Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A grace-filled letter to Ghandi

"I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ" - Mahatma Ghandi

A few months ago a young couple invited me to their house for dinner. I showed up and we had a wonderful time dining together. Shortly after dessert, the wife cleared the table and went into the kitchen to wash up. The husband was a friend of mine and so I said to him, "Thanks for having me over. It was truly kind of you. The meal was was delicious and I am thoroughly satisfied. You're a great guy. But your wife! I can't stand her! She's completely unlike you! I don't like her and I can't enjoy your company when she's around!"

"Look, don't get me wrong, man. I've got nothing against you. I think you're awesome. But I really dislike your wife."

Okay, that never happened. Let me be very clear about that. I should hope that I have more tact than that. But seriously though, WHO WOULD DO THAT?? That story is so unrealistic and outrageous, you couldn't even find that situation in a crappy sitcom. Even if you truly don't like someone, you don't badmouth them to their spouse!

It's ludicrous for more than one reason. On the one hand, anyone with more than a few milligrams of common sense know that there are certain social norms that you are ignoring when you're that blunt with someone about a person they care about. However, I think there is something more disturbing about this story than just the number of social rules of behavior you break. I think it's that intuitively, we know that no matter how much you dislike someone's wife, you CAN'T disparage someone in front of their husband. No matter what you have against someone, you can't just criticize them before someone who loves them!

Why? Because you have to figure that if he married her, he's got to love her. And that love is real whether it's love because of her character or love despite her character.

I'm thinking what the venerable Mahatma Ghandi said about Christians is just as denigrating to Christ as it is to his people. The Bible says that the church is the bride of Christ and that he paid no small price and went through nothing less than hell to have her. In Ephesians 5, Paul says that the love that husbands have for their wives should be modeled after the love that Jesus had for the Church, his people. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and worthy of him as a husband. He is at work to cleanse her and make her a radiant, beautiful bride, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless (Eph 5.25-27).

Ghandi, when you profess your affinity for Jesus but not his followers, you are in essence slapping his wife across the face while at the same time calling him your friend. What you fail to understand is that Jesus does not love his people because of who they are, but rather in spite of who they are. Furthermore, you fail to understand the nature of the Church; your presumption is that the Church is an organization of people who seek to look more like Jesus. While that is true in a different context, you miss the entire point of grace. You fail to understand that one does not become a Christian by what he or she does, but by what Jesus has done for him.

Ghandi, You make an astute observation that Christians are so unlike Christ. The reason is because Christ has become for us what we could not be; perfect in holiness, compassion, and love. The beauty of being a Christian is that its only requirement is to admit failure and come empty-handed before God to receive mercy. "The Church is a society of sinners - the only society in the world in which membership is based on the single qualification that the candidate shall be unworthy of membership" (Charles C. Morrison)

The failure of Christians to be like Christ does not merely point to the hopelessness of humanity in willing to be good; it also points to the depths of God's mercy and grace shown in the undeserved love of Jesus for a broken, evil, people. Ghandi, your presumption that Christians can flawlessly emulate the goodness of their leader, Jesus, is at best a deep misunderstanding of who Jesus is (that he alone is good), and at worst an arrogant belief that you're capable of accomplishing what other humans cannot (perfect goodness).

Your work in bringing peace to India and justice to her people is admirable and immense. As a Christian, I strive to bring justice to the world because I believe in a God who is perfectly just. I seek peace in everything because I believe that God wrought peace in his damaged world at great cost to himself. I do not call myself a Christian because I seek to be like Christ. I call myself one because by grace he has sought to make me more like him.

Your believe that peace in the world is attained through a system of moral values. I believe that peace is attained through a peacemaker and a sacrifice of peace. You believe that the world needs more good, compassionate, loving people like yourself and the person of Jesus Christ. I think the world only needs one perfectly good person.

Ghandi, my Christ is not like your Christ. Your Christ is utterly inadequate; powerless to save the world. If Christ were your Christ, the extent of his influence would be to inspire a bunch of miserable misfits to attempt to be loving and fail catastrophically. But the true Christ is not like that. The true Christ did not entrust the salvation of the world to anybody. He just went and did it.

I thank you Jesus, for you even though I am so unlike you.


  1. isn't it more like ghandi going to dinner and telling the husband, man you're wife is fantastic, you dont deserve her, you're nothing like her. i'd say ghandi's comment is to christians not to jesus, so he talks to the man about his wife jesus. or if you like swap us to be the wife. i think if anything hes saying if you loved your wife, you would be serving her more, and you would look more like her, i always thought it was do you really love Jesus? i guess the thing that quote misses is we know we don't deserve jesus, that everything is given and that should make all the difference

  2. I'm with agreement with Heidi here. I don't think your analogy actually does justice to Gandhi's statement.

    Gandhi's statement is one that should be a point of reflection for Christians. Is he right? How can he say one thing about Jesus, and another thing about Christians? Is there something that Christians should change?

    In an attempt to defend the church, you're throwing out the baby with the bathwater. I tend to agree with Gandhi. If Christians are all about being right and not repentant, then maybe Gandhi is perhaps more right than he is wrong?