Janie Cheaney: The meaning of contempt


MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, October 3rd. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from member-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. In these contemptuous times, Christians are called to something better.

Here’s WORLD Radio commentator Janie B. Cheaney.

JANIE CHEANEY, COMMENTATOR: Has this ever happened to you?

  • You’re making a deeply felt argument over a religious or political issue, and realize that your opponent is only listening for a gaffe to exploit.
  • You overhear two colleagues at work discussing Christians, and their tone is so dismissive and scornful it makes your stomach hurt.
  • You bring up a sensitive subject with your spouse, and the minute you get worked up or emotional, the eye-rolling starts.

If so, you know what contempt feels like—on the receiving end. Now ask yourself honestly: Have I ever listened only to attack? Mocked anyone who believed and acted differently? Brushed off loved ones when they got upset? That’s what contempt feels like on the giving end.

Arthur Brooks, of the American Enterprise Institute, was so concerned about cultural contempt he asked the Dalai Lama what to do about it. The sage replied, “Practice warm-heartedness.” Perhaps we should practice “heartedness” first. That is, contemplate God’s heart, then critically examine our own.

“God is mighty, and does not despise any,” claims the brash Elihu (Job 36:5). Is this true, or a typical Job-counselor platitude? God pours out righteous anger because He takes His image-bearers seriously enough to hold them accountable. But His contempt is rare.

Far more often, it’s the people who despise God. See Numbers 14:11, 1 Samuel 2:17, Malachi 1:6, and one of the most heartbreaking passages in all of Scripture: “He was despised and rejected by men.”

If we were to ask people on the street, “Do you despise God?” most would reply, “Of course not!” But God might have a different view: “You hate discipline, and you cast my words behind you” (Psalm 50:17). He’s speaking to His own people there—those who claim to be on His side while carelessly assuming He is on theirs.

God has words about how we think and what we say about each other, both in the church and outside it: “In humility count others more significant than yourselves.” “Honor everyone.” “Be quick to hear, slow to speak.”

When dealing with ideological opponents, those are words we are prone to throw behind us. Why do we judge other people’s motives? Why do we call names? “My brothers,” says James, “these things ought not to be so.”

I doubt that God values our capacity to skewer Democrats, atheists, or Unitarians. We are not His shock troops but His agents of reconciliation, sent not to destroy our enemies but to pray for them and plead with them. If we don’t, who will?

For WORLD Radio, I’m Janie B. Cheaney.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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