Why help those far away and not those around us?
Hello Readers, hope all’s well. Today I’m posting another post from my Medium account. Today’s topic is on a common mindset trap we can fall into as Christians, one which renders our virtuous intentions null. We have to pay attention and be aware of all the devil’s traps, so I hope this helps you recognize this one so you can avoid it in the future. I hope you’ll enjoy this post.
God always loves it when we donate to charity, right? Could there ever be a situation where He doesn’t? In what situation could the act of donating to charity not be pleasing to God?
The question comes down to our relationship with the people we’re donating to, and how we treat them versus others who are closer to us. There’s a common mindset trap we can fall into here that could make the LORD neutral toward our act of charity.
For insight into today’s topic, we’re going to look at it from the perspective of an actual demon from Hell. And no, I’m not trying to sneak a satanic article into this Christian publication — I’ve recently read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.
The Screwtape Letters
The Screwtape Letters is another excellent Christian classic from C.S. Lewis. Although it’s fiction, the book is a great source of info on temptation, demons, and spiritual warfare. The most interesting thing about it is that it’s written from a demon’s point of view!
The Screwtape Letters is written as a series of letters from a senior demon, Screwtape, to his junior demon trainee, Wormwood. Screwtape teaches the ways Wormwood should tempt and corrupt “the patient,” who is an ordinary man Wormwood has been assigned to as his demon. Their goal is to win the battle for this man’s soul and damn him to hell through trickery, torment, and temptation.
In other words, it’s the complete opposite of what you’d expect to read in a Christian book! But it’s definitely worthwhile to read a book from this ‘opposite’ perspective. There’s great value in being aware of what the devil’s schemes are, and the ways he tries to deceive us. Especially when it comes to temptation or evil thoughts.
I highly recommend The Screwtape Letters, it’s a great read.
The fake benevolence, real malice trap
Since The Screwtape Letters deals with how to tempt us and corrupt our faith, we can strengthen our faith by avoiding the devil’s traps mentioned in the book.
Screwtape describes one trap that jumped out at me as one that’s so easy to fall into: Fake benevolence, true malice. What does that mean? Let’s read what Screwtape has to say about it. Remember that the whole quote is from a demon’s point of view, so everything is opposite. “The desirable qualities” are ones desirable to demons, not God!
Do what you will, there is going to be some benevolence, as well as some malice, in your patient’s soul. The great thing is to direct his malice to his immediate neighbours whom he meets every day and to thrust his benevolence out to the remote circumference, to people he does not know. The malice thus becomes wholly real and the benevolence largely imaginary. […]
Think of your man as a series of concentric circles, his will being the innermost, his intellect coming next, and finally his fantasy. […] you must keep on shoving all the virtues outward till they are finally located in the circle of fantasy, and the desirable qualities inward into the Will.C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, Page 28
So many people, Christians included, fall into this trap. I’ve fallen into it myself, how about you? Let’s think about it.
Lacking kindness where it counts
Giving to charity is one way of spending our money that honors God. I doubt God would frown upon most donations we make. The donations can add up to create a real impact. What’s not to like?
Well, in most cases we’ll never meet the people who receive our donations. They live in faraway places we’ll never go. We make our donations over the internet, from the comfort of home. We don’t have to go experience their situation firsthand, or see it with our own eyes.
This means that these people we’re donating to aren’t exactly “real” to us. We know they’re real people, who really deal with a bad situation we want to help with. But they aren’t part of our lives, we don’t see them when we go out. We don’t encounter them. We don’t know much of anything about them beyond the fact that they deal with a situation that moves us to donate to them. We don’t really know who they are, they aren’t “real” in our lives.
Contrast this with a person we see who’s on the street, begging for money. When they ask us for money, how do we react? How do we treat them and talk to them? Is it always with kindness?
I’ll be the first to admit I’ve gotten angry with beggars before. I might’ve been angry at the way they asked me, their attitude, or other things like that. Whatever the reasons, it was a personal failure as a Christian each time I ignored them or answered them with unkindness and anger.
If I had used some empathy, the very Christ-like quality, I would’ve had compassion for the fact these guys are out here all day, asking everyone who goes by for a dollar, some change, something, anything. How many people each day respond to them with unkindness, anger, and condescension? That wasn’t something I was thinking about, as I was only aware of how irritated I felt for whatever reason. I was only thinking of myself, not them or their situation.
This is an example of how our benevolence can be fake and our malice can be real. And when our malice is real, it’s a real sin.
I’d regularly donate to various causes around the world. I’d think about the terrible situation of the people I was donating for, I’d take a moment to feel empathy for them. To put myself in their shoes. But I would never meet any of these people, or at least I haven’t yet. That’s where my kindness was going.
But the beggars where I live? The people I pass by on a regular basis here in the real world? They’re living in a terrible situation too, if only I’d bothered to see it. But I’d get angry at them for asking me for the same thing I happily donated to people I didn’t know. My unkindness (malice) was going to people I regularly encountered in the real world, not the internet. These are people who I could talk to and hear about their situation straight from them — now that’s real.
You see? If our benevolence is only directed to the far periphery of our reality — such as people in faraway places who we know through a charity’s fundraising video and aren’t “real” to us otherwise — then our benevolence is fake.
But if our malice (unkindness, anger, etc.) is directed to people we actually encounter in our daily lives, in the real world, then our malice is real. And so is our sin.
This is something we need to keep in mind. The people we donate to online might irritate us too, if we encountered them in real life. We don’t know that because we don’t run into them. Yet we have empathy for them and show them kindness. Why can’t we do the same for the real people we see all the time?
It’s easy for us to fall into this trap. But knowledge is power; once we know of it, we can pull ourselves out and avoid it in the future.
Choose to make a virtue real
There’s a person who works at the front desk of a business I go to a few times each year. Since the first day I went there, I could tell this person didn’t like me.
They’re rude to me, they get angry with me for not understanding things, they’re rude on the phone … and I’m a paying customer!
I’ve watched them interact with other customers, to see if they treat everyone like this. They don’t. I’ve seen them be polite to other customers, so I know it’s something they’re capable of. I thought long and hard about whether I was the one doing something offensive, but couldn’t think of anything.
One thing I could have done in response is started being rude and angry back at them. To treat them how they treat me. But at some point I decided I would be kind and polite to them. I would be on my best behavior and make extra sure that I was being nice.
And do you know what happened after I started doing that?
Nothing. They still treat me the same.
One thing I ask every day is “LORD, what can I do for you today?” I often imagine doing great things for the LORD, such as feeding and clothing the poor. But I’m not really doing those things. Imagination is fantasy, and remember the Screwtape quote above: The demons want to push our virtues outward into the fantasy zone, where they aren’t real.
But our anger (etc.) toward the people around us? That’s something the demons want to push inward, into our core. Because that anger (etc.) is real.
I’ve learned that, instead of grandiose acts of charity and service, what I can do for the LORD today is often much simpler, and sometimes easier. I can, for example, be kind to this person I mentioned who is always unkind to me. I can continue being kind to them as they continue being rude to me. Since God puts up with me and my repetitive sins (I might hold the record for asking forgiveness for the same sin), it seems like the least I can do is put up with people like this, and to forgive and forget their actions, always remembering that I know nothing about their life or problems.
When I make extra sure to be nice to people like this, this act of Christian kindness becomes real. I’m making the choice to show kindness to a real person in my life who isn’t kind to me in return. When I do, the Christian kindness has been pushed inward into the Will (see the quote above). It’s not fantasy anymore, I’m being kind (and patient) in the real world.
And that, according to the demon Screwtape, is exactly what Satan doesn’t want. So with that in mind, let’s try to do it every day, as much as possible!
Who makes us angry? Who annoys us? Who are we kind to, who do we have empathy for? Who do we help out, who do we give money to?
Let’s all think about those things as Christians. Let’s take stock of our interactions with people in our lives. Let’s figure out who our Christian kindness is directed toward.
We need to avoid the all-too-common trap the demon Screwtape describes. If we don’t pay attention, our benevolence becomes fake as Hell while our malice becomes disgustingly real. And only Hell wants that to happen.
Well that’s all for today. If you enjoyed today’s post, please be sure to Subscribe using the link below. And please consider Supporting My Blog using the Tip Jar. Any amount is much appreciated!
Until next time, be strong and do good!
Your new best friend in Christ,
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