I wish I could like that woman, he said, shaking his head. But the whining and worrying and woe-is-me sure make it hard. Her sky is always falling.
I knew what my husband meant. Mrs. Olson was definitely an EGR.
Old Mr. Jones was an EGR, too. Both required extra grace. He was a crusty carmudgeon whose scowl could scare any smile away. And I do mean any. I’d watched bright chubby cheek toddler smiles grow cold and plenty of friendly greeter smiles disappear from his frosty frowns.
And he, and she, are Christians.
And let’s not forget one Mrs. Wallace. I know her inside and out. No one wants to be near her when her service gets showy and and her (little) intellect gets impatient or when her helping turns harsh and her eager zeal interrupts.
Tough nut, that Wallace. She’s clearly got her faults.
And those faults, I happen to know, come despite the fact she listens to a half-dozen sermons and memorizes a handful of verses each week and leads a ladies’ life group and prays before she even gets out of bed each morning. Her lapses happen after all that.
Those three, not always so nice Christians, raise two big questions. One is reasonable. The other one is not.
The fair and right question first.
Shouldn’t all Christians be obviously better, nicer, than they used to be?
The Bible- Jesus and John and Paul-repeatedly affirm: A tree is known by its fruit, and No one born of God makes a practice of sinning. Transformed from glory to glory, renewed in the spirit of our minds, we make no provision for the flesh. We are to grow up in every way into him who his the head.
So, yes. It is fair to assume and expect every single believer will be kinder and more patient and more loving than he or she would be without Christ. Every born-again person becomes better. Better than who he or she would have been.
But what about Mr. Jones and Mrs. Olson and Wallace? What about the ones who are ornery and edgy and difficult and often EGR? What about them?
Why is it your faithless neighbor seems so much nicer than they are?
Shouldn’t all Christians be obviously nicer than all non-Christians?
In a chapter near the end of his masterwork, Mere Christianity, you’ll find a chapter called, “Nice People or New Men.” Lewis spends most of that chapter called explaining that it is, in fact, unreasonable to expect that Christians will always be obviously nicer than non-Christians.
Only God knows the raw material. Only he knows the mass of nerves and hurts and natural temperament and early environment and everything else that made EGR’s what they are.
Lewis explains how,
[G]od has allowed natural causes, working in a world spoiled by centuries of sin, to produce in Miss Bates the narrow mind and jangled nerves which account for most of her nastiness. He intends, in His own good time, to set that part of her right…
If Christianity is true, Lewis explains, you can expect both that a) any Christian will be nicer than the same person if he were not a Christian, and b) that any man who becomes a Christian will be nicer than he was before.
Lewis doesn’t leave it at that, though. He offers up a warning.
A Warning For Nice People
…If you have sound nerves and intelligence and health and popularity and a good upbringing, you are likely to be quite satisfied with your character as it is. “Why drag God into it?” you may ask. A certain level of good conduct comes fairly easily to you. You are not one of those wretched creatures who are always being tripped up by sex, or dipsomania, or nervousness, or bad temper. Everyone says you are a nice chap and (between ourselves) you agree with them. You are quite likely to believe all this niceness is your own doing: and you may easily not feel the need for any better kind of goodness.
God knows what hard things happened early in life to nervous Mrs. Olson. He knows that her compulsions and worries used to lock her up in her house. He knows old Mr. Jones, whose frowns can freeze the sunniest smiles. He came to faith late and now his furrowed brow eases out his violent old raging ways.
And He knows how much more harsh and impatient and puffed-up that Mrs. Wallace would be without God and all his means of grace. Just imagine me without the sermons and study, the fellowship and all that Scripture memory.
He knit me. He formed me. He knows.
So press on and don’t despair, no matter the car you drive. Keep on, do what you can.
And know that we’ll forbear.