(Even before I tell what happened, let me say that this is in no way a negative article about anyone in the Subcontinent at all. I spent 18 happy months there in the 1980’s. It’s full of wonderful people and what I’m going to tell here could have happened in Burma, Bulgaria or Bolivia. The heart of man is the same the world over.)
In the late 1980’s I was in Delhi, the capital of India, for a few weeks. As my custom was, I decided to go personal witnessing one afternoon in an area where there were some high rise apartments. At one door I rang the bell to, the woman opened the door and I began my greeting and explanation, as I usually did.
There was a brief silence as we looked at each other. Finally she smiled slightly and explained what she meant. And I answered that I understood what she had meant.
She recognized from my looks and accent that I was an American. At that time it was a very topical subject in the society as to how America seemed to be supporting Pakistan in its disputes with India and that it evidently was sending weapons to Pakistan. It was a very big subject in India and in Delhi at the time.
So when this woman saw me at her door, all she could think about was how, at an international level, my country seemed to be arming her country’s opponents. But of course the reality was that I personally had nothing to do with it at all. We ended up having a good talk there that afternoon.There was a little touch of humor to the experience and it somewhat brought us together as we talked.
And you might say, “So what?” For me, that experience was a perfect illustration of what so often goes on in human contact around the world which is damaging and wrong: stereotypes, prejudges, nationalism, racism, and the multitude of divisions and hatreds that plague and divide our world, wherever we go.
I’ve actually very seldom ever, in my 36 years outside the US, experienced anything approaching hatred toward me as an American or a white or a Christian. [And just to mention it, that woman in Delhi didn’t hate me; it was just a brief misunderstanding that cleared up right away.] I think it’s helped that I learned very early on to not bring with me the outward show of Americanisms and the mannerisms that some folks bring with them if they travel outside the USA. I went aboard, not to represent America but as a representative, God helping me, of Jesus Christ.
But to me, that woman’s initial judgment of me strictly along the lines of nationalism and secularism was a perfect example of human nature, worldwide: the sad, imperfect, divisive side of human nature.
“Chauvinism” is not a word in the Bible. But it means “an excessive or prejudiced loyalty or support for one’s own cause, group, or gender”. It’s a temptation for everyone, everywhere. But it’s opposed to the spirit of Christianity and the spirit of love.
Love doesn’t look at the outward appearance. That’s why God told Samuel, “Look not on his appearance, for God sees not as man sees. For man looks on the outward appearance but God looks on the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7) And doubtless He would have us to do the same.
It says in the New Testament that God has “broken down the middle wall of partition between us” (Ephesians 2:14), in this case speaking of the division between the Jews and the Greeks of those days, through the love of Christ. But God has been in the business of breaking down prejudices, hatreds and divisions for many centuries.
It says of Jesus, He “…will gather together in one the children of God that are scattered abroad.” (John 11:52) And to do this, He wants us to not look on the outward appearance, the nationality, the race, the age, the sex, the social status of ones we meet. He wants us to look at others they way He does, to look at the heart with love.
Hateful prejudices, chauvinism, nationalism, these are things that must grieve the heart of God. It says of Jesus, “He looked about with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their heart” (Mark 3:5). Jesus of Nazareth was not often recorded as being angry. But one time there it says He was angry at the hardness of hearts.
And just think how many people today, often people who consider themselves to be very Godly, are full of fear and hatred through the hardness of their hearts, encouraged by false shepherds to hate and fear others, to nourish division and hatred of those not of their faith, nation or culture. The Gospel of Jesus Christ was exactly the very opposite of that.
Happily that afternoon, the woman I met at the door and I were able to laugh at the thought that I’d sold weapons to Pakistan. May God help His people to realize their foolish labels and prejudices against so many are anathema to His loving Spirit and ways. And that they grieve and hinder His work in His people, unless they repent of them.