“And you ought not to think yourself on an equality with the Misses Reed and Master Reed, because Missis kindly allows you to be brought up with them. They will have a great deal of money, and you will have none: it is your place to be humble, and to try to make yourself agreeable to them.”
“What we tell you is for your good,” added Bessie, in no harsh voice, “you should try to be useful and pleasant, then, perhaps, you would have a home here; but if you become passionate and rude, Missis will send you away, I am sure.” – from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
This scene is early in the story of Jane Eyre, orphaned and taken in by an uncle, now dead. The uncle exacted a promise of kindness from his wife on behalf of Jane. Attacked by her older male cousin and now sentenced to a room for hours, one rumored to be haunted, she is scolded by the servants.
The Reed family, along with all the servants, even the one servant who deigned to speak tenderly to Jane Eyre, understood that as long as they housed her, there was no other kindness needed. This was sufficient.
She is ridiculed when not ignored. Lied about often and left out of festivities such as Christmas, she seeks warmth where it may be found – a ragged toy, a borrowed book or a quickly fading hearth.
The current evangelical disposition is to act, preach and lecture as if all we must do is dispense truth. This is kindness enough. As long as we have the house of truth we can wink at ridicule. Brash is celebrated as boldness. Lack of kindness is applauded as being the passionate convictions of a straight-shooter.
The Reed family thought housing Jane was enough.
We evangelicals think the truth is plenty kind.
Prognosticators, who I agree with in almost every way have decried the loss of absolute truth and prophesied the impending doom of evangelicalism because of it. But I think they are wrong on this. Evangelicalism’s great threat is not merely error for which we must erect battlements. It is the loss of loving-kindness within its own walls. The doctrinal bombs thrown up against the walls of orthodoxy are not nearly as deafening as the clanging gongs of our words of truth without love.
When the first opportunity presented itself, for her to leave the only real house she knew, Jane Eyre took it. She knew she could be cared for with a roof over her head at Gateshead. She would eat well enough. She would be clothed. She would have a comfortable bed. But she chose to leave Gateshead because this kind of care without kindness was not enough.
I cannot help but think we are headed in this direction. Maybe we are already there. Some say the mass exodus has already begun. While Christians young and old yearn for steadfast convictions in this world set upon a sea with no anchors to be found, they also long for some kindness. They ache for kindness.
You may disagree. You may think this is not what people really want. Those who say they want kindness really want a wishy-washy faith. They are limp-wristed momma’s boys who want a hippie Jesus.
My response is to think we should be kind regardless whether it is what they want or not. Whether they are our brothers and sisters in Christ or we are not sure of their salvation or they are our enemies. Whether they have women pastors or not. Whether they disagree with us on essentials or peripherals.
For some reason this is controversial to many people. My guess? We think if we are kind to them, they will think we are accepting them in their errors. So we correct them and call it “tough love.” We don’t want them to think they can get away with error or sin.
But maybe this is exactly how it’s supposed to be? Isn’t this what grace is at its core? God loving us in a way that looks like we are getting away with something? If we cannot see this, how can we be sure we have not drawn people into a house of legalism in the name of truth?
Jane’s aunt held Jane’s living in her house over her. The grace of kindness was not known. She had a luxurious roof over her head but had not earned by blood anything like kindness. Just like how those we disagree with have not earned kindness through correct doctrine or acceptable convictions.
We are happy to invite them into the house of truth but an invite to sit around the hearth of kindness is becoming more and more unusual as it becomes more and more crucial.