My wife and I had a wonderful discussion about why people who try to do so much good in the world face so much opposition. She talked about how people like Jesus, Gandhi, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood for justice, compassion, and peace. Yet, they faced fierce and violent opposition, and they were all killed for their efforts. Even people who show compassion in their everyday lives often face rejection and ridicule. How can one be noble and upright in such a selfish, hostile world?
It’s because the world can be selfish and hostile that we need to do what’s right. Whenever someone like Jesus, Gandhi, or Dr. King speaks out for justice and mercy, it threatens the status quo. It demands change from those who benefit from the way things are. It afflicts the comfortable as it comforts the afflicted.
Some see goodness as an accusation for failing to do all the good they know they should do. They resent the one who is happier and takes better care of himself. They grumble, “Who do they think they are?” while knowing that they can be as good as he is. They can have the same amount of happiness and good health with effort, but they find it easier to complain and feel resentful.
In some ways, we can see resistance as a sign that we’re on the right path. Opposition from the selfish, greedy, and narrow minded is a sign that we’re doing the right thing. As Albert Einstein once said, “Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocre minds.”
But in facing such opposition, even violent opposition, we must refuse to lower ourselves to their level. Their hatred should only strengthen our resolve to do good and be compassionate. As President Obama said at the National Prayer Breakfast today:
Remember Dr. Martin Luther King. Not long after an explosion ripped through his front porch, his wife and infant daughter inside, he rose to that pulpit in Montgomery and said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”
In the eyes of those who denied his humanity, he saw the face of God.
Remember Abraham Lincoln. On the eve of the Civil War, with states seceding and forces gathering, with a nation divided half slave and half free, he rose to deliver his first Inaugural and said, “We are not enemies, but friends… Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.”
Even in the eyes of confederate soldiers, he saw the face of God.
Remember William Wilberforce, whose Christian faith led him to seek slavery’s abolition in Britain; he was vilified, derided, attacked; but he called for “lessening prejudices [and] conciliating good-will, and thereby making way for the less obstructed progress of truth.”
In the eyes of those who sought to silence a nation’s conscience, he saw the face of God.
Our greatest strength is our example of goodness. This is why people remember people like Jesus, Gandhi, or Dr. King and forget about those who persecuted them.