Hearts in the Right Place?

I know it’s strange to say this: but I really don’t like how some people are nice to me in traffic. It isn’t everything nice that people do, but today when I was trying to turn left from a busy street into a bookstore parking lot in the city I live in, someone on the inside lane decided they’d be nice and stopped to let me out. The problem? He didn’t seem to notice the string of traffic coming up beside him on the other side at full speed, and had I not been looking behind his remarkable over-large truck, I wouldn’t have seen them. Had I turned just then, trusting in the goodwill of the person being nice, I’d have had a very bad day (though I guess, given the speed of some of those other cars, I might have gotten to see Jesus today).

My mom would have said that he had his heart in the right place, meaning that it was good that the man showed me compassion in my (very light) need. Unfortunately, I’m not so sure that’s true. In fact, I’m relatively sure his heart was in precisely the wrong place. Namely, I think that his heart was doing the job his head should have been doing, and were I to rely on his kindness, it would have been to my detriment.

This seems to be a more general problem than among drivers in St. John’s, Newfoundland. I think this is the reason that so many of us Christians try to do nice things that end up doing more harm than good. Of course, we have compassion, and compassion is a good thing, but only when it translates into actions really aimed at the other person’s good, and given the human mind’s habit for self-deception (see Jeremiah 17:9), this has to be examined carefully.

For example, how often do we end up being like an example in the book “When Helping Hurts”,

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A really good book on the topic. The authors walk the reader through the ways in which we can think we’re helping when really we’re hurting both the recipient and ourselves.

and give people gifts that help immediately, but end up deriding the people we show the charity to, and create a culture of dependence in the person we do nice things for? How often do we end up giving the single mom’s kids gifts in a way that makes the kids thank us, but learn that their mom can’t provide, and they should be looking to other people for provision? Or expect the single mom to be suitably grateful instead of helping because we care for them?

 

When I help people, I need to be careful that I’m actually helping instead of just getting rid of my bad feelings. I need to
be careful that my help doesn’t end in a wreck for other people, even as I end up feeling better about myself. The simple fact is that facile help doesn’t always help, and sometimes we need to think deeply about people in order to properly help them. It may mean we need to get closer. It may mean we need to learn some uncomfortable truths about our society and the way it treats people, it may even mean that we look like terrible people for a time in order that we provide real lasting help to people.

Quite simply while we must have compassion for those around us, our compassion must be guided by wisdom and knowledge.

Our hearts must be in the right place: guided by our heads.

Author: Stephen Dawe

Steve is a part-time vocational elder Calvary Baptist Church, St. John's as well as a full-time student at Memorial University of Newfoundland, in the Religious Studies Department.