Famed psychologist John Gottman has been writing and teaching about marriage and relationships for years. His research over four decades has led him to predict whether a couple will get divorced with a high degree of accuracy. Gottman has written about The Four Horsemen of Negative Interaction, which are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Gottman writes that contempt is the most dangerous for couples. In relationships, contempt looks like eye-rolling, hostile humor, mimicking, and name-calling. Contempt makes the other person feel demeaned and worthless. While Gottman writes about contempt in marriage, it is a virus spreading throughout our society.
Over the last month, we have been working our way through the story of Jonah. In the book, we find a prophet of God who resists God’s call and is angry when God shows the pagan Assyrians living in Nineveh grace. The Assyrians are enemies of Israel. Jonah believes God should punish Nineveh for their violence and sin. Jonah is angry and filled with contempt toward Nineveh. When God chooses to forgive Nineveh, Jonah says he would rather die than see the Ninevites saved by God’s grace.
Last summer Dan Nelson preached a short series on the book of Habakkuk called Modern Problems, Ancient Answers. The series’ premise was that the heart issues we have today are nothing new. We see this in Jonah as well. Contempt has become acceptable in politics, the news media, and social media. Contempt for others has also infiltrated the Church. We might talk about being loving and accepting of all people, yet we eye-roll and dismiss those with different beliefs and opinions than we do. We see our tribe as being superior to other tribes.
What might be the answer to contempt?
The answer is to work towards peace. Peace is more than the absence of conflict. It is to seek wholeness in our relationships and pursue flourishing in our own lives and those around us. As Christians, we are to desire (and work towards) God’s best for our neighbors and enemies. Through Jeremiah, God tells Israel to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.” Israel wasn’t to cause problems as exiles in Babylon. They were to seek the peace, the flourishing, of the city. Our posture as Christians is one of peace and not contempt.
Paul writes in Ephesians that we are to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Contempt comes easy. It is a wide broad road that is easily traveled. Being a peacemaker requires more effort, but the outcome is a flourishing community. When we seek a life of peace, enemies lay down their weapons and embrace one another. Anger dissipates and is replaced with love. We begin to see “others” as being created in the image of God.
Brothers and Sisters, I pray that we would be people of peace who God uses to bring healing into our community here in Milford and beyond. I pray that we would be known by the way we love one another and that we would extend that love to those different from us. I hope that we will be a community that rejoices when we see others experience the grace of God because we are also recipients of that grace. Let us seek the peace of our community.