
- God adopted us as his children. We have a new Father and a new family. This breaks the fatalistic forces of our “family-of-origin.” “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for one is your Father, He who is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9).
- God loves us as his children. We are “loved children.” The command to imitate the love of God does not hang in the air, it comes with power: “Be imitators of God as loved children.” “Love!” is the command and being loved is the power.
- God has forgiven us in Christ. Be tender-hearted and forgiving just as God in Christ forgave you. What God did is power to change. The command to be tender-hearted has more to do with what God did for you than what your mother did to you. This kind of command means you can change.
- Christ loved you and gave himself up for you. “Walk in love just as Christ loved you.” The command comes with life-changing truth. “Christ loved you.” At the moment when there is a chance to love and some voice says, “You are not a loving person,” you can say, “Christ’s love for me makes me a new kind of person. His command to love is just as surely possible for me as his promise of love is true for me.
Praying with you (and St. Augustine), “Lord command what you will and grant what you command!”