They aren’t going to quit – ever.
You know who I’m talking about. Let’s stop kidding ourselves. Let’s stop talking in the abstract and get right to the point about this. The people who act with cruelty will never stop. They aren’t going to change. They aren’t going to be persuaded. They aren’t going to stop.
How do I know? Because “they” have been around for a long, long time. For all of human history in fact. This isn’t something new. Cruelty didn’t just show up when a governor decided to act cruelly and put people on a bus without any provisions of food, clothing for cold weather, or shelter or any plan of what to do with these folks when they arrived at their destination.
No, cruelty has been a part of the human experience all along.
Humans are experts at cruelty. How else do you explain the lynchings that happened on church grounds right after a church service and then photograph the event with smiling faces for posterity? That’s the epitome of cruelty. (Robert P. Jones recounts this event in his disturbing but necessary book “White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity)
Or how about the plethora of other race related cruelty that could be listed. “I can’t breath.” Segregation. Jim Crow laws. Slavery. A justice system that I don’t even have words for.
Or how about the fact that we do nothing about mass shootings. We willingly allow them to continue. They aren’t tragedies anymore. They are cruelty.
Or how about how we treat LGBTQIA+ people. Some of our elected officials think these folks are the biggest threat facing this nation based on the bills they are pushing in legislatures. And that’s not counting the book bans in public libraries specifically targeting LGBT+ literature.
But go back in human history and learn and you’ll see that cruelty is very much a part of the human story. Every single empire that ever existed used cruelty. Every one. It’s just a matter of how. The Babylonians and Assyrians were cruel to those they captured and ruled. The Romans used crucifixion as a form of punishment – why? Because it was cruel and painful.
The Europeans have a long history of especially cruel punishment – dismemberment and cutting people apart all the back in the 1500’s and 1600’s. The cruelty was the point.
And that’s the thing – the cruelty is the point.
We don’t want to admit it, but we humans love cruelty. We love it very much. We love it because it give us two things – a sense of power and superiority. The exercise of cruelty is about power and superiority. We get to think we are better and more powerful than others.
Which is why those who act cruelly are not ever going to quit. It’s a part of human nature.
So what are we to do?
Stop trying to change these people. It’s unlikely you will ever change them. Certainly get in their way, put wrenches in their plans, cause them problems, be a pain in the ass to them, and oppose them in ways that Jesus calls on disciples to live into. Just don’t kid yourself into believing that you will change their hearts or minds. That’s God’s work to do.
As a disciple of Jesus, you are called to something else. Jesus never said to work on changing those who act with cruelty. Throughout the Gospels he calls on his followers to care for the poor, to welcome the stranger, to feed the hungry, to care for the sick, to visit and free those imprisoned. In other words, go to those who have been abused by cruelty and be Christ to them.
Our job is to offer hope to the hopeless, love to those who have been offer hatred, care to those who have been harmed, welcome to those who have been rejected, food those who have been turned away empty. We are to see the image of God in others, especially when others refuse to see the image of God in them.
Remember – for those who act with cruelty, the cruelty is the point. And for those who act with compassion, the compassion is the point. For those who act with cruelty, they don’t believe they ever have to answer for what they do – they see themselves as superior. It is pointless to shame or guilt people who act with cruelty into having to answer for their cruelty – they don’t believe they have to and they don’t think they have done anything wrong. For those who act with compassion, they are always answering for what they do – “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you? – “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it for me.”
They aren’t going to quit – those who act with cruelty. But don’t let that be the thing that drives you. because that will exhaust you. And that’s what they are counting on – to exhaust you so you quit and give up.
No, this isn’t about them. There will always be another one who acts with cruelty. But know this – cruelty always ends the same way. It ends in the grave, with no hope, no life, not power, no nothing. It just ends. It requires someone else to pick up its mantle to continue it on. It requires someone else to carry its anger, its hatred, its fear, its small-mindedness, its anxiety, its narcissism, its shallowness, its lust for false power and superiority. And in the end, all who carry it find out the same truth – it’s a lie. It’s a hollow, empty lie. And the final victim of the cruelty was the person who acted with cruelty. The cruelty ate their very soul until there was nothing left. Just emptiness. A void of nothingness.
They won’t quit. But we are different. We operate under a different set of “rules.” It’s not that we don’t quit. We recognize that we have to rest because if we don’t rest, we won’t be able to keep going. We’ll be too run down to be worth anything. That’s what Sabbath rest is about. But even in that rest, we keep going, our eye on what lies ahead, knowing that this isn’t relying on us solely. We aren’t the savior after all. How sad that those who practice cruelty think they have the whole world on their shoulders – that they have to have all the power and be at the top of the pyramid. That must be exhausting. No wonder they can’t quit. Because as soon as they do, it all comes crashing down. But for those of us who act with compassion, we have a different way. We are part of a network of sorts – a network that works together, even if we don’t know it. Each act of compassion builds on the the others. It strengths the network. It offers hope, love, mercy, grace. We see these things come alive in our midst. They give us juice to keep going, in spite of the cruelty that we face.
Those who act with cruelty are plenty and have a long history. But that doesn’t stop us. We just are realistic about this. And we keep going anyway. Knowing that we will face more. And we will be compassionate. And we will not stop being compassionate. Because we know something else. There are more compassionate people in the world than there are those who act with cruelty. There always has been and there always will be.