Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

Evolution for the Catholic Student

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Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Heresy of 'Nice'

The Heresy of ‘Nice’

          I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but it seems God made a mistake when He gave Moses the Ten Commandments.  Thankfully, our culture has found and fixed the problem.  See, God has a lot of stuff in there about adultery and keeping holy the Sabbath, which we have graciously removed for Him, and somehow He left out the number one, most important Commandment of them all: “Be nice.”
          I’ve read and reread the Ten Commandments and for the life of me, I just can’t find it.  And it gets worse.  A few years ago I attended a talk at which the speaker asked the question, “Was Jesus a nice guy or was He a good man?”
          Now, as a twenty-first century Westerner I know very well that goodness is hard to pin down.  What’s good to you may not be good to me, and I’m certainly not going to impose my personal views on someone else’s concept of goodness.  Since Jesus is such a wonderful teacher, a guru, He must have been a nice guy.  No one can argue with that.
          But then I opened up my Bible again.  Do you know what I found?  I found Jesus driving the money changers out of the temple area after knocking over their tables!  He called Pharisees and scribes vipers and whitewashed tombs!  He accused some people of being hypocritical, told others to stop sinning, and chastised men for their lack of faith!  None of these things was nice at all!
          You see, our popular ethic in the United States in 2012 includes one directive: Be nice.  I believe that is one of the insidious heresies of our day.
          Don’t get me wrong, I am not attacking people who are nice.  Most of the time I try to be nice myself.  What do we mean when we say that, though?  I would actually argue that I try to be kind, not nice.  Of course, when you treat people with kindness, they will most often describe you as nice.  But not always.
          When our society tells us to be nice, it is telling us not to offend anyone, not to make anyone uncomfortable.  It is saying, don’t get under anyone’s skin; don’t hit any hot buttons.  Affirm everything.  Celebrate every behavior, and NEVER judge anything that our culture says is just great.
          This may be “nice,” but it is not kind.  When Jesus healed the paralytic, it was kind, and it was nice.  When He told the woman caught in adultery not to sin anymore, that was not nice, but it was kind.
          Kindness is a virtue because it comes from love.  Niceness, when it is separated from kindness, does not.  It most often comes from a dulled conscience, from fear, or from a desire for human respect.  In other words, it is about us.
          Look at a few of the Spiritual Works of Mercy: admonish the sinner, instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful.  These are acts of charity that show genuine concern for the spiritual well-being of another, and they may not be well-received.  To love means to desire the good of another for the sake of the other.  There is no selfishness involved.  And the highest good for a man is his spiritual good.
          When we admonish the sinner we are doing a great act of charity.  Nothing is as dangerous as sin.  And yet it requires great courage; we make ourselves very vulnerable.  If I pull someone out of a burning building, I know he will be grateful, and I may even receive a reward.  I will be regarded a hero.  But if I turn someone away from a deadly sin, I am saving him from a much greater fire.  Yet I may be maligned, accused of being judgmental, and I definitely will not be considered “nice.”
          Of course, Scripture says I will save the soul of my brother and my own soul (James 5:20).  Sometimes the best rewards come to those who wait.
          So perhaps God didn’t make a mistake after all.  Perhaps it is our culture that is mistaken.  And if, in my pursuit of being like Jesus, I am accused of not being nice, I can take comfort in the knowledge that Jesus Himself was not a “nice guy,” but He was a good man.