That is an unpardonable thing to say

Frederick Buechner on the sense of embarrassment provoked by the words “Jesus Saves”:

And maybe at a deeper level still, Jesus Saves is embarrassing because if you can hear it at all through your wincing, if any part at all of what it is trying to mean gets through, what it says to everybody who passes by and most importantly and unforgivably of all, of course, what it says to you is that you need to be saved. Rich man, poor man; young man, old man; educated and uneducated; religious and unreligious – the word is in its way an offense to all of them, all of us, because what it says in effect to all of us is, ‘You have no peace inside your skin. You are not happy, not whole.’ That is an unpardonable thing to say to a man whether it is true or false but especially if it is true because there he is, trying so hard to be happy, all of us are, to find some kind of inner peace and all in all maybe not making too bad a job of it considering the odds, so that what could be worse psychologically, humanly, than to say to him what amounts  to ‘You will never make it. You have not and you will not, at least not without help.’ 

The Four Horsemen of Marriage

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink, he discusses the work of psychologist John Gottman. Gottman began researching marriage, seeing if he could pinpoint the factors that lead to the ultimate demise of a marriage. Gladwell writes (32):

He [Gottman] has found that he can find out much of what he needs to know just by focusing on what he calls the Four Horsemen: defensiveness, stonewalling, criticism, and contempt. Even within the Four Horsemen, in fact, there is one emotion that he considers the most important of all: contempt. If Gottman observes one or both partners in a marriage showing contempt toward the other, he considers it the single most important sign that the marriage is in trouble.

“You would think that criticism would be the worst,” Gottman says, “because criticism is a global condemnation of a person’s character. Yet contempt is qualitatively different from criticism. With criticism I might say to my wife, ‘You never listen, you are really selfish and insensitive.’ Well, she’s going to respond defensively to that. That’s not very good for our problem solving and interaction. But if I speak from a superior plane, that’s far more damaging, and contempt is any statement made from a higher level. A lot of time it’s an insult: ‘You are a bitch. You’re scum.'”

Gottman has found, in fact, that the presence of contempt in a marriage can even predict such things as how many colds a husband or a wife gets; in other words, having someone you love express contempt toward you is so stressful that it begins to affect the functioning of your immune system. “Contempt is closely related to disgust, and what disgust and contempt are about is completely rejecting and excluding someone from the community…”

Encountering others as questions

From Marilynne Robinson’s novel, Gilead:

This is an important thing, which I have told many people, and which my father told me, and which his father told him. When you encounter another person, when you have dealings with anyone at all, it is as if a question is being put to you. So you must think, What is the Lord asking of me in this moment, in this situation? If you confront insult or antagonism, your first impulse will be to respond in kind. But if you think, as it were, This is an emissary sent from the Lord, and some benefit is intended for me, first of all the occasion to demonstrate my faithfulness, the chance to show that I do in some small degree participate in the grace that saved me, you are free to act otherwise than as circumstances would seem to dictate…

He would probably laugh at the thought that the Lord sent him to you for your benefit (and his), but that is the perfection of the disguise, his own ignorance of it.