The Christian Human's Burden

Rudyard Kipling’s poem The White Man’s Burden provides an interesting perspective on late nineteenth century colonization.  Not surprisingly, the ideas expressed by Kipling are likely to arouse some strong feelings – perhaps including resentment – in our modern, racially-diversified, ever-shrinking global community.

For my own part, I would argue that there is indeed a plain problem with the notion that the task of improving the world through noble service rests with the “white man.”  One doesn’t have to look too long before stumbling upon some very bad men who may be described as Caucasian, as well as some very good people of other races and of either gender.

The true “burden” (if you will) of enlightening the world belongs not to any one physical race, but rather to followers of Jesus Christ of all earthly ethnicities and temporal nationalities.  1 Peter 2:9 describes Christians as “a holy nation” and “a peculiar people.”  Having been naturalized as citizens of the Kingdom of God, we and we alone hold the secret “To veil the threat of terror, And check the show of pride… To seek another’s profit, And work another’s gain… Fill full the mouth of famine, And bid the sickness cease.”

This fact has been repeatedly revealed to me through my own interpersonal failures.  I’m sorry to say that I’ve recently been on a bit of an “anger kick.”  Increasingly frustrated by a number of encounters with people from various walks of life (as well as with my own internal issues), I have been quite unreasonably expecting people to behave in what I believe to be a reasonable manner, despite what I know about human nature.  I vainly imagine that every customer service representative will treat me professionally, that random strangers will demonstrate courtesy, and that the “average” person will display “common sense.”  And by assuming that these things will happen, I put myself in the inevitable position of becoming even more frustrated and therefore less likely to behave like a Christian myself.

Those of us who have decided to follow Jesus have a burden to carry, like it or not.  When it comes to showing the world what it means to be polite, civil, gracious, and humble, it’s all on us.  The non-believer isn’t going to do it, because they can’t do it.  They lack the proper DNA; they are not of the chosen race - not yet, at least.  He or she may be able to live within certain boundaries and follow select guidelines for the sake of functioning on a day-to-day basis, but only the person who is guided by the Holy Spirit – who has the law of God written on the heart – can lead those trapped in darkness into the light by demonstrating a selfless attitude of service. 

Doing so is actually a privilege, but that doesn’t change the fact that the word burden sometimes applies.  Shortly before composing this article, I had to go offer an apology to a couple of people with whom I’d lost my temper.  The “human” part of me (what the Bible refers to as the flesh) dreaded this responsibility.  I wanted the other people to spearhead any possible reconciliation – or failing that, to simply end up in trouble.  I certainly didn’t feel that they were right about everything regarding our conflicts (and in fact I still don’t).  But ultimately, it didn’t matter.  Having had no indication that the people in question are Christians (in fact, rather the opposite), it was up to me to extend the proverbial olive branch. 

This doesn’t mean that we ought to admit that we’re wrong when we’re not.  Being a disingenuous pushover doesn't make for a good Christian witness.  I didn’t give a blanket apology for all that had transpired; only for those aspects of my behavior that I knew to be sinful.  I believe that this was not only the right thing to do, but also that it provided my best opportunity in these cases to be a witness for Jesus.  And I am absolutely convinced that my own spiritual progress was bound to be stifled until I did it.  Thoughts of singing a Christian song in public or of posting more Gospel-oriented articles to my website were absurd as long as I was resisting the prompting of God to reach out to these people.  What would be the point?  If there’s any public knowledge about my professed belief at all, legitimate complaints about my obstinacy could only hurt that image.  Attempts to remedy the situation and to seek peace may help.  If they don’t, at least that burden is off of my shoulders.

I also believe that when a Christian takes the initiative in accepting the burden of reaching out to the world (or even to another Christian with whom there may be conflict) there is the opportunity for a blessing.  In Numbers 12:7 and Hebrews 3:5, the Bible says that Moses was faithful in all God’s house.  Though not perfect, Moses accepted the responsibilities given to him by God, and I can’t imagine that they were all pleasant.  But by being faithful and trustworthy in the capacities entrusted to him, he gained authority and honor, and his honor remains approximately 3500 years after his passing.  Faithfully undertaking the duties that go hand-in-hand with citizenship in God’s Kingdom can only result in God’s blessings.  I know that I’ve felt better after facing up to the challenges that are involved in difficult interpersonal dealings; I’ve felt liberated, empowered, and prepared to take forward steps in life, as opposed to treading spiritual water.

Because such interactions can sometimes be so taxing, there can be a real temptation to look for solidarity where none exists.  I live in an area that is home to many Mormons, some of whom have been friends.  I have often found myself trying to seek solace from my spiritual struggles in their company, or hoping for encouragement and a sense of unity from their counsel from time to time.  It doesn’t work, however; their religion is a man-made mythology, not the true Gospel of Christ.  They may seem to share certain ideologies or moral perspectives, but these are “upper-floor” issues.  The buildings' foundations are different, so the levels built upon them aren’t going to truly line up even if they seem compatible at first blush.  We must seek support from others who have been baptized into Christ, or if necessary we must stand alone, asking God for the strength to do so.  But there can be no strange bedfellows when it comes to matters of the faith.  One can’t find cohesion when only spiritual oil and water are present (2 Corinthians 6:14-17) . 

Are you a believer?  Accept the burdens – and reap the accompanying rewards – that come with the territory.  As soon as you do, the burden becomes quite a bit lighter, I think.

For some musically-expressed thoughts regarding the futility of "feeding the masses" while ignoring the people closest to us, please listen to (and download for FREE) People Like To Say.