Kindness seems like such a soft word. We often use it very casually, and it generally is used as if it meant “be nice.” That is, in fact, a common phrase: “nice and kind.” And while it is true that “nice and kind” is much better than “mean and nasty,” the phrase still has this connotation of weakness, or of choosing politeness over truth.
Jesus wasn’t kind, at least not in the modern sense of the word. This may sound like heresy to some, but Jesus never chose politeness over the truth. Instead of being kind, Jesus genuinely loved those with whom he came in contact. Also, Jesus was never mean. He spoke the truth to everyone whether they wanted to hear it or not, and those that did not want to hear it may have construed Jesus as being mean, but his intent was never to wound, only to heal. Sometimes healing hurts, but painful healing is better than feeling good while you slowly die.
So, why did Paul choose a potentially namby-pamby word like Kindness as a member of his list of virtues? Certainly, he is using the word in the sense of following the way Jesus was kind: doing good things out of love, which necessarily brought good things to people who might be suffering. But Jesus also espoused a sort of radical kindness when he tells his followers, in the Sermon On The Mount, to love not only their neighbors, but their enemies as well. Frankly, most of us fail dismally at this kind of kindness. We might refrain from actively hating our enemies, but we also refrain from doing good things for those whom we have cast as enemies.
This, of course, opens up another worry in the modern, highly anxious mind: aren’t we still being weak? Aren’t we just enabling our enemies? Perhaps this kind of thinking has increased due to the decrease in two of the most important ingredients in kindness: truth and love. Kind acts, if devoid of truth and love, aren’t kind at all, and stand a good chance of being outright mean, if not evil. One poignant example of this can be seen in some municipalities treating the suffering of drug addicts by giving them easier access to drugs. How can that be kind? But isn’t it possible that, closer to home, we overlook the destructive behavior of friends or loved ones thinking that it would be unkind to let them know the truth?
It is true that kindness, like love, can encompass behaviors or actions that may, for a time, be hurtful to someone else, or difficult for us to enact because of our own discomfort or uncertainty. And, also like love, our difficult actions are only meaningful if they are first based in truth, so we really need to have some confidence in the truth we are trying to convey. Part of that truth is honestly examining our own motives. Hurting for revenge is not kindness. Hence prayer.
Well, for goodness sake! Who knew kindness was so complicated? Can’t we just be nice to each other? What’s wrong with being nice? In a world in which we only skim the surface of relationships and care little for those around us, just being nice is fine – we don’t have to deal with the difficult stuff. Christ, however, calls us to a different world. In Christ’s world, we are explicitly taught that to deepen our relationship with God we must go far past the surface in our relationships with the rest of humanity. Not in a nosy, gossipy sort of way; not really in a judgmental way. Christ calls us to a truth-telling way, and a truth-hearing way. In order to assist with the building of Christ’s kingdom, we have to deal with the difficult stuff. Speaking but not lecturing; hearing but not judging. Loving without manipulating. And all of this from within the sieve of love, out of which will pour the truth. Kindness – real kindness – thrives only on a steady diet of love and truth.