Chapter 11 — Holy or Human?
“You try so hard to be holy that you for get to be human.”
That criticism was leveled at one of the most sincere church workers I know, the other day. I winced for him, because perhaps the same thing might be said to so many of us by some of our critics, if they were frank with us.
I got to thinking about it in the night. Do I have to be holy or human? Is it inhuman to be holy, or is it superhuman? I believe it is neither. Humbly, I believe the effort to be holy is the highest and best I can make, and certainly I am not very successful at it if I make the very people I want to help think that I am less than human.
Holy means “whole.” That’s the original Anglo-Saxon of it. It is from the old word hal, long a, which according to our way of saying it now would be “hale.” To be holy is to be hale, and surely there can be nothing less, or more, than human about that.
I think sometimes that some of us build barriers between ourselves and others around us by being too sober and somber and grave and solemn about our chief concern, which is living a life. I know a splendid man, a minister of the gospel, who preaches some of the best sermons I have listened to for years, but who solemnly shakes his head over us almost the whole time that he is presenting his message. It is as though he either thought that we are a hopelessly bad lot; or is fearfully impressed with the awful prospect of life and death and eternity; or thinks it’s going to be “a narrow squeak” for the human race to climb out of its present Slough of Despond. It makes no difference whether his sermon is a warning of wrath to come or a joyous promise of peace on earth and good will to men: he solemnly shakes his head.
Sometimes it is laughable, sometimes it is almost unendurable even to those who are predisposed to like everything this fine man says. I know it drives good people out of the pews. I confess that it has been a strong influence to keep me out of church on some Sabbath mornings.
And, I wonder, do I get solemn like that over my references to religion, to my relations with my Creator, to my prospects of future life, or to present work? If so, why? To be holy means to be whole, and to be whole means to be sound. I do not believe it is sound to be solemn over anything in our faith. I believe in a God who cares about me, who guides me, who provides for me, for my present and for my future. Why should I be solemn about that? I believe in a God who overcomes evil with good and who will ultimately overcome all evil with good. Why should I be solemn over that? I do not like depressions, and I do not like rackets, and I do not like liquor, and I do not like ruthless financing. There are ever so many things that I do not like, but I am told that “all things work together for good to them that love God.” I see no reason for getting gloomy about that.
I notice that when the saintly man or woman—or, let us say, the pious one—is presented on the stage or the screen, usually there is a strong tendency to caricature his or her solemnity. Why is it? You know the clever caricaturist or cartoonist picks out the most prominent feature in the face he cartoons, and emphasizes that till he makes his victim comic or ridiculous. It must be that solemnity is our “religious look.” If that kind of heavy gravity in a man whom I respect and honor makes me react unfavorably towards him, what sort of reaction do I induce in the average man, to whom I am just one more Christian?
Of course the stage and the movies are frequently unfair to us, but no comment they make upon us could stick if the feature they cartoon were not prominent in us.
If I have any confidence in the faith that I profess, would not a cheerful attitude in the face of troubles be the most convincing thing I could offer to the men and women whom I want to influence? To be sure, a professionally cheerful attitude is about as offensive as gloom, maybe more so. But why shouldn’t I be genuinely cheerful? Do I not believe that the promises are to be depended upon? “Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.” “Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” It surely is not human to believe in such things as these, and then be gloomy about our belief. Maybe that’s what our critics think.