Updated: Jun 30, 2021
A prominent Canadian ethics professor was a key note speaker at a conference I attended a few years back just outside Toronto. He began his presentation by describing a scene.
“There is a burning car with two people inside, a teenager and an old man.” (he paused briefly so we could conger up the desperate image)
“If you only have time to save one, who would it be?” he asked. “With a show of hands, who would rescue the teenager?”
An overwhelming portion of the attendees raised their hands clearly indicating that the teen was the one they would chose. The large room was abuzz with chatter. Then someone asked the exact question I was thinking.
“Where in the world is this happening?” came a voice from way in the back right.
A huge smile slowly spread across the professor’s face.
“Yes, that is of course key” he said.
In this example your choice very much depends on the cultural mores of your environment, even sometimes your country. Different cultures place very different values on age. If, for example, you lived in China or Africa or Greece you would save the old man out of respect and because of his accumulated wisdom. But here in the western world, age does not at all hold the same merit.
So if the society we live in shapes our views and our moral principles, and we act accordingly, where do they come from, what do we value? Well of course history has a lot to do with it. Beyond that, at the risk of generalizing, we might say that the west values more free thought, equality, flexible open-mindedness, and democracy, whereas the east is more traditional, their histories playing a huge part, noting their cultures are a lot older than the west’s, with social harmony and continuity strongly considered. Some people say it is “I”, the west, versus “we”, the east, centered philosophies. When you boil it down, different societies have different experiences and therefore, values things differently. Thus, we each have different cultural mores usually dependent on our origins. Each society places more worth on some qualities and virtues, customs and conventions than on others.
But God created a kaleidoscope of variety… and how absolutely wonderful is that! However, He is very clear about what we should value as Christians. For Jesus followers there is to be no debate.
Love, top priority always, for God, but then extraordinary love that extends even to our enemies. If you show love to one another then everyone will know you belong to Jesus. (John 13:35) On my Facebook group recently I posted a quote that said if you knew everyone’s story there wouldn’t be anyone you couldn’t love. I expect that is very true. Often if only we could see through someone else’s eyes we would understand or at least sympathize with their behaviour.
A dear pastor friend of mine once asked me to tell her the order of love. So of course I said you love God first, then others, and then yourself. No, she said. That’s not right. Try again. So I said God first, and I looked for her approval. She nodded. Others next, earned me another nod from her. And, then yourself last of all. No, she said. Quote the verse for me.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind… and your neighbor AS yourself.” Matthew 22:37-39
“There is no third place,” she said. This revelation changed my life! I truly never realized until then what value I had! Yes, we are to consider others above ourselves but we are every bit as important. Jesus’ death proved that.
Forgiveness is essential. We are to forgive others because He forgave us. It’s not just a suggestion. (Ephesians 4:32) There can be no misunderstanding here. If we find that forgiving someone for a deep injustice and great pain is almost impossible, we must do it anyway. Pray for strength (Psalm 29:11)…then act, and in time your heart will follow. And remember that just like Love, Forgiveness is also to be extended to yourself.
Kindness or compassion, is something we can and should extend to those who are close but also to total strangers. It’s meant for everyone and that’s what makes it so beautiful. I don’t have to know a thing about someone else to show them kindness…but it says a whole lot about me.
Respect and honour go hand in hand. We often say that others must earn our respect but that’s not what the Bible says. It’s just like showing love and forgiveness. We are to honour and thus, respect others even if we feel they don’t deserve it. We are each God’s creation made in His image and that alone demands respect of each other. (Genesis 9:6)
Christians are held to a higher standard. There is no them and us, no east or west. In Christian culture there is no room for division. Yet the extraordinary values we hold dear run directly against human nature so we can only demonstrate them through divine intervention…another reason to live close to our heavenly Father as we “press toward the mark”(Philippians 3:14). Our culture as Jesus followers is altogether gentle and fierce at the same time. Its principles are not from the east or the west. They are far superior!
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