I wasn’t trying to shock the students. But that is what happened anyway.
I started off by telling them “I like some actors and actresses more than others.” That statement didn’t affect them at all. They looked bored. Then I followed it up. “I have friends I like more than others.” Once again, few students even acknowledged I had said something significant. However, I was just warming up.
“There are people in my church I like. There are people in the church I pastor that frankly I don’t like.” Now I had their attention. Some of them agreed with me. Other students appeared to be uncomfortable.
“And to be frank, I like some of my kids better than others.” Now they all seemed confused and a little indignant. “Actually, the ones I like are not necessarily the ones I liked last week. It keeps changing.” Now they just looked confused.
I then started my teaching. I explained that our likes and preferences are one of the great rights each of us have. Even God does not require that we like everyone–or anyone at all. The beauty of the gift of free choice God gives us is that we can exercise our preferences any way we want.
There is a curious transitional verse in the New Testament which displays this truth. In Mark 3:13 it says,
“Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him.”
(Mark 3:13 NIV)
The word “wanted” means “wished”. Jesus looked over all the people who were following him and he chose some of them he preferred. This was his choice and his preference. He wanted these people in particular.
I get the impression that some in God’s family think we have to like everyone the same. How is that even possible? I know in my life that my preferences are always changing. I used to hate sushi. Now, I actually like it and seek it out. There are days I like some genres of music and certain artists and other days I change my preferences. There are friends I have always liked and probably will never stop. My wife is one of those. So is my brother Dave.
Here, however, is the sober reality. In my walk with God, he points out I am to show every person the same level of dignity and respect. Even when I don’t like them, even when I truly criticize them or even bring them to account for their actions, I must still hold a place of respect and treat them with human kindness, regardless of whether I like them.
That includes politicians I really don’t like. That includes church members whose actions cause others real problems. It includes men who have abused women and children. And I have sought to do this when I have gone to the police to report child abuse. I still want to hold a place of respect for the humanness of another.
Because all humans fail at some level. I do, you do, they do. And when we refuse to treat another person with dignity, we are demeaning our own humanity.
It is hard–in some cases, it feels impossible. But God does this for us and God requires of all who have committed their lives to God.
And you may not like me after reading this. That’s okay.